Monday, July 07, 2008

D.C. Wings

Since before she met me, Laurie has been an avid participant and promoter of the Center for Civic Education's "We the People" program. It's a great program that works with educators across the country to try and foster a greater sense of civic responsibility in elementary and secondary students. Recently she has deepened her involvement with this program by becoming the WTP representative for all the school's in Illinois's 15th Congressional District (basically Champaign Unit 4). While this is by and large a volunteer job, she does get one very nice perk--an all expenses paid trip to Washington D.C once a year for the annual WTP conference of district representatives. Since they allow spouses to come along (all I had to pay for was my own airfare and any meals I had on my own)I decided to tag along.

While Laurie was in her various sessions I explored the city. There are many things I saw which I could write about, but I'll mention just one. While taking in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on the Mall, I spotted a brochure about the Steven F. Udvar-Hazay Center--a sister museum that is located about an hour's bus ride away in Chantilly, VA. I had heard some of my pilot friends talk about this museum and how it surpassed the facility on the Mall in both the size and quality of the collection of aircraft on display. I had to see it.

The next morning, after about an hour on D.C.'s Metro trains and buses, I was standing at the entrance of one of the largest aviation museums I have ever seen. Located just to the south of Dulles International, the sprawling facility consists of massive hangars that house, among other things, a Concord, the Enola Gay, a prototype 707, rare Luftwaffe secret weapons from WWII and the space shuttle Enterprise.

As I entered the largest of hangars I stopped awestruck in my tracks. I was standing on one of the many balconies in the facility. Just to my right, hanging almost within arms reach, was an F4U Corsair. To it's left, also seemingly within reach, was a P-40 Warhawk. On the floor directly in front of me was an SR-71 and beyond it in the adjacent hangar the space shuttle.

As I told Laurie later, I experienced a tingle up my spine that I hadn't felt since I first set foot in Six Flags when I was 10. I had our camera with us and took a bunch of pictures. I'll let them do the rest of the talking for this post. All, I'll say in closing is if you love aviation, this is a place you simply have to see before you die. Do whatever it takes, but get there. Even if you're not a pilot or fellow wingnut, but simply a student of history, it's well worth the trip.

Now, to the pics.