“Only fly as high as you are willing to fall”

This statement graces a large display of gliders at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. In context it is meant to be taken literally, which is what makes it so morosely funny.

But as I walked through the two massive hangars filled with every kind of flying machine ever invented the quote started to feel like a metaphor and then like a dare.

The main hangar. It really does feel like they have one of everything here. Yes, that’s a Concord in the foreground. Photo by T.

It’s all here – from the smallest early airplanes to fighters to passenger jets to the Space Shuttle Discovery. I’m not even that into aircraft and I had a really good time. (I am very into space travel, so seeing the Discovery up close was a giant joy).

The Space Shuttle Discovery. It’s so epic to see it up close. Photo by T.
The Space Shuttle Discovery’s nose. You can see the angle of re-entry from the scorch marks. Photo by T.
One of the most impressive angles of the Shuttle. It’s just massive. Photo by T.

There aren’t as many visitors here as there are at the main Air and Space Museum in D.C., and therefore you have more time and space to really explore.

On March 19, 1964, Jerrie Mock succeeded where Amelia Earhart failed, becoming the first woman to pilot an aircraft solo around the world. I really loved this display. Photo by T.
A moment of silence is necessary as you pass by the Enola Gay, the B-29 that was used to drop the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Austrian parachutist Felix Baumgartner jumped out of this thing while at 127,851 feet in the air. It took him 4 minutes and 19 seconds to land. He broke the sound barrier while in free fall. “Only fly as high as you are willing to fall,” is right. Photo by T.
Super nerdy mailbox and phone booth. Photo by T.

There’s some really crazy stuff here. It’s definitely worth making a trip. I like it a lot better than the main Air and Space Museum in D.C.

Some notes on visiting here:

  • Getting there: It’s not easy. There are no shuttles or Metro trains that will even get you close enough to walk. You’ll either need to hail a cab from the Dulles airport or rent a car. And if you rent a car it’ll cost you $15 to park.
  • Getting in: Admission to the museum is free, as are most all museums in Washington D.C. It opens at 10:00 am and closes at 5:30 pm.
  • Food: The only food at the center is a McDonald’s. There are no shops or restaurants outside. Either eat first or live with the culinary consequences.
  • Tours and talks: There are docents at all of the major exhibits who will answer your questions and give regular talks. Listen to the announcements for tour info – they seemed to run about every hour.

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