Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

With my family in front of the Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star

With my family in front of the Lockheed T-33A Shooting Star

The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located in Chantilly, VA, is one of the largest and most impressive exhibits of historic aircraft in the world. All of the planes are contained in a giant hangar-like 760,000 square foot facility. It includes over 150 aircraft of all different types, including: huge passenger planes such as the Concorde, small and agile racing planes, propeller driven fighters from WWII, to modern day jet fighters. One plane in particular, the X-35 Lightning II, is a prototype jet fighter that has not even entered service yet. I felt very privileged to see the new jet before it had entered service.

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The F-14 Tomcat that had participated in the infamous 1989 Gulf of Sidra Incident, where 2 US jets shot down 2 Libyan MiG-23 Floggers, was also on display. Also included in the jets section of the museum were the F-86 Sabre, T-33A Shooting Star, F-4 Phantom, F-8 Crusader, and many others.

One of the most important aircraft at the museum is the Enola Gay, the B-29 Superfortress that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. It is one of only 2 planes to have used the atomic bomb in combat. The other WWII planes include: the P-47, P-38, FW-190, Me-163, Ar-234 (the only surviving aircraft of its kind), Hurricane, F6F, P-26, OS2U, and several more, some of which can only be seen at the museum because no others have survived.

I’ve had the privilege to visit this museum twice with the most recent visit during our family vacation in May. I really wanted to go back again to see the largest collection of historical aircraft in the US since I missed so much on my first visit! No matter what kind of aircraft you are interested in, the Udvar-Hazy Center is for you. Even with no interest in airplanes, the massive spectacle of many giant planes will make anyone’s day!

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Luray Caverns

Dream Lake

Dream Lake- Notice how everything on the bottom is reflecting on the water

On August 13, 1878, five men felt a cool breeze coming from a sinkhole near the western side of the modern town of Luray, Virginia. The men decided to explore the hole, and discovered the largest caverns on the eastern side of the US. They discovered massive columns and huge stalactites. Bones and arrowheads were found embedded in a stalagmite, and a full skeleton of a Native American girl was found in one of the chasms. The men continued to explore the caverns by candlelight until they had most of the amazing cavern mapped out. The men kept the cave a secret, and purchased the land when the true owner had to auction it off because he was in debt. However, once the value of the caverns was realized, a long legal battle ensued, with the Luray Caverns Company coming to ownership in 1893. In 1906, the current owners, the Luray Caverns Corporation, purchased the property and allowed visitors to come in and see the caverns. In 1906, 18,000 people visited the caverns, but now yearly attendance is 500,000, making it the most visited cave in the eastern US.

IMG_3849I was able to go into the caverns on May 21, 2015, almost 137 years after it was discovered. The air was very cool and extremely humid. It stays at 54°F year round, therefore it feels cold in the summer and warm in the winter. After descending the stairs into the cavern, we went into a massive, cathedral sized chamber. Different rock formations hung from the ceiling and grew from the floor. Many of them were still growing, and were covered in a mucous like goop while they formed.

"Fried Eggs" - New stalagmite growth

“Fried Eggs” – New stalagmite growth

After moving out of the first room, we saw the world famous Dream Lake. This is considered to be one of the best underground lakes in the world. Because there is no wind or movement, the water perfectly reflects the ceiling. I walked right by and didn’t know it was there until after it was pointed out to me. The water appears to be at least ten feet deep, but in reality was only 20 inches at its deepest. After seeing the amazing lake, we saw several deep chasms that descended into complete darkness. There was also a massive fallen stalactite that had dropped from above. It was wider than most tall trees, and was very long as well. After seeing many other interesting things in the cavern, we finally left after completing the 1.25 mile walk.

SAMSUNG CSCThe caverns were by far the best part of our vacation, and their beauty cannot be described unless you have been there yourself!

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Marvel Star Wars Comic Review

ComicsWhen Marvel announced that they would be publishing Star Wars comics, many people were skeptical. Dark Horse had been publishing the comics for over 20 years, and generally people were happy with them. Everyone asked the same question, “Would Marvel be able to make a better series than Dark Horse?” On January 14, 2015, they found out. The first issue received unbelievable acclaim, and sold over one million copies, more than any comic book in the last 20 years! The first book, titled Skywalker Strikes was the start of a 6 book story arc. Each book released monthly and averaged around 32 pages each. Today, June 3rd, marked the release of the sixth comic in the series, ending the Skywalker Strikes  story arc. Also, each new book is considered canon, so anything that happens in the book is recognized as official. Today’s issue contains a huge plot twist that could change Star Wars forever! You will have to read it to find out what it is though…

I have loved every book in the series, however #1 and #6 (the first and newest respectively) were my favorites. The lowest point in the story arc was definitely #4, because the story didn’t progress very much, and it seemed like it wasn’t worth the wait of over a month.

Book Ratings:

#1: 10/10

#2: 8/10

#3: 9/10

#4: 6/10

#5: 8.7/10

#6: 10/10

The series as a whole was a solid 9/10, as it represented a classic Star Wars  tale, with many plot twists and exciting action scenes. Everyone should read these amazing comics which cost $4 on Marvel.com or better yet, buy them from your local comic book store. I buy mine at Gamer’s Gambit in Danbury, and they are very helpful there and will point you in the direction of this series in the store.

The series is amazing, and I can’t wait to see what else happens in the next issue!

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The United States Army Heritage and Education Center

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WWI trench entrance

On May 16, 5015, I stopped at the United States Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on my way to North Carolina.

We had been driving on the highway and saw several helicopters and tanks parked on the grass as we drove by. We decided to stop in and saw that the vehicles actually belonged to a museum called the Army Heritage Center. They were hosting their Army Heritage Days family event.

The large building that houses the museum’s indoor exhibits sits off the road while an ellipse shaped path wove all around the vehicles and exhibits on their Army Heritage Trail outdoor museum. Costumed volunteers sat at stations around the trail to answer questions.

The first thing we saw was a massive replica World War I trench dug into the ground. We were able to walk through it and see the different sections such as the barracks, mortar pit, and machine gun nest. Volunteers dressed as French soldiers showed us their weapons and talked about what life was like in the trenches.

With a German Officer

With a German Officer

At the German exhibit, I was able to wear a German helmet and hold a German gun. The helmet was unbelievably heavy, and I wondered how people could wear it for long.

We then moved on and saw many tanks and vehicles such as the M60 Patton, a Vietnam Guntruck, several artillery pieces, a Cobra helicopter, Huey helicopter, and an M46 Patton tank with a very rare and colorful Tiger paint scheme.

The M46 Tiger was my favorite thing that we saw, because of its vibrant and terrific paint scheme. Even though the giant tiger painted on the front may not have helped the camouflage at all, I would be running the other way if I was an enemy!

My dad and I were able to tour the Vietnam guntruck titled, Satan’s Lil Angel. I was surprised that all of the ammunition was stored on the floor. All three of the guns were aimed to discourage ambushes from the back and sides. The guntrucks were modified trucks that carried 3 or more guns to protect convoys of more vulnerable supply trucks.

I also saw the iconic M4 Sherman tank with WWII tank crew reenactor sitting on top of it. Many firearms were also on display, including the M16, MP40, Panzerfaust, Thompson, Chauchat, Ruby, and M60 machine gun.

The Army Heritage Center is an absolute blast, and its collection is very diverse. Every history fan should go there and talk to the informative volunteers at least once!SAMSUNG CSC

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Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game Review

SWXWStar Wars: X-Wing is a miniatures game produced by Fantasy Flight Games, centered around star-ship combat in the Star Wars universe. The ships themselves are small scale replicas which you will recognize from the movies and other Star Wars media. Each ship has many different informative ship playing cards that detail the abilities and statistics of the ship. The main game retails for $40, and includes one X-Wing Fighter and two Tie Fighters. After playing it, you will immediately want more ship expansions which range from $15 to $100. In order to prepare a tournament-ready fleet, the player would have to spend around $100. Although the entry price is no joke, you don’t have to buy it all at one time. Just the $40 core set can provide around 12 hours of fun by itself.

Although the rules are too complicated for me to explain, the rule-book does this very well. The rules are simple to learn, but very difficult to master. Because you mix and match different ships and cards, hours can be spent just thinking about the best combination of cards to use against your opponent. In a standard (or tournament) game, each player usually starts with 100 points to spend on their fleet. Each ship costs anywhere from 15 to around 70 points, depending on the ship. Some players prefer an expensive ship to several little ones. Upgrade cards cost anywhere from 1 to 10 points, but they can greatly enhance the attributes of the ships. This sounds extremely difficult, but I learned most of the rules by simply watching a 13 minute long video made by Fantasy Flight Games themselves. Click here to view it! After glancing over the rule-book when I purchased the game, I was ready to play.

As of the writing of this post, around 24 individual ships have been released for the game, and many special packs contain different versions of these ships. More ships are being announced, and the game is still growing.

Overall, Star Wars: X-Wing is one of my (if not my #1) favorite board games of all time. I rate it a 9.4/10. The only downside is the price and some design flaws on the pieces.

You can try this game out at our local game store: Gamer’s Gambit located on Newtown Road in Danbury. They host tournaments and other game nights there as well. It is a great store and I highly recommend that you make a trip there to see their fantastic selection of games.

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HäT 1:72 Prussian Uhlans

prussiansI bought these 1:72 scale figures at my local hobby shop while searching for inexpensive eighteenth and nineteenth century soldiers. 12 horsemen and horses were in included in the box. There were no instructions on how to paint them, but several pictures depicted the soldiers in enough detail that I was able to base my painting on them. The figures were also great quality and very inexpensive. However, the huge downside that I came across was that the figures were electric blue! While the picture clearly shows the figures with black uniforms, these were a completely different color. Thus, I had to use many coats of paint to cover up the blue color. Ever spot that I missed stuck out to the point that it would be difficult not to see it. Although the figures were a horrendous color, the horses themselves were a perfect brown color, which made me wonder why the horses could look so good and the figures so bad. Each figure took around 30 minutes to complete, but this time could vary, depending on the color you decide to paint the horses.

Even though they were extremely difficult to paint, they are by far my favorite figures when completed, and were well worth the money and time. I rate the product itself a 7/10, however with a good coat of paint they can be truly amazing!

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Litchfield Historical Society

IMG_3584On February 23, 2015, I visited the Litchfield Historical Society in Litchfield, Connecticut for a tour of their extensive historical artifacts collection as part of the Curator for a Day class that I took. When I first arrived, I walked to their storage building, where the artifacts are stored when they are not on display at the museum. The first floor contained many vault-like shelves of furniture and woodwork. On one side of the room were boxes full of newspapers, some dating back from the eighteen-hundreds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe really incredible exhibits were on the second floor. Shelves of items filled the large room, and contained hundreds of items. They included; old and new photography equipment, boxes of gas masks and knives, historic photos, shelves of guns and swords, clocks, pottery, and even an old toilet. I was able to touch all of the items, even several guns from the Civil War and Revolutionary War.

Then, we saw a floor with many hundreds of boxes of clothes including; dresses, shirts, pants, hats, and other miscellaneous items of clothing. Rugs and other textiles were also boxed up in the room.

Near the end of my visit, we took a tour of the current exhibits at the museum. The museum featured items of the Revolutionary War and their other current exhibit was on World War I. I saw cannonballs that were fired at the town of Danbury, Connecticut and even a British Dragoon’s helmet. They had a collection of World War I propaganda posters and military uniforms in the special exhibit area. I was even allowed to use some of the research papers from the curator’s office to find out more about a gigantic painting of Major Benjamin Tallmadge that was on display. I found the painting of interest because I had read about Major Tallmadge’s involvement in the Revolutionary War as a spymaster for George Washington!

Major Benjamin Tallmadge and his son, William

Major Benjamin Tallmadge and his son, William

I also was able to make a poster for my own exhibit which included items from the museum. I drew a picture of my idea for a display, and also made a presentation for the parents, describing what the display would be like if it were real.

My favorite part was touching the historical weapons and clocks, and I hope to go back again soon.

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