28 September 2016
Today we visited the most spectacular aeronautical museum in my experience to date: the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, just down the road from Dulles Airport in Virginia.
After about half an hour on the Metro (from Foggy Bottom station to Wiehle-Reston), about a 20 minute wait, and then 40 minutes on the Fairfax Connector 983 bus — and a fare of only $7.65 each — we arrived. The building (hangar) itself is a spectacular piece of architecture covering 71,000 square metres, but it houses one of the most (if not the most) unique and diverse collection of air and space craft on the planet: the world’s only surviving Arado AR 234 B Blitz, a foldable Japanese float-plane acquired by the Americans at the end of WWII; the Enola Gay, an SR-71 Blackbird and the Space Shuttle Discovery — just for a start! (And yes, we bought the book — two of them, actually!)
Mr Udvar-Hazy even has a New Zealand connection:
Again, this venue is pretty challenging from a photography perspective. The lowest ISO I used was 1250, but most of these needed ISO 2000 to get an adequate shutter speed without the flash (which would have been useless anyway). I’ve de-grained these as much as possible in Camera Raw, but the quality still suffers significantly.
I’ve seen an SR-71 before (about 20 years ago at Everett Field in the museum there), and I know it’s an old aircraft, but it still looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.
Not perhaps as photogenic, but with a far larger impact on history, the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. (And no, the aeroplane doesn’t have a banana-bend in it: it’s just too big to fit in my 24-105 lens at the range available, so I had to panorama it.)
But the display that kept us transfixed for the longest was the Space Shuttle Discovery. Quite impossible to fit all of it in one image, it is entirely fascinating up close: the heat-shield tiles, all individually numbered, are worn (not surprising, after 39 missions to and from space) and patchwork-like. It’s monstrous and beautiful all at the same time. And I learned that it has a re-entry angle of about 45 degrees, and a split rudder that is deployed as a speed brake at a certain point during the re-entry sequence, and it only weighs about 62 tonnes!
And then there was Concorde! Yes, I’ve seen one of these before too (fleetingly) at Toulouse earlier this year. I really, REALLY wanted to get into the flight deck, but I couldn’t come up with a good enough story!
The Boeing Stratoliner was an impressive sight, with all that shining aluminium:
And, finally, just a couple of shots to give an idea of the busy-ness of the place.