Size Matters: Museum Will Eventually House 200
By ANN Correspondent Rob Milford
How big is it? 346,774 square feet. That’s 346 times the
size of my apartment. This is a big place. They can put their
building from the mall inside here, no sweat. They will eventually
have more than 200 aircraft on display. Now, they have 82. I
continued my stroll last Friday through the facility. My feet were
getting tired, but it was worth every step.
I thought I had seen all the “historic” aircraft.
Not quite. Unlike most museums, with aircraft parked on the floor,
the planes here are flying on wires suspended at a dozen different
levels. There are walks across the center and the length of the
hangar that put you at nose or cockpit height, and you’re 30
or 40 feet off the floor. Leo Loudenslager's Laser 200, complete
with Bud Light logos, is nose up, in the middle of his routine,
between snap rolls. You know that some Congressman wants those
logos gone, saying they promote drinking. I think that’s
exactly what Bud Light wanted when they paid Leo to fly at
airshows. The Congressman might also feel that having an F-4
Phantom there promotes shooting down North Vietnamese aircraft.
A Piper PA-18 Super Cub is flying patrol for the Atomic Energy
Commission. The Grumman G-22 Gulfhawk is screaming through
the air, the orange paint brighter than the sun, and Suzanne
Asbury-Oliver’s’ Travel Air D4D Pepsi Skywriter is
between letters, since there’s no smoke coming from the
There are the other, rare one-of-a-kind planes like the
MacCready Gossamer Albatross, that weighs almost nothing, but
proved that man could fly…under his own power. There is a
flock of ultra light and hang gliders. Names like Delta Wing
Phoenix VI and Delta Wing Viper. There’s a Bucker Bu-133C
Jungmeister, and Art Scholl’s DHC-1A Super Chipmunk, in that
wonderful red-and-white striped paint.
There’s at least one noteworthy racer in the place.
Conquest 1. What started out as a Grumman F8F-2 Bearcat, became one
of the fastest prop-driven aircraft of all time. The American Eagle
paint scheme still rates as one of the most unique ever taken to
You might have noticed some names repeating themselves through
the narrative. As of this writing, there are a total of 5 Grumman
aircraft, 6 Boeing planes, 4 from Lockheed, and three from North
American. McDonnell-Douglas, Northrop and Republic have but a
single entry at this point.
I moved on to the Space exhibits. You already know about the
Enterprise being the centerpiece at the McDonnell Space Hangar. The
Gemini Capsule from GT-7 is on display. Frank Borman and Jim Lovell
did a total of 220 spins in 14 days, the longest US space flight
until Skylab, and something that most current shuttle flights
don’t even approach. Wing sections are off the Enterprise
right now, they’ve been used for testing to determine damage
from debris to help find a cause for the loss of the Columbia
earlier this year. There’s a Mercury Capsule, the second one
that Alan Shepard was set to fly in 1963, before that mission got
scrubbed. Since the Space Hangar is not finished, the major
exhibits are on the main display floor.
They are impressive.
You have your Airstream trailer, renamed the “Mobile
Quarantine Facility, where Apollo 11 Astronauts were housed after
their mission, to make sure they didn’t infect this planet
with any Moon germs. You have a set of models, 6 and 8 feet tall,
of Delta, Atlas, Titan IIIC, and H-I, H-II and Ariane rockets.
There’s the actual “Mother Ship” from
“Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, or CE3K as we
called in when they were shooting around Mobile, Alabama back in
‘76. You have a Spacelab from the backend of the shuttle,
plus a transfer tunnel, and add-on instrument section. There is the
#2 Bell Rocket Belt, and huge computers used by NASA and the Air
Force back in the 60’s…your PDA has more power and
capacity, trust me. They’re almost there as comic relief.
The flock of missiles ranges from Talos and Styx, Sidewinder to
Falcon. There’s Tiny Tim, and a Sparrow. There’s Mighty
Mouse and an ASAT. A Sam-2 and a Zuni. And the list continues. Many
more Space artifacts are in waiting for the opening of the
McDonnell Hangar, late spring of ’04. That will open up even
more floor space for exhibits in the main hangar.
In going through the four pieces, there are some aircraft that
got short shrift, or got left out. Sorry about that. I need to
apologize to a Sukhoi 26M, a Rutan VariEze, the friendly yellow and
black of a Piper J-3 Cub, the Bede BD-5B, the Grob 102 Standard
Astir III and the Curtiss 1A Gulfhawk. There are a dozen
other’s that didn’t get mentioned, including the P51C
Mustang “Excalibur III” that made it’s own name
in the sky, and somehow, I just didn’t see it… or
didn’t make a note in the notebook. My Mustang-crazed buddy
Chris will never forgive me.
To sum it all up… the Sigma, if you will, this is the
museum that we have all been waiting for. This is the pilgrimage
spot that will call us for years. As they more than triple the
number of aircraft on display, the arrangements will change, some
others will be shuffled between the Mall and Dulles. The eventual
plan is to move the entire restoration facility from Silver Hill to
Dulles, and then tours will take us “behind the scenes”
without getting wet, frozen or drenched in sweat. On my three
tours, I have been all three.
There is room for expansion past that. After all, history is
made almost every day by some aircraft, and look at the Air Force
Museum and how they’ve grown in the 30 years since the first
“Big Hangar” opened. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
has 2,000 parking spaces, and they expect about 10,000 people a
day, three and a half million people per year, compared with 9
million downtown, on the mall. There is also a shuttle bus service
between the two locations.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Udvar-Hazy, for forking
out some serious money -- $65,000,000.00 -- to preserve and protect
our common aviation history. That the son of an immigrant did this
is not a surprise. We are a nation of immigrants who embrace all
that this country is, both good and bad. The fact that he has money
and loves airplanes and aviation is why his name is over the door.
In fairness, Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Airbus, Northrop-Grumman and
Bombardier are in the list of the top 20 contributors, but in the
troubled times, post 9/11, only Fed-Ex came up with major dollars
of a contribution.