Essential Architecture- Washington D.C.

Dulles International Airport


Eero Saarinen & Assoc.


Chantilly, VA.


1958-62 (S:1962)




concrete, glass, etc


  a: general view, photo 1986, J. Cohen.
  b: close angle, photo 1982, M. Brack.
  c: exterior details, photo 1982, M. Brack.
  d: interior, photo 1966, J. Nicholais (Drexel U.).
  e: interior, with support in right foreground, photo 1969, D. Stillman.
  Aerial view of Dulles Airport, June 1985
  Dulles Airport's Terminal exterior

Washington Dulles International Airport (IATA: IAD, ICAO: KIAD, FAA LID: IAD) is a public airport located 25 miles (40 km) west of the central business district of Washington, D.C., in Loudoun County, Virginia, United States.[1] It serves the greater Washington, D.C./metropolitan area. The airport is named after John Foster Dulles, United States Secretary of State under Dwight D. Eisenhower. It is a major hub for United Airlines and a focus city for both JetBlue Airways and Compass Airlines, a subsidiary of Northwest Airlines.

On a typical day, 1,800 to 2,000 flights are now handled at Dulles, up from 1000 to 1200 in 2003. It remains the second busiest trans-Atlantic gateway on the Eastern Seaboard. Recently with the demise of Independence Air, JetBlue has slowly expanded its focus city operation at Dulles with six daily non-stops to Boston and New York. It also serves non-stops to Long Beach, Oakland, Ft. Lauderdale, Las Vegas, Orlando, and San Diego making JetBlue the second largest carrier at Dulles in terms of non-stop destinations. The inception of low-cost carrier Independence Air in 2004 propelled IAD from being the 24th busiest airport in the United States to 5th, and one of the top 10 busiest in the world. At its peak of 600 flights daily, Independence, combined with service from JetBlue and AirTran, briefly made Dulles the largest low-cost hub in the United States. Southwest Airlines began service in fall 2006 after Independence Air's demise.

The airport occupies approximately 11,000 acres (45 km²) of land 26 miles (42 km) west of downtown Washington, straddling the border of Fairfax County and Loudoun County, Virginia. It is located within two unincorporated communities, including partly in Chantilly and partly in Dulles. The airport is west of Herndon and southwest of Sterling. In 1958, the former unincorporated community of Willard was torn down to make room for Dulles, and countless roads, homes, stores, and schools were demolished to make room for runways, concourses and other features. Dulles Airport is operated by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA). In 2005, Dulles saw over 27 million passengers through the airport. Because the airport is built on the border of Fairfax County and Loudoun County, it is possible for one to land in Fairfax and deplane in Loudoun.

History and background
At the end of World War II, growth in aviation and in the Washington metropolitan area led Congress to pass the Washington Airport Act of 1950, providing federal backing for a second airport. After preliminary proposals failed, including one to establish an international airport at what is now Burke Lake Park, the current site was selected by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1958. As a result of the selection, the crossroads of Willard was removed, along with hundreds of farm buildings, stores, churches, and homes.

The airport was originally intended to be named "Chantilly International Airport", but due to the somewhat suggestive (for the time) lyrics of J.P. Richardson's (The Big Bopper) 1958 song "Chantilly Lace", the airport was named for Dulles instead.

The civil engineering firm Ammann and Whitney was named lead contractor. The airport was dedicated by President John F. Kennedy on November 17, 1962. The main terminal was designed in 1958 by famed Finnish architect Eero Saarinen and it is highly regarded for its graceful beauty, suggestive of flight. In fact, the original terminal at Chiang Kai-shek International Airport in Taipei, Taiwan was modeled after the Saarinen terminal at Dulles. Dulles was the first airport in the world specifically designed for jet aircraft, and many of its architectural features were experimental at the time. Mobile lounges that brought passengers directly from aircraft to the terminal were supposed to be the wave of the future, but this innovation was not widely duplicated throughout the world at later airports; the airport authority plans to retire the mobile lounge system altogether in favor of an underground people mover and pedestrian walkway system (now in service to concourse B), as part of a major engineering program that will also add a concourse to the main terminal and give the airport a fourth runway. Some of the other innovations, such as the midfield terminal and extra-long runways, were designed with a future role as a spaceport in mind.

Although designed for jet planes, the first flight was an Eastern Air Lines Super Electra turboprop, arriving from Newark International Airport in New Jersey. Initially considered to be a white elephant due to its limited flight destinations in the 1960s and its 26-mile distance from downtown Washington, Dulles has steadily grown at the same time that suburbs of the city grew along the Dulles Corridor and I-495 Capital Beltway. Restrictions placed on the type of aircraft at and distance of routes from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport have meant most long-distance flights to the area must fly to Dulles or Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport in Maryland.

The era of jumbo jets in international aviation began on January 15, 1970, when First Lady Pat Nixon christened a Pan Am Boeing 747 at Dulles in the presence of Pan Am chairman Najeeb Halaby. Red, white, and blue water was sprayed on the aircraft, rather than breaking a bottle of champagne. The first Boeing 747 flight on Pan Am from Dulles was to London Heathrow.

Another milestone in aviation took place on May 24, 1976, when supersonic air travel commenced between Dulles and Europe. On that day, a British Airways Concorde flew in from London and an Air France Concorde arrived from Paris. The sleek aircraft lined up at Dulles nose-to-nose for a photo opportunity.

On June 13, 1983, the Space Shuttle Enterprise 'landed' at Dulles atop a modified Boeing 747 after a completing a European tour and prior to returning to Edwards AFB. In 1985, the Enterprise was placed in a storage hangar near Runway 12/30 pending the construction of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

During the 1980s a U.S. Senate resolution to change the name of Washington-Dulles to Washington-Eisenhower was defeated, largely due to efforts of the Dulles family and the growing awareness of the huge expense that would be needed to change traffic signs for airport-bound vehicles.[citation needed]

When the SR-71 was retired by the military in 1990, one was flown from its birthplace at United States Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale to Dulles where it was where it was placed in a special storage building pending the construction of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, setting a coast-to-coast speed record at an average 2,124 mph (3,418 km/h). The entire trip took 64 minutes.[1]

The inaugural flight of the Boeing 777 in commercial service, a United Airlines flight from London Heathrow, landed at Dulles in 1995.

Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

In December 2003, the National Air and Space Museum opened at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles. The museum annex houses an Air France Concorde, the Enola Gay B-29, the Space Shuttle Enterprise, the Boeing 367-80, which was the prototype of the Boeing 707, and other famous aerospace artifacts, particularly those too large for the main building on the National Mall.

Beginning April 19, 2006, United Express moved its operations from Concourse G to Concourse A, which was formerly used by the now-defunct Independence Air which ceased operations on January 6, 2006. The transition was completed on May 1, 2006. [2]

Dulles Development (D2)
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It may contain tentative information; the content may change as the event approaches and more information becomes available.

A photo of Dulles International, with several cranes visible, working on the D2 Project

As Dulles expanded in the 1980s and 1990s, operations outgrew the main terminal and new midfield concourses were constructed, using mobile lounges to bring passengers to the main terminal. An underground tunnel consisting of a passenger walkway and moving sidewalks was opened in 2004 which links the main terminal and concourse B. MWAA started a renovation program for the airport, to include a new security mezzanine to help relieve the heavily congested security lines that are familiar to passengers traveling through the airport. There is also going to be a new Train System, dubbed "AeroTrain," (which runs on wheels instead of conventional train tracks) which is currently being developed by Mitsubishi. The idea is to have the train replace the mobile lounges that many passengers find crowded and congested. Dulles claims that you will never be waiting for a train for more than two minutes, versus the average 15 minute wait and travel time for mobile lounges today. The train system in Phase One will include a main terminal station, a permanent Concourse B station, a temporary access to the also temporary C&D concourses, and a maintenance facility. In the future, final phase development would see the addition of several new midfield concourses and a new south terminal. Also, under the development plan, two new runways are being constructed to "Aid in our increasing demand for aircraft traffic" (MWAA 2005) and an expansion of the B Concourse used by many low cost airlines as well as international arrivals. The "Midfield Concourses" (Concourse C&D) house United and American Airlines mainly, and will be knocked down for a more ergonomic building to be built later.

The signature Dulles main terminal houses ticketing, baggage claim, US Customs and Border Protection, the Z gates, and other support facilities. From here passengers can take mobile lounges to their concourses, "plane mates" directly to their airplanes, or take the passenger walkway to concourse B. The plane mates are also used to transport passengers arriving on international flights directly to the US Customs and Border Protection inspection center located in the main terminal.

Mobile lounges

Dulles is one of the few remaining airports to use the mobile lounge system for boarding and disembarkation from aircraft. The "lounge" consists of a 54-by-16-foot carriage mounted on a scissor truck, capable of carrying 102 passengers. They were designed by the Chrysler Corporation in association with the Budd Company. The conveyances are sometimes nicknamed "moon buggies" for the similar appearance of their tires with those of the Lunar Rover.

The "Plane Mate" is an evolutionary variation on the concept. They are similar in appearance to mobile lounges, but can raise themselves on screws to "mate" directly with an aircraft. This allows passengers to deplane directly aboard and be carried to the main terminal.

By shuttling from the main terminal directly to a midfield jet ramp, passengers could avoid long walking distances amidst weather, noise, and fumes on the tarmac. But the advent of the Jetway and construction of the midfield concourses diluted the system's advantages.

Today, the airport uses 19 mobile lounges to transfer passengers between the midfield concourses and to and from the main terminal building, as well as 30 plane mates. They have all been given names based on the postal abbreviations of 50 states, e.g.: VA, MD, AK, etc. The MWAA plans to retire the mobile lounge system altogether in favor of an underground people mover and pedestrian walkway system (now in service to concourse B), as part of a major engineering program that will also add a concourse to the main terminal and give the airport a fourth runway. This construction is taking place under the D2 Dulles Development program, in which 12 additional gates will be added to Concourse B, as well as a 315 foot tall control tower built one mile south of the current ATC tower, set to be operational in 2006. In addition, a new Concourse C will be constructed, and plans for an additional fifth runway are underway.

Main terminal

The terminal ceiling is suspended in a catenary curve above the luggage check-in area.

The main terminal was recognized by the American Institute of Architects in 1966 for its design concept; its roof is a suspended catenary providing a wide enclosed area unimpeded by any columns. It It houses ticketing, baggage claim, and information facilities, as well as the International Arrivals Building for passenger processing.

Although the original design is still intact, the increase in low-cost carriers and increased security requirements have caused functional problems, with long lines at security checkpoints and crowded conditions in the once-more than adequate ticketing area occurring during peak periods. During busy travels seasons, the checkpoint line can wrap around the entire ticketing area. In these instances, getting from the end of the line to the front can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes. Separate security screening lines for "Premium Passengers" allow First Class, Business Class and elite passengers to move through security faster, however.

There are two sets of gates in the main terminal. They are waiting areas for airlines which lack permanent physical gates and therefore use Plane Mates. There are also the recently-opened "Z" Gates, which provide service for US Airways.

Transportation to and from the airport
Dulles is accessible via the Dulles Access Road (State Route 267) or State Route 28. The Washington Metro currently offers only an "express" Metrobus, the # 5A, but a new Washington Metro subway line, the Silver Line, will finally connect Dulles to D.C. by train by 2015. The 5A express bus makes several stops on its way from the airport to downtown Washington, including, but not limited to, the Herndon-Monroe transfer station in Herndon, VA and the Rosslyn Metro Station in Arlington, VA. The # 950 Fairfax Connector bus brings passengers from Reston, VA to the Herndon-Monroe transfer station, where they can switch to the 5A bus to the airport. The # RIBS 2 Fairfax Connector bus will also connect Reston passengers to the Herndon-Monroe transfer point. A more expensive alternative method to reach Dulles is the Washington Flyer Coach bus service that operates roughly every thirty minutes between the airport and the West Falls Church Metro Station.

Accidents and incidents

Control Tower view of IAD.
On December 1, 1974, a flight diverted to Dulles, TWA Flight 514, crashed into Mount Weather.

On June 18, 1994, a Learjet 25 operated by Mexican carrier TAESA crashed in trees while approaching the airport from the south. Twelve persons died. The passengers were planning to attend the 1994 FIFA World Cup soccer games being staged in Washington, D.C.

A flight from Dulles, American Airlines Flight 77, was crashed by terrorists into The Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

On May 25, 2007, United Airlines Flight 897, a flight from Dulles to Beijing, experienced an engine flameout on takeoff. The flight returned to Dulles and landed safely. There were no fatalities or injuries among the passengers and crew.

Dulles in fiction
Dulles Airport has been the backdrop for many Washington based movies, starting shortly after the airport opened with the 1964 film Seven Days in May.

The action movie Die Hard 2: Die Harder is set primarily at Dulles Airport. The plot of the film involves the takeover of the airport's tower and communication systems by terrorists, led by Colonel Stuart (William Sadler), who subsequently uses the equipment to prevent airlines from landing, demonstrating the consequences by fooling one jet into crashing onto a runway. It is up to New York City cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) to stop them from downing more planes, one of which has his wife aboard. The film was not shot at Dulles, the stand-ins were Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and the now-closed Stapleton International Airport in Denver. An often-noted inconsistency is the existence of Pacific Bell pay phones in the main terminal (the telephone company that served Dulles at the time was GTE and the nearest PacBell territory was thousands of miles away).

Part of the thriller The Package (starring Gene Hackman and Tommy Lee Jones) took place at Dulles. However, the Dulles stand-in this time was Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.

Portions of all three sequels to the disaster film Airport were filmed at Dulles: Airport 1975, with Charlton Heston, Karen Black and George Kennedy; Airport '77, with Jack Lemmon, Christopher Lee and George Kennedy; and The Concorde: Airport '79.

The Tom Clancy novel, The Hunt for Red October features Dulles in some parts such as when the survivors of the Red October are flown back to Russia and when Jack Ryan, the main character, flies back to his home.

Dulles has also served as a stand-in for a New York City-area airport, in the 1999 comedy, Forces of Nature. While set in a New York airport, the main terminal is recognizable.

Numerous episodes of The X-Files show action taking place in Dulles Airport.

Dulles Airport has appeared in an episode of The Simpsons, when the family wins a trip to capitol city.

Bayview Airport in Need For Speed: Underground 2 is a copy of the main terminal of Dulles Airport.