This museum was created to house, display, and reconstruct the thousands of artifacts that could not be displayed at the Washington D.C. mall museum. The annex is a 760,000 square foot facility with over 60,000 artifacts in the collection. It has on display at any one time approximately 2,800 aviation pieces, 1,065 space pieces and 44 pieces of art. Unlike the National Mall facility, this warehouse style museum is where the air and space specialist disassemble, reconstruct and prepare for display all of the exhibits for the museum. Visitors at the annex can watch the aircraft artisans and specialists in the the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hanger as they actively work to restore aircraft. In most cases these specialists are one of only a few in the world that know how to restore these artifacts.
The museum was made possible by a large donation by Steven F. Udvar-Hazy, the Hungarian-American businessman and CEO of Air Lease Corporation. Mr. Udvar-Hazy is the co-founder of the International Lease Finance Corporation, an aircraft leasing company. The first phase of the facility was opened on December 15, 2003. It includes over 150 aircraft on display, with calls for an eventual collection of 200 aircraft. Airbus Americas Inc. in 2008, donated $6 million for a large addition, which included the restoration, conservation and collection-storage facilities and was completed in 2010.
The museum includes some of the most historic and rare aircraft to have ever taken flight. The collection includes the SR 71 Blackbird, Enola Gay Boeing B-29 Superfortress, Space Shuttle Discovery, Concorde and hundreds of little known artifacts and aircraft that had huge historical impacts on aviation. More than any other museum, this annex walks the visitors through the beginning of aviation, predating the Wright brothers, through both World Wars and into space travel, with the actual instruments that flew and allows the visitors to see on-going restoration work on artifacts.
One of the most interesting exhibits on display is the Enola Gay. The Enola Gay is a Boeing B-29 Superfortress that became the first plane in world history to drop an atomic bomb, named Little Boy, on Hiroshima Japan. The Enola Gay also participated in the second nuclear bombing by providing recon support for the B-29 Bockscar carrying the bomb, Fat Man. After the war, the Enola Gay was briefly used to drop bombs for testing ranges before being removed from service. It was subject to a few years of weather conditions before being eventually put into storage, and ultimately being placed in the exhibit at the Udvar-Hazy Center.
Another interesting exhibit is the Discovery space shuttle. Discovery is responsible for the placement of the Hubble Space Telescope and several research missions done by NASA. The Enterprise space craft, which was developed and used for testing purposes, was originally held in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center since the opening of the museum. After Discovery's final return from space in 2011, however, the space shuttle replaced the Enterprise. Though the Discovery lacks heat shields and engines it was considered on more than one occasion to be refit for space operations, but was ultimately unchanged as a result of design changes and the cost to modify the aircraft to the new specifications being greater than the cost to build a new space shuttle.
The museum includes multiple facilities for events: an IMAX theater, an education center, learning labs, flight simulators, archives, a conservation laboratory, and a observation deck where visitors can watch planes take off and land from Washington Dulles.