Stephanie from Colorado recently asked: "How does one get to the Udvar-Hazy Center if (as you fervently suggest) a tourist does not have a car?"
Well, Stephanie, you got me. The best, and just about only, way to get to the Air and Space's expansion near Dulles Airport is by car. As I enjoy the view from being hoisted by my own petard, let's talk a second about Udvar-Hazy. No, not the Hungarian born aircraft leasing tycoon who donated the money, but rather the Museum named after him.
It may be the coolest museum for aviation junkies in the world. It's phenomenally well designed, with row after row of world changing aircraft stretching as far as the eye can see. To give you a sense of it's scale, the Space Shuttle is housed in a relatively small offshoot of the main gallery. Yes, the Space Shuttle (Enterprise, the one that was just a flight test platform). The Museum's collection of 163 airplanes is ably housed in its main hanger without being crowded, all the more impressive when you consider that among these planes is a 707, a B-29, SR-71, and a Concorde; hardly small planes. And to cap it off, the observation tower gives you a bird's eye view of operations at Dulles, which is particularly cool when the 747s are coming in from Europe and Asia.
But it's a pain to get to. If you have a car, just head out the Dulles Toll Road, follow the signs, shell out $15 for parking, and enjoy. Without it, you're almost, but not entirely, out of luck. First off, don't even bother with the Metro Authority's trip planner. Or if you do, let me know how you got it to work. I'm stumped. But you can take the 5A bus (pdf) to Dulles Airport. From there, look for the Virginia Regional Transit's shuttle bus to Udvar-Hazy and the Dulles Town Center. As the shuttle runs hourly, this could mean that a trip from DC to the Museum could take up to two hours. One way. It'd be easier to fly there.
As inconvenient as it is to get to, I have a hard time getting too irate at the Smithsonian for this. The Air and Space Museum has a tough curatorial challenge. Nearly by definition, their collection is going to contain pieces that are much, much larger than pretty much any of the other museums. I imagine when they hang out at curator bars (much like biker bars but with more tweed and less leather), they taunt the guys from Natural History. What? Must be tough building a case for a whole diamond? Do you have to put in special supports for that? Meanwhile, the guys from the Postal Museum hunker down in the corner, trying not to be noticed.
So as large as the Air and Space Museum on the Mall is; to properly conserve and show their collection the Museum needs a facility with even more space. And, of course, as the best way to get a several ton airplane somewhere is to fly it, the location near Dulles makes a certain amount of sense.
No my ire is reserved for the car-is-the-wave-of-the-future 1950's planners who put Washington, DC's airport 26 miles outside of downtown DC. Heck, West Virginia Dulles International Airport would be almost as accurate as Washington Dulles. Construction is underway on a new Metro line to Dulles and I am cautiously optimistic that it will be built in the next couple of decades.
Until then, I'd have to say, you probably won't want to include the Udvar-Hazy Center in your plans unless you have access to a car, want to shell out for a taxi, or happen to be flying in or out of Dulles Airport.
NOTE: Stephanie also asked about a shuttle between the two Air and Space Museums that was mentioned in her 2009 (?!) guidebook. Don't fall for it, that was discontinued in 2006.