Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

WASHINGTON DC, United States — One of the world’s most visited museums, the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum has an incredible array of original artifacts from the history of flight and space exploration.

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One of the world’s most visited museums, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum has an incredible array of original artifacts from the history of flight and space exploration.

During its visitor numbers heyday in the late 1990s through the early 2000s, the Smithsonian‘s National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC was a contender for the most-visited museum in the world, besting even long-established institutions like the Louvre in Paris and the British Museum in London. In recent years, the annual tally has slipped somewhat,1 even if the Smithsonian Institution seems reluctant to relinquish the crown,2 but it still attracts something north of 5 to 6 million visitors annually. And perhaps most remarkably, it handles this crush of visitors with surprisingly few lines.

Thanks to an annex opened in 2003, the Air and Space Museum is now actually two venues, one on the National Mall in downtown Washington DC close to the US Capitol, and another hangar-like structure known as the Udvar-Hazy Center about 30 minutes away in Chantilly, near Dulles Airport. Considering the extraordinary size of many of the museum’s artifacts–there are only so many airplanes you can fit in a building–the Udvar-Hazy extension was purpose-built to display a good portion of the 85 percent of the museum’s artifacts that simply didn’t fit in the building on the National Mall.

Highlights of the Udvar-Hazy Center include the Space Shuttle Discovery, an SR-71 Blackbird, a Concord, and the Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Highlights of the main building on the National Mall include the original Wright Brothers Flyer, the Apollo 11 command module, the Spirit of St. Louis, and a full backup Skylab.

Photos of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Space Shuttle Discovery at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum
CHANTILLY, Virginia — Rocket boosters on the tail of the Space Shuttle Discovery at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC Main Foyer
WASHINGTON DC, USA – Elevated view of the main foyer inside the entrance at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington DC. The lunar module at the bottom of the frame is the original Apollo XI re-entry vehicle, while the orange plane at the top left was Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1 aircraft in which he broke the sound barrier for the first time in level flight. The Air and Space Museum, which focuses on the history of aviation and space exploration, is one of the most visited museums in the world.
CHANTILLY, Virginia — A suspended spacewalk suit and life support equipment casts a shadow on the Space Shuttle Discovery at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center at Chantilly, Virginia.
Space Shuttle Discovery at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
CHANTILLY, Virginia — Close-up of the heat shield and outer shell of the Space Shuttle Discovery on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center. Located near Dulles Airport, the Udvar-Hazy Center is the second public facility of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Housed in a large hangar are a multitude of planes, helicopters, rockets, and space vehicles.
WASHINGTON DC, USA — Inside the cockpit of a passenger jet liner.
WASHINGTON DC, USA — Inside the cockpit of a passenger jetliner.
CHANTILLY, Virginia — A World War II-era military plane suspended from the ceiling of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
Clipper Flying Cloud
CHANTILLY, Virginia — A Boeing 307 Stratoliner “Clipper Flying Cloud” on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. The Boeing 307 was a passenger plane that first flew in 1938.
SR-71 Blackbird at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
CHANTILLY, Virginia — Visitors stand in front of the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center. Located near Dulles Airport, the Udvar-Hazy Center is the second public facility of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Housed in a large hangar are a multitude of planes, helicopters, rockets, and space vehicles. In the background are the bulging rocket thrusters of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Please note that due to the low light conditions that this was shot in, it contains some image noise when viewed at large resolutions.
Spitfire at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum
CHANTILLY, Virginia — A World War II-era fighter plane suspended from the ceiling of the hangar at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
SR-71 Blackbird at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
CHANTILLY, Virginia — The cockpit of the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center. Located near Dulles Airport, the Udvar-Hazy Center is the second public facility of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Housed in a large hangar are a multitude of planes, helicopters, rockets, and space vehicles. In the background are the bulging rocket thrusters of the Space Shuttle Discovery.
Spitfire at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
CHANTILLY, Virginia — Located near Dulles Airport, the Udvar-Hazy Center is the second public facility of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Housed in a large hangar are a multitude of planes, helicopters, rockets, and space vehicles.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC Main Foyer
WASHINGTON DC, USA — The main foyer inside the entrance at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington DC. The Air and Space Museum, which focuses on the history of aviation and space exploration, is one of the most visited museums in the world.
Clipper Flying Cloud
CHANTILLY, Virginia — A Boeing 307 Stratoliner “Clipper Flying Cloud” on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. The Boeing 307 was a passenger plane that first flew in 1938.
Control Tower at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
CHANTILLY, Virginia — The control tower and entrance at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center. Located near Dulles Airport, the Udvar-Hazy Center is the second public facility of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Housed in a large hangar are a multitude of planes, helicopters, rockets, and space vehicles.
Red Baron at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC
WASHINGTON DC, USA — An exhibit on the Red Baron and World War I aviation in popular culture. The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington DC is one of the most-visited museums in the world and is devoted to the history of aviation and space exploration.
Pitts Special S-1C
CHANTILLY, Virginia.
CHANTILLY, Virginia — The tail of the SR-71 Blackbird.
Amelia Earhart's Plane at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC
WASHINGTON DC, USA — Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed 5B Vega. The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington DC is one of the most-visited museums in the world and is devoted to the history of aviation and space exploration.
John Glenn's Mercury 7 capsule
WASHINGTON DC, USA – Visitors to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC listen to a guide explain the Mercury 7 re-entry vehicle, the capsule that took the first American in space, John Glenn, safely to space and back.
Mobile Quarantine Facility at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
CHANTILLY, Virginia — The Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) that the Apollo 11 astronauts used on their return to Earth following their moon landing. They remained in the MQF for 65 hours. Located near Dulles Airport, the Udvar-Hazy Center is the second public facility of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Housed in a large hangar are a multitude of planes, helicopters, rockets, and space vehicles. The MQF is a converted Airstream trailer.
Space Shuttle Disovery at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
CHANTILLY, Virginia — The sun casts a silhouette of a display of an astronaut doing a space walk near the Space Shuttle Discovery at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center. Located near Dulles Airport, the Udvar-Hazy Center is the second public facility of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Housed in a large hangar are a multitude of planes, helicopters, rockets, and space vehicles.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC Amelia Earheart Exhibit
Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
SR-71 Blackbird at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
CHANTILLY, Virginia — The SR-71 Blackbird spy plane is one of the highlights at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center. Located near Dulles Airport, the Udvar-Hazy Center is the second public facility of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Housed in a large hangar are a multitude of planes, helicopters, rockets, and space vehicles.
Planes at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC
WASHINGTON, DC — The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington DC is one of the most-visited museums in the world and is devoted to the history of aviation and space exploration.
World War II Fighter Plane at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC
CHANTILLY, Virginia — A mockup control tower at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. The tower incorporates an exhibit about air traffic control as well as a public viewing platform that looks out over some of the runways of Dulles Airport. The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington DC is one of the most-visited museums in the world and is devoted to the history of aviation and space exploration.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC Commercial Aviation Exhibit
WASHINGTON DC, USA – The commercial aviation exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington DC. The Air and Space Museum, which focuses on the history of aviation and space exploration, is one of the most visited museums in the world.
Spitfire at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
CHANTILLY, Virginia — Located near Dulles Airport, the Udvar-Hazy Center is the second public facility of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Housed in a large hangar are a multitude of planes, helicopters, rockets, and space vehicles.
Smithsonian Air & Space Museum Planes
CHANTILLY, Virginia — Planes on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center, a large hangar facility at Chantilly, Virginia, next to Dulles Airport and just outside Washington DC. The large silver wing and engines at the top are from the B-29 Enola Gay, the bomber that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Spirit of St Louis
WASHINGTON DC, USA – Detail of Charles Lindbergh’s plane the Spirit of St. Louis, in which he flew the first non-stop flight from New York to Paris in 1927. It is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
SR-71 Blackbird spy plane
CHANTILLY, Virginia — The SR-71 Blackbird spy plane on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center) in Chantilly, Virginia
Control Tower at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
CHANTILLY, Virginia – A mockup air traffic control tower at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. The tower includes exhibit space on air traffic control as well as a public viewing level with views out over the planes landing and taking off from some of Dulles Airport’s runways. Opened in 2003, the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia (near Dulles Airport) is part of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Air and Space.
Planes on Display at Smithsonian Air and Space Museum
CHANTILLY, Virginia — Wide-angle shot of the planes on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center) in Chantilly, Virginia

What to Know Before You Go

Both are free to enter (but parking at the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center is $15 per car). Both can get very busy, especially during the summer, but the vast expanse of the Udvar-Hazy Center can accommodate more people without it feeling crowded.

The National Mall Building is easy to find–it’s right on the National Mall, up the eastern end towards the US Capitol Building.

For directions and public transport options for the Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center, see their website.

  1. Farah Nayeri, “Louvre’s 8.5 Million Visitors Keep It as No. 1 Museum Worldwide,” 29 March 2009, Bloomberg News; Ben Zongker, “Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Sees Fewer Visitors,” 20 February 2007, USA Today. []
  2. According to information that used to be on the Smithsonian’s website: “The National Air and Space Museum is recognized as the world’s most visited museum. For 2005, a total of 6,100,871 people visited the museum building on the Mall, which has on average attracted more than nine million people annually. For 2005, the Udvar-Hazy Center attracted 1,169,951.” []
David Coleman / Photographer

David Coleman

I'm a freelance travel photographer based in Washington DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and a bunch of places in between. My images have appeared in numerous publications, and you can check out some of my gear reviews and tips here. More »