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The National Air and Space Museum has received a pledge of $60 million, the largest-ever contribution to the Smithsonian, from Steven F. Udvar-Hazy of Beverly Hills, Calif.

Udvar-Hazy, Chairman & CEO and founder of International Lease Finance Corp. (ILFC) of Los Angeles, said he was "pleased to support the Smithsonian and its planned new National Air and Space Museum Dulles Center." The donation to the Smithsonian is a philanthropic contribution from Udvar-Hazy, his company and his family's foundation. His gift has been pledged over a four-year period with the first installment of $10 million to be made in 2000.

"All my life, I have been committed to aviation and the industry's advancement and development, and it is an honor for my family and company to solidify the museum's mission of restoring, preserving and displaying our aviation heritage," Udvar-Hazy said in a letter to Air and Space Museum Acting Director Donald S. Lopez. 
"The National Air and Space Museum was established to preserve and display America's aviation and flight history, and, judging by the millions who visit the museum each year, we've done a fine job so far," Lopez said. "But we have so many artifacts that cannot be seen by the public because we lack the space to properly restore and exhibit them. This extraordinary contribution from Mr. Udvar-Hazy brings us closer to realizing our dream -- to build a facility big enough to show hundreds of our air and space treasures."

ILFC purchases commercial airline jets and leases them to major airlines in the United States and abroad. International Lease Finance Corp., a subsidiary of American International Group Inc. (AIG), is the largest company leasing and financing commercial jet aircraft to the world's airlines.

Smithsonian Secretary I. Michael Heyman noted that Udvar-Hazy's gift is the single largest donation ever in the 153-year history of the Smithsonian. "We would not be able to open the Dulles Center without the support of people like Mr. Udvar-Hazy," Heyman said. "In 1993, when Congress authorized the center and gave $8 million for its design, we made a commitment to find support for this innovative project in the private sector. With his incredibly generous gift, we are well on our way to fulfilling that commitment."
Udvar-Hazy's entire donation will go toward the Dulles Center, which is expected to open in December 2003, the centennial of the Wright brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C. Located on a 176-acre site at Washington Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia. The center's spacious museum will be home to hundreds of airplanes and spacecraft that cannot be displayed in the National Mall museum because there is not enough room. The entire Mall museum could fit inside the center's aviation hangar, with room to spare.

Among the notable artifacts to be on exhibit in the 710,000-square-foot center will be the space shuttle Enterprise; the Apollo Command Module Simulator used by astronauts and by the actors who played them in "Apollo 13"; the B-29 Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima; a 1917 Curtiss JN-4D Jenny, known as the Model T of aeronautics; an SR-71 Blackbird; and the P-51 Mustang that was flown solo over the North Pole in 1951.

Many of these prized artifacts are now temporarily housed in the museum's Paul E. Garber Facility in Suitland, Md. The antiquated buildings in which aircraft are stored do not meet museum standards -- they have no humidity controls or air-conditioning, and only a few are heated. The restoration shop, where dedicated staff and volunteers spend thousands of hours restoring a single plane, is also located at Garber and will be moved to new quarters at the Dulles Center.

The center also will have an archive and resource center for scholars and the public, educational facilities for school groups, a large-format theater, museum stores and restaurants. 
The architectural firm of Hellmuth, Obata + Kassebaum (HOK) planned and designed the Air and Space Museum Dulles Center. This firm also designed the National Air and Space Museum, which opened to the public in 1976 and has received between 8 million and 10 million visitors a year ever since, making it the most popular museum in the world. The Dulles facility is expected to attract some 3 million to 4 million visitors a year.

At the Dulles Center, visitors will feel as if they are entering a 21st-century airport, according to Program Manager Lin Ezell of the Air and Space Museum. She described the experience: "Visitors will find themselves in the midst of nearly 200 aircraft displayed on three levels, and from the center's observation tower they will watch planes arrive and depart from the nearby Dulles runways."

Site construction at the Air and Space Museum Dulles Center is scheduled to begin next spring.

A fund-raising campaign with an original goal of $130 million was begun shortly after the Dulles Center was authorized. Directed by John Fay, the campaign has brought in more than $28 million (prior to the Udvar-Hazy gift) from corporations, individuals and foundations. This campaign is especially significant, Fay said, because it marks the first time that the Smithsonian has committed to constructing a new museum with private-sector funds. 
The campaign owes much of its success to its active boards and to the personal leadership and enthusiasm of the late Vice Adm. Donald D. Engen, who served as director of the museum from 1996 until his death in a glider accident this past July.

The Dulles Center National Board has 19 members and is headed by Robert James. The Dulles Center National Campaign Committee is chaired by former Sen. Howard Baker Jr. The campaign's honorary chair is former senator and astronaut John Glenn.

A donor-recognition program has been established for the center. Donors and contributors will be recognized and honored throughout the facility.

In addition to the private funding, the museum received support from the Commonwealth of Virginia, which generously pledged to provide the necessary infrastructure, including access roads, for the center.

"Mr. Udvar-Hazy's gift is the most recent in a series of wonderful donations to the Smithsonian," Heyman added. "Two years ago, we received a $20 million donation from Kenneth Behring for the National Museum of Natural History; last year Ralph Lauren gave $10 million for the restoration of the Star-Spangled Banner at the National Museum of American History; and, earlier this year, the Sackler Gallery was given a 5,000-piece collection of ancient Chinese artifacts valued at $50 million to $60 million."

Visit the Dulles Center home page for more information.

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy. Retired chairman and CEO, International Lease Finance Corp.