Udvar-Hazy Center Expansion Project Gets $6 Million Gift from Airbus

Phase 2 of the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center expansion project near Dulles, which is being privately financed and still needs to raise $11.2 million. It is expected to open in 2011.
Phase 2 of the National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center expansion project near Dulles, which is being privately financed and still needs to raise $11.2 million. It is expected to open in 2011. (Smithsonian Institution)
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By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The expansion of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center received a significant boost yesterday with a $6 million commitment from Airbus Americas Inc., the largest corporate gift this year to the Smithsonian Institution.

The donation by the aircraft manufacturer, announced at the cavernous outpost of the National Air and Space Museum near Dulles International Airport, will go to the completion of the second phase of the facility's expansion, an addition that will house restoration work, collection archives and a conservation laboratory. All those activities have been housed since the 1950s at the Paul E. Garber complex in Suitland, in less than ideal conditions.

The expansion plan was included in the original vision for Udvar-Hazy, which opened in 2003. But because of slow fundraising, Phase 2 was delayed, driving up the price tag.

Construction costs more than doubled, from an estimated $39 million to $79 million. "It was mainly the cost of concrete and steel," said Gen. John R. Dailey, the director of the two museums. "And Virginia had some new seismic requirements, and that meant more steel and concrete."

The Airbus gift, Dailey said, "put us in a tremendously strong position" to go ahead with the construction. The project, which is privately financed, has been given a green light by the Smithsonian Board of Regents but still has $11.2 million to raise. Dailey was handed an actual check at the ceremony; he said the full amount is due within two years.

Airbus also gave $5 million in 2000 for the Udvar-Hazy Center, and an Airbus plane is on display at the Mall museum. The existing Imax theater at Udvar-Hazy, 28 miles from the museum on the Mall, will be named for Airbus.

Phase 2 is scheduled to open in 2011. The addition will give the museum specialists 174,000 square feet of usable space, compared with the 40,000 square feet spread over several buildings in Suitland.

The new areas will include a restoration hangar the size of a football field, with a glassed-in balcony where visitors can watch the preservation work. Early projects will include work on a Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver, a Navy dive bomber of World War II. The archives space will make room for millions of records of the history of aeronautics and space flight, including 1.75 million photographs and 14,000 film and video titles. The improvements also will provide more room for outside researchers.

A conservation laboratory will house the research team that's developing special preservation strategies for the artifacts. Now, they are working on the camouflage colors used on a Heinkel He 219, a German night fighter plane from World War II. A collection storage facility will be the new home for such irreplaceable items as the museum's spacesuit collection. (Currently, Neil Armstrong's Apollo 11 suit is carefully wrapped in unbleached muslin and stored in a climate-controlled vault.)

Airbus Americas President Barry Eccleston said the donation was prompted by the one-of-a-kind status of many of the museum's collections, as well as its education programs. "Despite the challenging economic environment globally, it's vital that the Smithsonian's important work of preserving, restoring and educating continues to be supported," Eccleston said.

Since its opening, Udvar-Hazy has had 6 million visitors, with 15,472 coming through last Friday. Last year, more than 1 million people came, and there were 893,000 for the first nine months of this year. The Air and Space Museum on the Mall is among the most visited museums in the world, with 5.8 million visitors this year through September, compared with 6 million for all of 2007.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company