Southern Roads and Museums: Pt 3


Our plan for day 2 is to spend as much time as possible at the Air & Space Museum.  In case you might not know this, the MAIN Air & Space Museum on the Washington Mall has been closed for a couple of years.  They are renovating the building and have plans to re-open it sometime in late 2022. 

Until a couple of years ago we did not know that there is an Annex to the main downtown A&S museum.  The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located in Chantilly, Virginia, right next to Dulles Airport.  This building has been open during Covid times and a mask was required.  But the mask mandate was dropped in early April… so our mid-April arrival was fortuitious.  No mask and a full day to explore.  Doors open at 10 and close at 5:30…so we hopped to spend all day exploring this wonderful museum.

Linda and I hit the road by 8:30 AM after a FREE full breakfast at Embassy Suites in Wilmington, DE.  Traffic is moderate as we negotiate the roads through Baltimore and around Washington DC.  The Porsche Navigation system does its usual flawless guidance and we cover the 120-mile drive in just about 2 hours, arriving at the museum building right on schedule just past 10:30 AM. 

Not wanting to receive any “door dings” from other cars we park Miss P way off from everyone else and begin to head in.  But before that we take a quick walk through a few rows of the parking lot.  You see Linda and I like to play the License Plate game.   As we drive, we keep an eye out for license plates from all the other states.  Linda makes up a master list before we leave (Linda loves lists), and when we see a plate either she or I sing out “hey, there is Tennessee … do we need Tennessee??”.                                                              

Linda consults the list and gives the answer.  “No, we saw Tennessee yesterday on Route 95 near New Haven”.   For Linda, a completed detailed list is much better than just a plain old list.

We have some simple rules for this game.  We cannot count large tractor trailers or U-Haul vehicles of any kind.  However, if a U-Haul is pulling a trailer with car on it… we CAN count that plate on the car.  If we are in a particular state (say Vermont) we cannot count a Vermont plate… as that seems as if we are cheating.  RVs are OK and so are small vans.

BOTH of us do not have to see the plate to confirm an ID. Many times, Linda is looking down at her map or consulting her I-phone… or sometimes (God forbid) sleeping.  So, if I call out “Hey, there is Wisconsin, do we need Wisconsin ??”  it will be counted even though she may not be able to confirm the “hit”.  It takes her a couple of seconds to come back to consciousness… you understand … and by that time Wisconsin is well down the road.  “I’m sorry Linda, I didn’t know you were sleeping.”  Her return smirk conveys the fact that she does not really believe me. 

Thus, before we head in to the Air & Space we take a quick tour of the adjacent parking lot, just to see if there are any “victims” we can nail.  Sure enough we find a good one, Alaska. That is always a tough plate to snag.  So today is looking good and we have not even entered the building!

Since this is a National Museum, the admission is FREE.  The only cost is a modest $15 to park for the day.  Considering what it now costs to park in downtown Boston, $15 is a steal for sure.  

This museum is really a case of sensory overload for anyone who has even a passing interest in the history of flying and the advance of aviation technology since the early 1900’s.  

The building is actually 3 HUGE hangers connected together and housing a vast array of every kind of flying machine you can imagine. There are lots of military planes including an SR 71 Blackbird reconnaissance plane, the Enola Gay – a B-29 bomber that dropped the first atom bomb, plus many civilian aircraft like the Supersonic Concord.   Add in other sections dedicated to Sport, Business, Commercial and General Aviation, plus World War II planes from both the Allied and the German side of the struggle and one could easily spend several days just gawking at all the hardware.   

The section that really caught our attention was the hanger dedicated to Space Flight.   Here was housed the massive Space Shuttle Discovery.  Everyone wants a picture in front of the Shuttle.   (see attached Jpeg… a smiling Linda). 

Both my wife and I, and we would guess at least a few who are reading this narration, grew up during the “space race” of the mid 60’s to late 70’s.  This was a time of rapidly advancing space flight technology and much of it is displayed here in the James S. McDonnell Space Hanger.  We spent at least 90 minutes here and still must have missed at least 50% of what was on display.

Time was marching on and one section I really wanted to see was the Restoration Hanger.  You cannot actually go into this area, but from the second-floor balcony you can look down and see several different vintage aircraft being refurbished.   It reminded me of what it must be like to be at a Porsche restoration facility and watch the technicians working on an old 356 or perhaps a 917 racer.  The only difference was the SIZE of the items the people below were working on and the overall complexity of the task.  A mid 70’s 917 race car is SIMPLE compared to a 2-engine bomber from WW II.  But the passion to see the project finished to perfection must be the same for both groups of restorers. 

The museum closes at 5:30 and true to form Linda and I are being ushered out the door promptly at 5:29. We hop into Miss P (no dings on the doors thankfully) and head out southwest for a 60-mile drive to Front Royal, VA.  This small town is at the Northern end of Skyline drive.  We check into our Hampton Inn (another Hilton chain) and find a nice local restaurant for a fine meal.   

Tomorrow is a day we have been waiting for.  Let’s hope it’s sunny so we can enjoy the ride.

-Ray Boyer