New U.S. Air and Space Museum Blasts Off in 2003

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
December 17, 2002

Ninety-nine years ago today, Orville and Wilbur Wright launched the era of powered flight from the windswept sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

To mark the milestone, the U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, established by the U.S. Congress, kicks off a year-long commemoration of flight's first century.

When the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers' historic flight lands this time next year, the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum will unveil a sparkling new facility to cap the 12-month celebration.

The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center will dramatically enhance and expand what is already the world's most popular museum.

Construction is over 75 percent complete on the state-of-the-art facility at Washington Dulles International Airport in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. The project is being handled by HOK, Inc.—the same architectural firm that built the museum's original building.

Hundreds of Historic Aircraft To Be on Public Display

The Udvar-Hazy Center will provide desperately needed space for the many aircraft, spacecraft, and other objects in the museum's collection that tell the history of aviation and space flight. Smithsonian Institution staff said that the museum's present exhibit building, located on the National Mall in downtown Washington, D.C., simply lacks the necessary room to display aviation's rich history. Staff said nearly four-fifths of the museum's collection cannot be shown.

"It's remarkable that about 80 percent of our collection is really out of sight," said National Air and Space Museum spokesman Peter Golkin. "Many of our aircraft are just so big we could never fit them downtown. To finally have them on display is almost a new beginning, a second chance to really show things that people have never seen before."

Over 200 aircraft and 135 spacecraft will be on display at the new facility, including such notables as the Space Shuttle Enterprise, the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, and a de Havilland Chipmunk aerobatic plane.

Also destined for the new center is a Boeing 307 Stratoliner, the only surviving example of the first pressurized commercial airplane, and a Dash Eighty, the original prototype for the 707 jetliner—a plane which revolutionized modern jet travel as we know it today.

"Visitors will have a completely new idea of what this museum is all about," said Golkin. "People are going to be floored by this stuff."

Continued on Next Page >>




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