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DOAV Celebrates Innovations in Flight at Dulles

On June 17, the “Innovations in Flight” event at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center brought together planes, pilots, and the public into one space to celebrate the technical accomplishments achieved in aviation. The Virginia Department of Aviation (DOAV) participated in the national museum’s busiest annual event. While there, DOAV staff educated attendees on the mission of the department and its educational programs. Staff also talked about airplanes with fellow aviation enthusiasts.

Planes from every category graced the ramp at Dulles International Airport. United Airlines taxied one of its Boeing 767s to the site. On the opposite side of the apron was an Air Force C-17. These large aircraft had long lines of people waiting to walk through them. Smaller aircraft like Cessna, American Champion, Cirrus, Piper, and many others were flown in from across the region to entertain the crowds. For many of these General Aviation pilots, it may be their only opportunity to fly into Virginia’s busiest airport. (In April 2023 alone, Dulles had 2,027,965 passengers come through its gates.)

Inside the Udvar-Hazy Center are the world’s rarest and most storied craft. The highest mission-flown space shuttle – Discovery – shares the same room as John Glenn’s Friendship 7 capsule. There is even a prototype Gemini spacecraft with an experimental para-foil wing that would have allowed the capsule to make a landing like an aircraft. It makes space-lovers imagine, “what if.”

Opposing each other in the museum are two very different rocket-powered aircraft. At an arm’s-length away sits “Glamorous Glennis,” the Bell X-1 that Chuck Yeager used to break the sound barrier. The other is the Messerschmitt Me-163 Komet. In a desperate attempt to thwart Allied bombers, this rocket plane would dash up to the high-flying threats with two 30 mm cannons. The Komet’s major flaw was that it would expend all of its fuel intercepting the bombers and face a vulnerable glide back down to the ground. The juxtaposition of how rocket planes can both further science and fight wars is evident in the museum’s exhibit.

Tony Sotelo, an education specialist with the DOAV, marveled at all of the history in one place: “So many planes that I have spent my life reading about are right in front of me… The Enola Gay, a Concorde, Howard Hughes’ H-1 racer! I had to stop quite often and take it all in.”

It’s not too early to start making plans for next year’s “Innovations in Flight” event at the Udvar-Hazy Center. Better yet, find the application online so that you can fly your plane there. You will not be disappointed.

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