Part III of Washington D.C. series. If you missed the first 2: Washington National WW II Memorial, and Lincoln Memorial. Photos by James Murphy.
One of the most exciting museums for me is the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. I’ve visited the museum on the National Mall almost every time I’ve been in Washington. It gets over 7 million visitors a year so I know many folks agree with me. From the Wright Brothers plane to space capsules it covers it all. Man’s push to explore are illustrated perfectly.
There is always something new to learn and see. The amount of history and material can be overwhelming. There is a companion facility to the one on the mall, The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington Dulles International Airport, Hundreds of historically significant air- and spacecraft, along with thousands of small artifacts, are on display in an open, hangar-like setting. Other features of the Center include the Donald D. Engen Observation Tower, the Airbus IMAX Theater and the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar, where visitors can watch museum specialists at work restoring artifacts. I haven’t visited this facility, but my nephew choose this air museum as it has the Enola Gay, his favorite airplane. Before your Washington D.C. visit, check out the Smithsonian websites to decide which museums you wish to see.
My nephew considers the Enola Gay the most famous plane in history. Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that was used by the United States on August 6, 1945, to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, ushered in the atomic age. By WW I, planes had become major weapons in man’s battles in the skies and this expanded greatly in WW II and the decades after the war
The Enola Gay Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber was named for Enola Gay Tibbets, the mother of the pilot, Colonel Paul Tibbets, who selected the aircraft while it was still on the assembly line.
My favorite planes include the Spirit of St. Louis shown below hovering over a lunar module. The Spirit of St. Louis is the custom-built, single engine, single-seat, high wing monoplane that was flown solo by Charles Lindbergh on May 20 – 21, 1927, on the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight. Planes originally were used for travel, adventure, and pushing the boundaries of what man could accomplish, like space travel.
My favorite planes from WW II were the smaller fighter planes like the Warhawk Curtis P 40 shown below, the British Spit Fire and the American P 51 Mustang. RAF fighters in small planes fought the Germans nightly during the heavy bombing of London and England. Too many young men lost their lives in the skies of England.
My nephew’s guide was Ret. Lt. General Mike Nelson, and his knowledge made it such an amazing tour! This guy was the real deal, yet so humble. When we looked him up, we found his rank and that he flew over 100 missions over North Vietnam. Volunteers are available most days to share their experiences and knowledge.
Fun Fact: Mike Nelson knew for a fact that the director of this museum had the CG rescue helicopter staged above the F14 Tomcat because of the scene in the movie, Top Gun. See above.
This amphibious seaplane above is the only aircraft in the Museum that was at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. Ten JRS-1s were at the U.S. naval base when the Japanese attacked during World War II. The Navy immediately sent these unarmed utility craft to search for the enemy fleet.
The very first helicopter used by any US President (Dwight Eisenhower), is shown above.
UH-1 – this one saw combat and was hit multiple times in Vietnam.
During the Cold War, Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird was developed for stealth flying.
Concorde Fox Alpha Air France – another milestone in flight
Mercury Capsule- the only one left showing one-man spacecraft configuration (above)
The Space Shuttle Discover below
Besides the aircrafts, the museum has exhibits on historical and cultural items like astronaut space suits, prisoner of war suits from the Vietnam War, and the long gone public telephone.
Thanks for taking a small tour with me of this huge museum of air and space history.
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