16 hours after leaving for the airport we arrived at the Springhill Suites just minutes from Dulles Airport in Virginia, around 5pm local time. The hotel has a small swimming pool and spa area, and despite our bodies telling us it was late at night, Teddy and John were keen to try out the facilities. The only problem was finding the trunks – I’d packed swimming gear but where, oh where, in amongst our 10 items of luggage, was anyone’s guess. “Packing cubes” I hear you say, oh voice of all knowing hindsight, as usual just a little too late.
Eventually the trunks turned up and I left Nick to look after a sleeping Alex (and to repack said 10 items of luggage, now strewn haphazardly across the floor) so that the boys could burn off all that pent up energy from 8 hours stuck in a metal tube. An hour later we were all back in our room and fast asleep (except for Nick, who I believe was still repacking…).
Predictably, jet lag had us all wide awake by 4:30 the following morning and first in the line for breakfast when it opened at 6am, and we were starving. We all then made use of the pool and by 9.30am we were ready for another breakfast – we can’t be the only family that does that…it was nearly lunchtime for us, after all?!
A few miles up the road from the airport is the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Centre, part of the National Air and Space Museum and like all the Smithsonian museums, entry is free. The Centre is huge and is home to the Space Shuttle Discovery, a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, an Air France Concorde and hundreds of other assorted aircraft. Nick and the boys were in heaven; okay, mostly Nick.
The Blackbird – the world’s fastest jet aircraft, stands magnificently in the first hall with the Space Shuttle Discovery visible through the doors behind her. This aircraft could travel from London to Los Angeles and arrive 4 hours before she left!
Alex loved seeing all the planes, although he was convinced that every plane sporting an American air force or navy badge belonged to the Jolly Wrenches squadron from Planes. Indeed the very first plane you see on entering is Skipper – a WW2 fighter plane, the Vought Corsair.
The collection includes Steve Fossett’s Global Flyer which flew round the world non-stop, a collection of ultralight aircraft, many weighing less than John and the microjet from James Bond’s Octopussy.
The Space Shuttle Discovery
I remember as a child witnessing the majestic Concorde pass over our house regularly on a Saturday afternoon. The distinctive sound of the Concorde engine was unmistakable and had you looking to the skies to see her passing through – it never got tired. I find it strange that something that was such a futuristic part of my childhood is completely unknown to the boys and whilst they can see her in museums today, or watch her fly on YouTube, it is just not the same as feeling her as she flew past. When I was 27 and working in London, I remember ducking out of the office with a colleague to climb to the top of the Barbican to watch her final flight across the city. I do hope they bring her back someday.
Adjacent to the main hangars an observation tower provides 360 degree viewing of aircraft coming in to land at Dulles International Airport with a live feed to the local air traffic control. On the floor below there is an air traffic control mock workstation to explore. All the boys agreed they would prefer to fly the planes than sit in the air traffic control centre.
Finally, before we left, the older boys enjoyed a flight simulator experience; John as the senior pilot and Teddy, the gunner. A short training video later and they were flying. What none of us realised was that the simulator would complete a 180 degree inversion; if I had known that, I’d have made sure that Teddy fastened his seatbelt a little more tightly…
Once Teddy’s usual colour returned, we headed back to the hotel, exhausted, ready to collect our luggage and make our way into Washington DC for the next few days…