Sunday, July 13, 2014

Reflections of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center -- A Review

Udvay-Hazy Center Main Floor
For an aerospace person, like myself, what could be better than spending a day at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum. Well frankly, almost nothing except sampling some very fine wines. 
Trevar with the SR-71 and
Discovery in the Background

It is about an hour drive from the house to the center, but on this Saturday morning it was a fine drive with light traffic. And we had one of those moments along the way that we all hope for. A motorcyclist zoomed by at an incredible speed and we wondered why the police were never around to catch these flagrant speed limit violators. Aha, there was one around and we saw the lights come from behind us and zoom by to shortly race down the motorcycle and pull the offender over. Yay, one for the good guys. 
Shuttle Discovery

I was impressed and the lack of cars in the parking lot. I remember the lot is usually crammed with other aerospace lovers who want to view the artifacts of relating to the achievements of the past. I was amazed when I checked and found that it had been more than two years since I last visited the Center. My blog about the fastest plane details my last visit. 
Standing under the Shuttle Discovery Looking Forward

The biggest change in the museum is the arrival of a real, flew in space shuttle--the workhorse shuttle Discovery. It was my first up close and personal encounter with a real space shuttle. Although I had seen shuttles from the distance, and seen the Enterprise in the same spaces before, there is something really special about viewing an actual shuttle and knowing that it had flow in space on multiple occasions. The display is fantastic and the ability to actually stand underneath the shuttle, at the rear, drives home the size and beauty of there marvelous machines. 
Shuttle Discovery

I remember when the SR-71 was by far the premier exhibit in the museum--but now it has clearly been supplanted by the shuttle. I was able to take an image of the SR-71 with almost no one around it--something that I never remember being able to do before. 
In the Fighter Simulator

In addition to viewing the exhibits on display, I had two other fantastic experiences. I got to get into a simulator with my nephew Trevar and fly a naval fighter combat mission. I was the weapons officer and he was the pilot. After a short training introduction, we climbed into the simulator and took off from the carrier into combat. Although we only recorded one kill, Trevar demonstrated the ability to execute high G turns and fly inverted with the nose down on more than one occasion. Yes, it does go completely upside down! We had fun as Trevar stretched his legs trying to become a fighter pilot. 
Enola Gay

I also broke off from the group for over an hour to listen to a lecture about the Enola Gay and the atomic bomb drops on Japan which ended World War 2. The lecture covered many aspect of the training and development of the techniques to deliver the bombs and some of the men involved in the operation. What went well and what didn't. I also learned that the B-29s that delivered the bombs were not standard production aircraft, but modified aircraft for the missions due to the post release maneuver that needed to be accomplished. The scheduled 45 minute presentation went 1 hour and 15 minutes--maybe I asked a few questions. It is usually hard for me to stand still, but I stood there the entire time and the time literally flew by.
Business End of an F-14

It was another fantastic day in the museum. We also viewed an Imax movie--The Dream is Alive, narrated by Walter Cronkite. The tour of the tower was nice--a good diversion. The 360 degree view is fantastic. The second stop, the mock control center, needs a lot of work to make it a viable exhibit. They could do so much more with the exhibit. Making it more interactive would be one idea.

RECOMMENDATION: This museum is a must visit. The history of aerospace on displace cannot be found anywhere else. There is something for everyone and the supporting exhibits on engines, armaments, coupled with the diversity of civil aircraft and combat aircraft on display cannot be matched.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

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