The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA, currently has over 161 aircraft and 160 major space objects on display. With so much to see in such a huge space, it’s easy to focus on the larger and more famous objects like the Concorde, Space Shuttle Enterprise, and Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay. However, there are a host of other objects of historical significance with very interesting stories behind them. Here is a list of just some of the objects that you shouldn’t miss on your next (or first) visit to the Udvar-Hazy Center:
On display near the center of the Boeing Aviation Hangar is the bright yellow N1-M flying wing. Built by John K. “Jack” Northrop, one of the world’s preeminent aircraft designers and creator of the Lockheed Vega and Northrop Alpha, the N1-M wasn’t his first attempt at creating a flying wing, but it represents the first truly successful design. It’s flight characteristics were not great, but it led to other designs, including the Northrop XB-35 and YB-49 strategic bombers and ultimately the B-2 stealth bomber. The N1-M first flew in 1940 and was one of many experimental aircraft that has been associated with UFO sightings. It’s ominous beauty & important place in history make it a must-see on any visit.
One of the most famous space images is that of lone astronaut Bruce McAndless floating free against the blackness of space – a feat made possible by the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU), currently on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center. It was the first time a human had ever flown completely free from a spacecraft. The backpack propulsion system was used on three shuttle missions in 1984 and was transferred to the Museum in 2001. Hanging high above and to one side of the space shuttle Enterprise, it’s easy to miss this important object. Curator Valerie Neal explains more about the MMU in this video:
The Museum’s L-5 is the first production model ever built. One of the most important but overlooked aircraft of WWII, it was versatile, durable and flew a wide variety of missions from photo reconnaissance to VIP transport. Hanging high above the Lockheed SR-71, one of the more frequently asked questions about this aircraft is “what is the hook?” It’s called the Brodie System, an ingenious system designed to allow aircraft to takeoff and land on a ship without landing on the deck. The hook grabs onto a line running along the side of the ship, as shown in the video below. While the Brodie System was operational in the Pacific only toward the end of the war, it made one notable contribution leading up to the invasion of Okinawa, as curator Roger Connor explains:
Elevated above the floor is one section of a Saturn V rocket measuring about 1 meter (3 feet) high by 6.7 meters (22 feet) in diameter. This ring, which sat between the third stage of the Saturn rocket and the payload, was incredibly important. Known as the Instrument Unit, it contained crucial systems, including the inertial guidance system that guided the rocket throughout launch. During the launch of the Apollo 12 mission, lightning strikes knocked out the power to the Command Module and its navigation systems. The guidance system in the Instrument Unit continued working and kept the Saturn V rocket on course to a successful mission to the Moon.
A Gemini capsule with wheels? That capsule is a full-scale Test Tow Vehicle (TTV) built to train Gemini astronauts in a landing procedure that ultimately was not used. At the start of the Gemini program in 1961, NASA considered having the two-man Gemini capsule land on a runway after its return from space, rather than parachute into the ocean. The controlled descent and landing would use an inflatable paraglider wing of the type invented by Francis Rogallo and NASA. The Museum’s TTV was the first of two TTVs flown in several tests at Edwards Air Force Base in California to perfect maneuvering, control, and landing techniques. This video includes an early animation of how the Paraglider Landing System would work:
These are just five of the unique objects on view at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, there are hundreds more. What do you think are other must-see objects?