January 26, 2005
OK so if you just read the “Cirrus How-To” adventure, then you know how Randy and I got to Washington DC for the trip to the Udvar-Hazy Wing of the Air and Space Smithsonian Museum. Running the pretty little Modena to the museum was great fun, and they have a nice perfect straight parking lot with a nice perfect straight road running along it that is great for zipping up and down in a little sports car… and the museum is really a beautiful thing to behold… regard below. You can see the huge main hangar, the awesome IMAX theatre, and the cool “Control Tower”, all of which are the coolest things to go into.. like everything there, the parking lot is big and clean and well laid-out as well, and the access is RIGHT OFF THE HIGHWAY… the whole setup is really just PERFECT!!! If you have a free day: SEE IT.
Entering into the museum, you see that it is perfect and simple: A huge, pristine, clean steel hangar, with all the steel painted perfect white, and perfect concrete floor… it is totally spartan and simple… just perfect. No clutter. It has an SR-71, a Space Shuttle (Enterprise), a Concorde, a B-29 (THE B-29 Enola Gay in fact), an F-35, and COUNTLESS other amazing airplanes. There is a walkway way up in the top to look down on the planes, and right into the cockpit of the B-29, which is jacked up off the floor a bit. Simply looking into the cockpit of the B-29 is amazing.. you are suddenly struck at the tiny, frail, thin aluminum construction of this little glass fishbowl these guys flew in, yet despite the frail thin aluminum frame in their funny little “see-everything” glass dome, the pilots would hang it all over the line over thousands of miles of the Pacific, and unleash the worst terror the world has ever seen. (Note: “worst terror that world has ever seen” is a non-negotiable, TRUE statement… but was it WORTH it to end the War? Was it an acceptable weapon to actually use? On cities with thousands of civilians? That, I would never pretend to answer definitively). Sadly, even the first atom bomb is not the worst of the B-29’s humanitarian failures… the fire-bombing of Tokyo actually resulted in MORE death the atom bombs, also carried out by fleets of B-29’s. (Again: The fact that this fire-bombing and dropping of the bomb is an un-utterable human failure and evil is not negotiable by any intelligent person, but whether or not it was necessary, and justified, is certainly a debate-able point, to which I would never pretend to have an absolute answer).
Anyway, amidst all the fun of the wonderful airplanes, a person of conscience cannot look at the ACTUAL B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb without at least ASKING these questions… though I would never pretend to have the answer.. all I can say is that obliterating thousands of people who have done no wrong is an unimaginably evil thing to do… though in the context of a War, I cannot say for certain if it was the wrong move to make or not).
Anyway, on to other things! The SR-71 Blackbird here, and Space Shuttle Enterprise in the background:
Now here is where my pictures stop. Why? Because there were so many planes, and everything so cool, I just could not possibly even HOPE to capture it all, and I was so overwhelmed with the huge number and variety of planes I just gave up even TRYING to document it. Maybe the next time I go there I will try to do a better job of documenting it all for you, but on this trip I just gave up after my first glance and stumbled around on my own. (until then: GO THERE YOURSELF! It is great, and VERY easy to get to). There is an SR-71 in X-Plane, and a Space Shuttle, so you can see how these strange birds fly.
The Concorde is amazing.. I was really struck by the wear and tear of the thousands of miles of Mach-2 flight, and the rugged-looking components that are needed to deal with the airflow at that speed and pressure… look especially at the engine inlets.. you can see various ducts and doors that move in flight to direct airflow around and into the engine.. all very rugged, a bit worn, and streaked from hours of hot-flight at Mach-2. Looking at the Concorde, you see that it is certainly BIG, but compared to the distance it must cross across the Atlantic, at the speed and altitude it must fly, it really seems absolutely tiny… a teeny little speck in the sky that still manages to cross the whole ocean in a few hours at ludicrous speed… a total miracle!
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is there as well (and in X-Plane, though we don’t have the lift-fan transmission quite perfectly yet) and countless other planes, engines, and other bits of aviation technology that you would have to study a week to just learn the most superficial description of.
They have an AWESOME Imax theatre as well… they did NOT skimp on the sound and video system, trust me! They have 3 movies playing all the time (fighter-pilot, helo-flight, and wonder of flight).. each movie is maybe an hour, though it goes by in what feels like 10 minutes… the footage is, of course, amazing.
Then you can take an elevator up to the “control” tower, and watch the planes coming and going from Dulles (a few miles away) (or watch the little Modenas running up and down the parking lot!) and get a nice view of the overall lay of the area.
Once you have begun to soak in the basics, there are constant free guided tours… just start with a little group of people and a guide as he walks around the hangar, showing everything off and explaining it to you… I learned more in 10 minutes with a tour guide than I would have learned in an hour on my own just be reading the placards on each plane.
Now for something really cool… if you escape from the museum on foot, you can run down to the approach end of one of the runways at Dulles, run up to the airport fence, and watch the planes land as they come in right over you (maybe 100 feet?). The 767’s, 757’s, 737’s.. they are all pretty cool, but the REAL treat is to watch the Canadair Challenger commuters land. Why? Because they ALONE have a distinguishing characteristic that all the other planes lack: After the jet passes overhead, there is about 15 seconds of silence and then a “pop! pop!” sound, followed by a jet roar… you can tell that the roar is coming from 100 feet over your head and to the side, clearly in empty space, where there is nothing to MAKE any noise! But the dull roar is still there! You can HEAR where it is coming from, but there is nothing there to MAKE the noise! It is totally weird!! After a few moments of the dull roar, it suddenly transitions into a windy whistling sound that seems to hang in space right above you! Of course, as you may have figured out, this is the wingtip vortex from the airplane… a small horizontal cyclone that is left behind by each wing. ALL planes generate them, but only the little Canadair Regional Jet makes them in such a way that you clearly HEAR them long AFTER the plane has passed!!! If (WHEN!) you go this museum, be sure to leave at some time and run down the road that goes to the parking lot (you drove on it to get in) about a 1/4 mile to the fence where the jets come in, AND WAIT FOR A CANADAIR RJ (they come like every 10 minutes, you WON’T have to wait long!) and observe this incredible phenomenon…
Why does it happen only on the Canadairs?
Why don’t you hear it instantly? Why the DELAY after the jet passes?
Why does it START as a ROAR and then TURN INTO A WHISTLE?
Why does it sometimes make a “pop pop” noise right at the beginning?
Figure it out! I can’t!