The Udvar-Hazy Center is located next to the Washington Dulles International Airport west of Washington D.C. It is a magnificent collection of experimental air and spacecraft housed in a beautiful state of the art exhibition hangar complete with a 360° observation tower.
An SR-71 Blackbird greets you from the floor of the main hangar. This supersonic aircraft is made almost entirely of titanium and leaks fuel while on the tarmac before takeoff. Soon after takeoff, the Blackbird had to refuel in midair before it could begin its missions. The body of the aircraft would heat up in flight causing the panels to expand with the heat and seal.
Housed in the rear addition of the hangar behind the SR-71 is the space shuttle Discovery. The ceramic tiles of the shuttle were left uncleaned after its last mission, you can see the steep angle of entry by the streak marks. Discovery’s size dwarfs the SR-71 Blackbird in front of it but their weights are almost identical. The Blackbird with its titanium body weighs almost as much as the massive shuttle.
The F4 Phantom is one of my favorite aircrafts in the collection. The paint scheme is fantastic! It is located along with the helicopters at the North end of the main hangar.
The demonstrator for F-35, the X-35 sits alongside its powerplant showing how vertical takeoff and landing is achieved. The front fan doors open on the top and bottom of the aircraft for hovering and the two side vents allow the vehicle to roll from side to side to keep it stable.
The other side of the main hangar houses some incredible experimental aircraft including the Virgin Galactic Global Flyer and Pathfinder from Aerovironment. The Global Flyer was the first manned aircraft to circumnavigate the globe without landing and Pathfinder was the proof of concept demonstrator for NASA’s Helios flying wing. The vehicle is a single span flying wing with solar panels on the top for power. Helios was able to stay aloft for months on end using the solar panels to charge batteries for night time flying.
One of AirFrance’s Conchords is also housed in the main hangar. The nose of this aircraft was designed to rotate downwards so pilots could see the runway during takeoff and landing!