Heath and Katy in their element

Other than going to visit Heath’s family in Wisconsin last year I can’t think of a vacation we’ve taken in the past few years that we haven’t looked at rockets or planes. And a few years ago when we visited Wisconsin we went to the EAA (experimental aircraft association) museum in Oshkosh.

We skipped the Air and Space Museum this trip as we’ve all been multiple times and Katy and I saw some of it while we were at the Women’s March in January. But they have another facility near Dulles Airport called Udvar-Hazy. Heath has really wanted to go to this and Katy was very interested, too.

I didn’t know much about it except that it had the really big things that wouldn’t fit downtown such as the Enola Gay, a Concorde and most recently the Space Shuttle Discovery. I thought it was mainly a few big things and wouldn’t take long. I was wrong. It’s some big things, more medium things and millions of little things. We stopped to ask the young man at the front desk of the hotel the best way to get there and he said we would need all day and kind of dismissed the downtown museum as not much in comparison. The neat thing is each museum has completely different collections so  you can visit both and not see anything twice.

We got there just before they opened at 10 and the Unofficial Guide (which I usually love but made this museum sound like not much) said to immediately go up to the observation tower as they only let a few people up at a time and waits can get long. So we did that. We saw one plane come in and heard the control tower talking. The docent up there said air traffic picks up around 11 a.m.

View from the tower
A plane coming in

While we were up there they announced there would be a planetarium show at 10:30 in the main hangar downstairs so we went down to that. It was an inflatable planetarium but it was very good. The guy talked some about the eclipse, as well.

After that let out we saw they were starting some guided tours. The express tours were an hour and the regular tours were 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours long. We took an express tour and it took two hours and was completely fascinating. Our docent knew so much.

We started at Discovery. He said the Smithsonian Institute owns all of the retired shuttles so they got to pick which shuttle they wanted. They picked Discovery because they felt it had the most history. It’s the oldest shuttle, it carried the first African-American astronaut (I heard him once say no one remembers his name because even though he was the first African-American astronaut, he was still another male astronaut), the first female commander and was the only shuttle to carry both female commanders.

It’s hard to tell in the following picture but it’s a spider in a jar. Our docent said “she’s looked better”. He said some teenager wrote to NASA and asked if a spider would be able to spin a web in space. They all looked at each other, realized they had no idea and took two spiders up to see. Anita managed to spin one.

One thing I wanted to see was a Concorde plane. My dad had a friend who flew on one and had a window seat. He had to switch seats with a little kid because he couldn’t sit up straight. Heath’s dad got a chance to fly on Singapore Airline’s Concorde for free as part of some promotion and turned it down. The docent said they asked everyone on a Concorde flight what they paid for the tickets and no one knew. Either the company bought their tickets or they were people who “had people to do that for them”. So they priced tickets based on what passengers thought they had paid for it.

The Enola Gay, the first plane to drop an atomic bomb. It was named after the pilot’s mother.
A peek inside the cockpit
The Spirit of Columbus

Jerrie Mock was the first woman to fly solo around the world. Our docent said she told her husband one night she was bored and he said “well, you have a plane, go somewhere”. She did a little research and discovered that no woman had successfully flown solo around the world. He was thinking more along the lines of a short hop to Chicago (they lived in Columbus, Ohio) for the weekend but he supported her. I found out later that when she took off the control tower mic was still on and someone was overheard saying “we’ll never see her again”.

We learned a little about the Wright Brothers. Their main plane is at the downtown museum but there were some smaller ones and other artifacts here.

There were several Nazi planes on display and someone asked the docent how the US acquired them. He shrugged and said “we won the war”.

After our two-hour express tour we head upstairs for lunch and passed two tables with people signing books. I went past the first — it was a book written by a Top Gun — and then the second one caught my eye as there were about six different books on the table and he was wearing a US military uniform but speaking in a German accent. I said “wow, you’ve been busy” and the man said “I squeeze it in between skiing and golfing”. I noticed a book titled “German Boy” and asked “this is your story?”. He was born in Germany in 1935 and his father was in the Luftwaffe leaving him to the be “the man of the house”. He came to the US at age 16 and had a long career in the US military. So I bought that book. His name is Wolfgang W.E. Samuel and he has an Amazon page.

Another activity going on was a lunar challenge in honor of Apollo 11. There was an introductory video and quiz (Heath and Katy did better than I did), three stations to solve a problem and then get a launch code and a bonus crossword. Heath and Katy did the station activities while I worked on the crossword. After you plugged in your launch codes and checked if they were right you could design a landing module so Heath and Katy did that and had fun. They had stay in the air for at least three seconds. Katy’s was three seconds and Heath’s was 2.9, I believe.

Doing one of the demonstrations for the challenge
Heath and Katy working on their landing modules
Katy launching hers

I didn’t get a picture of Heath’s. He made a paper airplane and taped the module to it making a glider like the shuttles were on while landing.

And we turned in our stuff. Katy got a medal for solving the challenge (Heath could have gotten one, too) and I got a very nice Apollo 11 patch for solving the crossword.

The crossword was all about people involved in the project and one of them was Margaret Hamilton who was the lead programmer for the mission. She wrote the guidance software and the printed code was as tall as she was. This is a cutout based on an actual photo.

Heath said that challenge was one of his favorite parts of the day and it was the very first day for it.

So when that was finished we went to see what we missed in the rest of the museum. We didn’t come close to seeing it all.

We stopped by the restoration hangar and there were all kinds of planes in various stages of restoration. And the Apollo 11 capsule. When we were at the main museum about 10 years ago it was on display there.

Apollo 11 capsule

After a quick trip through the gift shop, we came out with a Christmas ornament, a small shuttle and a couple of other things, we left as they were closing up. And still didn’t see everything.

We went back to the hotel for another round of “what do you want to do for dinner” and settled on a Salvadoran/Mexican place that was also very good. Our chatty waiter told us there were 80-90 restaurants in that area.

You wouldn’t think fried bananas would be good with refried beans and sour cream but they really were. Katy is an adventurous eater and had crab quesadillas.


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