DULLES, Va. -- The Smithsonian Institution unveiled a restored Enola Gay on Monday, making the B-29 bomber that helped end World War II the centerpiece of the new annex to the Air and Space Museum.
The restoration, the result of 300,000 hours of work over nearly 20 years, made the B-29 bomber look as it did on Aug. 6, 1945, when it dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.
Over the years, some parts of the Enola Gay were replaced in normal use and others were lost or taken by collectors, said Dik Daso, the Smithsonian's curator of modern military aircraft.
The Enola Gay has been restored so completely that it would probably start if fueled, officials said. But because components are so old, it wouldn't be flight worthy. Curators restored each part to the way it looked on "mission day," down to particular radio tubes used at the time, Daso said.
The plane will be available for public viewing on Dec. 15, when the Udvar-Hazy Center opens near Washington Dulles International Airport.
Museum officials avoided the controversy that grounded a 1995 exhibit, which discussed the effects of the bomb on the Japanese people.
Hideki Yui of Japan Broadcasting Corp., one of many Japanese media members attending Monday's event, said there is a lot of interest in Japan in the new exhibit.
"Japanese survivors want to focus attention more to the damage of the atomic bomb," he said.
The museum's interest in avoiding the subject is understandable, he said, because the U.S. military and Congress oppose it.
The center will house 200 aircraft and 135 large space artifacts that can't be displayed at the Air And Space Museum in Washington because of their size, museum director Gen. Jack Dailey said. The museum in Washington holds only about 10 percent of the Air and Space collection, he said.
Visitors will see the outside of the Enola Gay, which will be propped 8 feet off the ground to leave room to display other aircraft under its 141-foot wingspan, Dailey said.
Visitors won't be allowed inside the aircraft, but the plane has been photographed from 144 angles, allowing the Smithsonian to create a virtual tour of the interior.
The exhibit focuses on the restoration process and the technical advances of the B-29 bomber in its time.
Daso said it's important for Americans to see the plane and realize its importance.
"This airplane is part of our history and part of who we are," he said.