Friday, March 02, 2007

Visit to National Air & Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

Over President's Day weekend, we went to tour the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Centreville, VA. ( Say that mouthful five times fast, I dare you!)

Well, first we went to view Bridge to Terebithia which was wonderful. I just re-read the book last summer, and the movie was definitely faithful to the spirit of the book, and probably over 95% faithful to the letter of the book. Bridge to Terebithia was one of my favorite childhood books and had a big impact in my life. I'll probably get the DVD when it comes out.

After the movie, we went up the road to the Udvar-Hazy Center. Admission is free, instead you pay by the carload for parking (free after 4pm). The main concept of the UHC is to display historical planes and space-related items that they don't have room for at the downtown DC Air & Space location. They also have a smallish and completely boring gift store, and a McDonalds is the sole source of food/drink.

The entrance has the National Aviation and Space Exploration Wall of Honor.

They have a nice IMAX theatre ($8.50 per ticket for a 40 minute film). We saw "Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag" which 'follows American F-15 Eagle pilot John Stratton as he trains with some of the world’s best pilots. The movie depicts Stratton’s progression through the challenging and dangerous exercises of Operation Red Flag, the international training program for air forces of allied countries.' Some nice IMAX effects but nothing that would make you overly naseous.

The main part of the building is like an aircraft hanger. There are display cases and information boards scattered throughout the layout, you can rent audio tours, and there are guided tours. We just guided ourselves. The walkway layout isn't very flexible... there's basically one route to take for the walkways that are off the ground level. At one point we had to take some stairs. This sign beside the "Emergency Exit" door says "NOT an Emergency Exit!" So, um... which is it?

Airplanes are sitting on the floor and hanging at crazy angles from the ceiling on 3 different layers. I pointed out that the top walkway is completely suspended by cables (nothing underneath)... and probably a good 75 feet off the ground. I'm afraid of heights, and this was bad. Thankfully the suspended walkway is about 10 feet wide with nice high banisters. So by concentrating on breathing I could control the diziness. There's also lots of good airflow from industrial fans every few feet (wonder how hot it gets in there in the summer), and I didn't notice the walkway vibrating, shaking, thrombing, or moving in any other way :)

See my UHC page for pictures of a few of the planes and space items that I found interesting on our walking tour.

We rode the elevator to the control tower observation lounge, but it was really boring...not worth waiting in line for.

We also paid over-the-top prices for tickets to one of the Simulator Rides. We chose the "Wings" simulator: 'From the evolution of flight in 1903 to the super jets of today, Wings puts you in the cockpits of history's greatest flying machines. Experience first-hand the thrill of aviation as you strap in as test pilots to push the limits of each aircraft including the Sopwith Camel and the F-16 Falcon.' We had to wait in line behind a bunch of incredibly rude teenage boys (ugh! shoot them all!). When we get in the simulator, it was surprisingly roomy including foot space. But it smelled BAD...warm air, sweat and general icky smell. The screen up front that provides the visuals to go with the hydraulic jerking around was half-obscured by the heads of the teens in front of us. The sounds of the plastic seats creaking and groaning during the maneuvers, and the sounds of the hydraulics completely overrode the sound. So it was a less than thrilling ride. Definitely not worth the money. The only fun part to it was that the bench seat was a very slippery plastic so we just let go of the hand grips and slide from side to side... woo hoo! Even though the Star Trek Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton is way overpriced too, at least its simulator rides are a ton more fun, more engaging, and you get to go through it as many times as you care to stand in line.

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