The U.S. National Air & Space Museum (NASM) is part of the Smithsonian Institution, the U.S. government’s public-owned museum group. It was created in 1946 as the National Air Museum but lacked its own exhibit space, apart from displays in the main Smithsonian museum building, until 1976. Since then, the NASM’s main facility at on the Mall in Washington, DC has regularly ranked as the most visited museum in the world, with up to 9 million visitors per year. The Washington facility displays approximately 60 of the most significant of the museum’s total collection of hundreds of aircraft and spacecraft, with some rotation between the main facility and satellite facilities.
The NASM’s main satellite facility from a visitor perspective is the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, adjacent to Dulles International Airport, which opened in 2003. Udvar-Hazy displays a much larger number of aircraft, including many that are too large ever to be displayed in downtown Washington.
The NASM also maintains the Paul E. Garber Restoration Facility in Suitland (formerly Silver Hill), Maryland. Most of the museum’s restoration and storage are still conducted in Maryland, although these functions increasingly are being moved to the expanding Udvar-Hazy Center. The Garber facility, in a remote and not especially attractive Maryland suburb, was formerly something of a pilgrimage for aviation buffs, but has been closed to the public since the opening of Udvar-Hazy.
Most aviation enthusiasts would agree that, taking into account rarity, significance, diversity and number of aircraft, the NASM’s is the top historic aircraft collection in the world. It contains many aircraft that are of individual significance for their exploits and many that are the only survivors of their types. Since the 1970s, the NASM has also set a standard for top-quality, authentic restorations and careful preservation efforts, despite operating on a shoestring restoration budget for most of its history.
Click here to see the NASM’s website.