- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2003

The famed Boeing B-29 Enola Gay and the Space Shuttle Enterprise are among the aerospace artifacts that will be on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s new branch of the National Air and Space Museum when it opens Dec. 15.

Some 80 pieces of aircraft and 50 spacecraft from the Cold War and World War II eras have been moved into a massive exhibition hangar next to Washington Dulles International Airport. Officials expect the museum will draw 3.5 million visitors in its first year of operation.

“It isn’t just about the big aircraft,” said Lin Ezell, the museum’s project coordinator who gave reporters a sneak preview of the 350,000 square feet of hanger space yesterday. “It is about the people who created, flew and serviced them. … [Its a] cathedral to aviation.”

Mrs. Ezell said that until now only 10 percent of the Smithsonian’s collection of aerospace artifacts had been on display at the Air and Space Museum on the Mall, while another 10 percent was on loan to museums around the world. Now, the Steven F.Udvar-Hazy Center will allow the rest of the Smithsonian’s catalog to be displayed.

“It is a very large-scale experience for many of the large artifacts that we have not been able to display,” Mrs. Ezell said of the museum.

Another 118 pieces of aircraft are slated for inclusion in the permanent collection, but they will have to be restored before they go on display. Many of the planes, helicopters and other aircraft have been crated away for more than 25 years, Mrs. Ezell said. Those items will be added to the collection by 2007.

The total cost for the project — for design, site infrastructure, construction, move-in and start-up — is approximately $311 million. Congress mandated that only nonfederal funds be used for the center’s construction. The museum needs to raise $90 million to build the second phase of the center — including a restoration hangar and archive and storage space — and to cover all outstanding notes.

The museum took about 30 months to construct on 760-plus acres next to the airport in western Fairfax County. The museum is named for Steven F. Udvar-Hazy, founder and chief executive officer of the International Lease Finance Corp. who donated $65 million to help build the center. It ultimately will contain 760,000 square feet of space.

The Dec. 15 opening date was selected as a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first powered flights by the Wright brothers — Dec. 17, 1903 in Kitty Hawk, N.C. — and to mark the next century of air and space exploration. Admission is free.

When the center opens to the public, 82 aircraft will be among the 350 major exhibits and displays housed in the hangar. The ground floor collection includes a Lockheed S-R 71 Blackbird spy plane; an Air France Concorde; the space shuttle Enterprise; the Bell UH-1H Iroquois helicopter, which was used in the Korean and Vietnam wars, and the Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945.

“We have hang gliders to homebuilts,” Mrs. Ezell said, peering up at the museum’s 10-story hangar, which spans the length of three football fields. “You can’t get much better than that.”

The museum also has a 64-foot-tall observation tower that overlooks the runways at Dulles, giving museum visitors a feeling that they are at an airport. The tower is named after Donald D. Engen, who was director of the Air and Space Museum when the formal lease was signed for the site in 1998.

The museum also is equipped with an 12,000-watt digital sound Lockheed Martin IMAX theater and a “Space Walk 2004” 3-D space simulator that will take visitors inside the International Space Station.

“We expect that it will be a popular exhibit because it is one of the only interactive exhibits,” said Aaron McInines, the museum’s site manager and engineer. He said the museum will add four flight simulators in the future.

Those who have been working on the museum’s infrastructure can’t wait until it opens to the public.

“The best word I can think of to best describe the museum is, ‘Wow,’” said Al Charles, an electrician for M.C. Dean, who is working on the building’s fire alarm and telecommunications systems. “I brought my 16-year-old son here, and his jaw just dropped to the ground.”


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