The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Centre has one of the best aviation and space travel collections in the world and is a must see place for any aviation buff. The museum is located in Chantilly, Virginia right next to Dulles International Airport. It is an extension of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. and has all the big aircraft that could not possibly be displayed on The Mall in D.C.
Who is Steven Ferencz Udvar-Házy? He is a successful businessman who donated $66 million to the Smithsonian to build the museum facility that bears his name.
Space Shuttle Discovery is a major draw card at the museum, but you can also see a number of significant civilian and commercial aircraft including a Concorde, the supersonic airliner and the Boeing 367-80 (known as the Dash 80) which was the prototype Boeing 707. In 1955 test pilot “Tex” Johnson famously barrel rolled the Dash 80 over Lake Washington in Seattle on a demonstration flight!
For most people (including me) the main attraction though is the vast collection of military aircraft from World War One and World War Two. These include the famous Boeing B-29 bomber Enola Gay and some very rare Axis aircraft from Germany and Japan. The collection includes many rare aircraft and is impressive to say the least!
For me the Axis aircraft are a favourite that can not be missed. The German section alone includes some of the rarest aircraft from World War Two. These include the worlds first operational jet reconnaissance bomber the Arado Ar-234 (over 200 were built, but this is the only surviving airframe) and the Heinkel He-219 Uhu (Owl) which was the first operational aircraft to be fitted with ejection seats and was possibly the best night fighter of the war but only saw limited service before war’s end (it is partially restored but on display and is possibly one of only 2 surviving airframes). Also on display is the only surviving Dornier Do-335 Pfiel (Arrow) a mighty heavy fighter with an unusual twin-engine design in a push-pull arrangement which gave an impressive performance of 765 km/h or 474 mph (faster than a De Havilland Mosquito)!
The Japanese aircraft on display if not as well-known, are equally as rare as their German counterparts. The sole surviving Aichi M6A1 Seiran (Clear Sky Storm) a float plane bomber designed to be transported by special aircraft carrying submarines, then put together at sea and launched from the water to strike allied targets is a major centrepiece of the Japanese collection. A Kawasaki Ki-45 Kai Hei Type 2 Toryu (Dragon Killer) codenamed “Nick” is also the last survivor of the only type of night fighter to see service with the Japanese army in World War Two (the airframe is displayed minus the wings). Another significant Japanese night fighter is the fully restored Nakajima J1N1-S Gekko (Moonlight) codename “Irving” which is also the last surviving airframe. This is very lucky considering many were used in desperate Kamikaze attacks towards the end of the war.
The Cold War through to modern-day combat aircraft are not forgotten. There are a number of jet fighters from the 1950’s to the present including a large collection of Vietnam War era aircraft.
Be warned though, this is not a place you just pop into while waiting for a flight at Dulles. You need a full day to truly take everything in (well I do anyway). This is one of the top aviation museums in the USA and the world so take your time and enjoy a walk through aviation history.