Technically, the Udvar-Hazy Center is an annex to the legendary Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. But this is not just a place for overflow exhibits. It's an incredible, huge museum in its own right, housing some of the most wonderful air and spacecraft in history. Join me for a look around.
For more about this museum, and the historic planes within, check out: Soar to the skies and beyond at the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center.
It's always a good sign when a museum takes advantage of three dimensions. Here is a hanging Vought F4U Corsair.
The majority of the collection is housed in one enormous long hangar.
Studies showed NASA's Oblique Wing Research Aircraft had potential for impressive performance at high speed. A larger, piloted version was built as well.
This aircraft was also the first ever to achieve a short take off, fly at supersonic speed, then land vertically, all in the same flight.
This Vought RF-8 Crusader was the last operational F-8 in the US Navy. It was in service from 1959 until 1987 and has more flight hours (7,475 to be exact, including 200 in combat) than any other F-8.
The museum's F-4 Phantom II logged more than 5,000 hours of flight time during its 15 years of service, including 1,300 carrier landings on both the USS Independence and the USS Saratoga.
The first of three incredibly rare German aircraft at the museum is the Dornier Do 335 "Arrow", a twin-engine heavy fighter. It was Germany's fastest propeller aircraft of World War II, with a top speed of 474 mph. Only 37 were made before the war ended.
This is the only surviving Arado Ar 234, the world's first operational jet bomber. It was largely used for reconnaissance.
The large aircraft in the middle is the only fully restored Heinkel He 219 Uhu night fighter. It was extremely advanced for its time, with radar, ejection seats and more. Fewer than 300 were made.
At the bottom is a Focke-Wulf Fw 190, which was shipped to the US after the war for study, and preserved at the museum since the late 1940s.
The SA-2A Sky Baby, hand-built by Ray Stits at his home in California. It actually flew at air shows in 1952.
This Lockheed Super Constellation (or "Connie") served with the Air Force and Air National Guard for 22 years.
The Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet was a late-war rocket-powered interceptor. It was extremely fast, at least until its very limited fuel ran out. This example is one of five brought over from Germany after World War II for testing.
The huge Pratt & Whitney J58 engines let the SR-71 cruise at Mach 3.2, or more than 2,200 mph.
The engines were designed to run with afterburners always running. This was actually most efficient at Mach 3 cruise.
This specific SR-71 flew from Los Angeles to New York in 1 hour, 4 minutes, averaging 2,124 mph, a record. There's no word on how many spooked dogs and humans were startled by the sonic boom.
Up top is the odd (but cool!) looking Northrop P-61C Black Widow. Designed to hunt enemy aircraft at night, this example was used for cold weather and other scientific testing for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the precursor to NASA.
At the bottom is the only surviving Nakajima J1N1-S Gekko escort fighter.
This is the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.
The Little Boy bomb created an explosion equal to 15 kilotons of TNT, and killed between 90,000 and 146,000 people.
The Enola Gay flew as a weather reconnaissance aircraft for the second bomb drop, nicknamed Fat Man, over Nagasaki on Aug. 9.
After the war, the Army Air Force flew the Enola Gay during the top-secret Operation Crossroads atomic test program, though it didn't drop any weapons.
After sitting in various storage facilities for the next four decades, an extensive restoration project began in the mid-1980s. It took nearly 20 years to complete.
Even after the 707 entered service, the Dash 80 continued on for over a decade as a testbed for aircraft and engine technologies. This is, inarguably, one of the most important, or at least influential, aircraft in any museum anywhere.
Concorde F-BVFA, aka Foxtrot Alpha, wears its original Air France livery. It was the airline's second Concorde (the first was destroyed in a 2000 crash at Paris), and opened service from Paris to New York, Washington and Rio de Janeiro.
You can't go inside, but CNET had toured Concordes in Seattle, New York, Paris and Bristol, UK. There's also one at the Technik Museum Sinsheim in Germany next to its Russian counterpart, the Tupolev Tu-144.
In the museum's restoration area they're hard at work on a B-25, an Incom-FreiTek T-70 X-wing fighter (!) and other aircraft.
The Space Shuttle Discovery orbiter first launched into orbit on Aug. 30, 1984. It flew 39 flights over 27 years, the most of any spacecraft.
Discovery was the third Shuttle built, not including the atmospheric testbed Enterprise. It also was the first to be retired, being the oldest surviving Shuttle at the time.
So many photos and videos of the Shuttles are from long distance that it's hard to tell how big they really are. They're indeed enormous, but wouldn't look out of place, size-wise, next to most modern airliners.
The orbiter's main engines were liquid-fueled, drawing liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen from the big orange external tank.
The Gemini VII capsule carried astronauts Jim Lovell and Frank Borman into orbit in 1965. It's remarkable how small these early spacecraft were. Only 19 years separated this and the Discovery's first flight.
Easily one of the most impressive air museums in the world, the Udvar-Hazy Center is a must-see for any aircraft aficionados. It's next to Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia.
For more about the museum, and our tour, check out: Soar to the skies and beyond at the Smithsonian's Udvar-Hazy Center.