History's in the air at new museum

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CHANTILLY, Va. -- Tell the kids you are taking them to visit the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center and be prepared for foot-dragging, bellyaching and yowls of discontent. Steven F. Udvar-Hazy? Now, there's a catchy name to pin on a building. Other than perhaps a little Udvar-Hazy, why wouldn't any youngster rather go to the beach?

But tell the kids the family is heading for the National Air and Space Museum -- to see vintage war planes, space vehicles and an Imax movie -- and everyone will eagerly hop in the SUV, land-bound vehicle that it is.

It turns out that Udvar-Hazy, an aircraft leasing mogul, pledged a total of $65 million toward the $311 million cost of the museum, a companion to the National Air and Space Museum's flagship venue on the National Mall in nearby Washington, thereby earning himself top billing when the place opened in December 2003. He couldn't have picked a better place to make a name for himself.

The museum, built to suggest an airline hangar, houses the majority of the National Air and Space Museum's vast inventory of aircraft, artifacts and exploratory vehicles that had proved impossible to display on the mall. The original facility, in fact, is large enough for only 10% of the entire collection.

Here at the Udvar-Hazy Center, which fittingly is located at Washington Dulles Airport, there are 82 historic aircraft, many of which are suspended on two levels from ceiling trusses, with the remainder at ground level.

Elevated walkways circling the building bring visitors face to face with the aircraft, which have been displayed to approximate their typical flight maneuvers. Snoopy on his best day never got closer to the Red Baron.

Among the aircraft seemingly frozen in time and space are the Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird, billed as the world's fastest jet-propelled plane (it was clocked at 2,124 mph on its one-hour, four-minute farewell journey from Los Angeles to Washington; the Space Shuttle Enterprise; the Enola Gay, the B29 Superfortress that dropped the A bomb on Hiroshima; the Boeing 367-80 (Dash 80), the prototype for America's first commercial airliner, the 707; and the Junkers JU 52/3, the corrugated, low-wing aircraft you might remember from the farewell scene from the film "Casablanca."

Also on view is a vast collection of artifacts that include flight wear, both civilian and military; aircraft engines, from a Taft-Peirce V-8 model dating to 1911, to the Jupiter S-3 rocket; and World War I shell-casing artwork.

The museum also features a flight simulator ride; the previously mentioned Imax Theater; an accessible-to-the-public, 164-foot-high observation tower overlooking flight operations at Dulles; and a gift shop that offers truly unusual souvenirs, among them a survival blanket neatly folded into a package the size of a pack of playing cards.

Admission is free; hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily (closed Dec. 25). Further information is available on the Web at www.nasm.si.edu.

To contact Executive Editor Joe Rosen, send e-mail to [email protected].

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