What do you do with an extra $65 million? Well, if you’re Steven Ferencz Udvar-Hazy, a Hungarian immigrant who came to the U.S. as a child, and you happen to rank #83 on Forbes’ list of the 400 Richest Americans, you donate it to the Smithsonian to help build the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
Way back in 1953, at the Budapest Air Show, Hazy’s love of flight, well, took flight. An airplane broker by trade, Hazy put himself through UCLA working two lifeguard jobs. He brokered his first airplane deal before graduation, and calls his donation a way to give back, and to foster the same love of flight that he experienced as a boy. Some of today’s young museum visitors may end up inspired to pilot their own Gulfstream V some day, just like Hazy.
Until then, there’s plenty to see and do at the Udvar-Hazy Center, home to such historic aircraft as a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the Space Shuttle Enterprise, and the Gemini VII capsule. Experience the thrill of piloting your own plane (no license required) or even an orbiter, in the center’s full-motion ride simulator. “Spacewalk 2004 3-D” offers a journey around the International Space Station, and “Wings” puts flight fans behind the controls of some of history’s most famous aircraft. At the James S. McDonnell Space Hanger, you may notice the exposed steel, painted black to simulate space, and the light shining on the Enterprise, which mimics the way the sun shines on the shuttle in orbit. At the Boeing Aviation Hangar (10 stories tall and the length of three football fields!) you’ll be wowed by up-close views of the suspended aircraft, afforded by the elevated walkways.But wait, there’s more! At the 164-foot tall Donald D. Engen Observation Tower make like an air traffic controller or, if you prefer, just enjoy the spectacular eye level views provided by the 360-degree windows, which look out onto two adjacent Dulles International Airport runways. Heights make you nervous? Not to fear, the tower is encased in concrete. Once you’ve had your fill of strolling the museum, rest your dogs at the IMAX theater, where mostly “flight-centric” movies are shown throughout the day and evening.