Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

There are now two Air and Space Museums in Washington, DC. This post is written about the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on the National Mall. We’ve also written about the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, which is located near Dulles International Airport, and to be honest, we like that museum a little better.

This is mostly because they have sent a lot of the bigger airplanes out to the Udvar-Hazy Center, and our boys loved seeing the huge variety of aircraft. The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on the National Mall is going through a major renovation over the next several years as they update the museum and the exhibits. The museum will remain open and they will change exhibits one section at a time. For more information on the changes, check their website.

This post is about our trip to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in 2018, and we were impressed with the fun, interactive displays they had throughout this museum. We also loved seeing the iconic Spirit of St. Louis.

How Things Fly: Children’s Area

There is a huge section dedicated to the aspects of flight that allows children to have hands on experience. There are landing simulators as well as simple science experiments that show how planes get off the ground. While we were there, there was even a paper airplane contest with prizes for the winners.  We spent most of our time in this section, and our boys loved all the hands-on displays.

There are many activities in the How Things Fly area.
We had a lot of fun exploring in this area.

Iconic Aircraft

This is a Wright Flyer flown in 1903 by the Wright Brothers.

A few important sights in the Air and Space Museum are the Spirit of St. Louis, which Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic, the Bell X-1, which first broke the sound barrier, the Wright Brothers’ first plane, and our favorite, the filming model of the Starship Enterprise. All of these aircraft are in different areas throughout the museum, so make sure to pick up a map and locate the specific ones you want to see.

This is Charles Lindbergh’s plane.
There are many historical planes including this Amelia Earhart plane.
This is the first unmanned military aircraft.

Space Section

This is the SkyLab capsule from the early Apollo missions.

There are a couple of exhibits on space, but they all weave together, so visitors can easily wander through the entire area. There is a rock from the moon, lunar rover, the Skylab capsule, and even some space suits. We enjoyed the videos and displays, too.

There are lots of moon rocks to see, and one that you can touch.
On seeing how small the USS Enterprise is, our son asked, “How did they get in there.”
Dad’s answer: “Obviously they beamed aboard.”

There is also a planetarium and an IMAX theater with different shows throughout the day. These shows do cost to view. We enjoyed a video presentation about dark matter even though we left more confused than when we went in. Pick up your tickets for shows when you arrive because they do sell out.

Changing Exhibits

One exhibit lets you explore inside a plane.

There are short term exhibits at this museum as well. When we were there, one hall was dedicated to WWI and the pilot known as the Red Baron. The planes from that war are on display, and they are really neat to see. Since the Wright Brothers took their first flight in 1903, and the Great War started in 1914, airplanes were a new thing, so we found this section interesting.

There was also an exhibit about navigation through time. The exhibit had a fun display of picture frames with people from different eras talking about how they navigated. We enjoyed learning about sonar, as well as navigation with the stars.

We enjoyed the Time and Navigation exhibit, too.

They are moving items in and out as they work through the renovations, so things that we have shared in this post might not be on display when you go. You can check their website for up-to-date information if there is a certain item you’d like to see.

The larger rockets and planes are displayed all over the museum.

Tips for Visiting

Plan a few hours in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. There is plenty to see and do. It was one of our boys’ favorite stops on the National Mall.

  • Museum entrance is FREE all year.
  • Buy tickets for the planetarium or IMAX shows early because the shows do sell out. We picked ours up when we walked in and then planned our visit around the available time.
  • Bottled water is allowed, but no other food or drink.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. There is a lot of walking involved along the National Mall and in the museum.
  • Check out the rules for visiting on the Smithsonian website.

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