Seattle's Museum of Flight is one of the largest private collection of aircraft and aerospace artefacts in the World
Ever since I can remember I have loved aeroplanes, which is a little bizarre considering how much I dislike flying (although this phobia has not stopped me travelling!). Even in my career, I have spent a lot of time working with and within the aerospace industry. So, it is not surprising that I am drawn to visit every single aerospace museum that I come in close proximity to.
So, coming to Seattle, home of Boeing, I could not resist checking out the Museum of Flight.
At the time of writing an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max-8 aircraft had plummeted to the ground killing all its passengers. This followed a similar crash involving the same aircraft only a few months before. These crashes had resulted in the grounding of all 737 Max aircraft whilst the crashes were investigated. The reason I raise this story is that the 737 aircraft are manufactured in a plant adjacent to the Museum of Flight and I could not but help notice the dozens of 737 Max’s that filled the storage areas of the factory all freshly minted and brandishing the liveries of air carriers from around the world. A spectacular sight tinged with deep sorrow at the thought of all those lost souls!
In 1964 a small group of aviation enthusiasts realized that important and historic artefacts representing the evolution of flight were being lost or destroyed at an incredible rate. To aid in the preservation of these artefacts, the Pacific Northwest Aviation Historical Foundation was established with the goal of saving these artefacts. The first exhibition of these treasures took place in 1965 in a 10,000 square-foot space at the Seattle Center, close to the iconic Space Needle.
The concept for The Museum of Flight complex began to take in 1975 when the Port of Seattle leased the land on which the Boeing Red Barn now sits to the Museum for 99 years. The Red Barn, the birthplace of The Boeing Company, was saved from demolition in its original location on the Duwamish River and floated by river barge to its current location. The Red Barn was restored in 1983 and became the first permanent location for The Museum of Flight. Over time the museum has expanded to become a 15-acre campus includes over 160 air and spacecraft, the original Boeing Aircraft factory, flight simulators, and dozens of fun, interactive exhibits and family activities.
As is often the case for Seattle it was a grey, overcast day when I visited. But, unusually it was not raining and indeed there were a few patches of blue sky dotted across the ashen tableau. Of course, being situated in the North West of the United States the museum caters for inclement weather – everything in the museum is covered, even the outdoor exhibits.
T A WILSON GREAT GALLERY
I first headed to the T. A. Wilson Great Gallery is a 3 million-cubic-foot, six-story, glass-and-steel exhibit hall currently containing 39 full-size historic aircraft, including the nine-ton Douglas DC-3 hang from the space-frame ceiling in flight attitude. Even on a grey day the 3 sides of glass wall lets in a tremendous amount of light, illuminating the exhibits fantastically. The first plane I really notice is the Lockheed M-21 Blackbird, probably the sexiest plane (if you can associate sex with an aircraft) ever made. This exhibit area covers a real mix of aircraft, both fixed-wing and helicopters, through the ages. As well as the aircraft on display there are numerous exhibits of artefacts and information panels.
ELROY MCCAW PERSONAL COURAGE WING
My second port of call was the Elroy McCaw Personal Courage Wing, a two-story gallery that highlights the stories of courage, dedication, heroism and the triumph of the human spirit of those involved in fighter aviation in World War I and World War II. This 88,000-square-foot space opened on June 6, 2004 (the 60th anniversary of D-Day) and showcases 28 restored WWI and WWII fighter planes across two galleries. Unlike the glass-walled Great Gallery, there we no windows which created a totally different atmosphere. The lighting in these galleries was dim and moody; primarily to protect the delicate artefacts, but it also created a sombre atmosphere. When I was much younger I had a love for WWI and WWII aircraft and I always have had a great fondness for this period in history and this trip resurrected memories from my distant past.
It was a very powerful experience combining stunning exhibits, imagery and sounds.
BOEING RED BARN
Adjacent to the Personal Courage Wing is Boeing’s Red Barn, the spiritual centre of the Boeing Aircraft Company. The structure dating from 1916 was the former Plant 1 main office. Today, this building, flooded by natural light, houses numerous exhibits documenting the early days of the American aerospace industry. It is one of those places you could spend hours perusing and continuously turn up endless hidden gems.
CHARLES SIMONYI SPACE GALLERY
From the early stories of the aerospace industry, I vaulted forward to man’s journey into space. The Charles Simonyi Space Gallery is dedicated to man’s exploration beyond the shelter of our home planet earth. The central exhibit is the only full-scale NASA Space Shuttle Trainer.
Just beyond the Space Gallery is the vast Aviation Gallery. This open, three-acre space is home to 19 rare and unique commercial and military aircraft. Among the commercial aircraft on display are the only supersonic Concorde on the West Coast, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the first Boeing 727, 737 and 747 jets, the first jet Air Force One, the extremely rare Boeing 247D and Douglas DC-2 airliners from the 1930s. The military aircraft include World War II B-17 Flying Fortress and B-29 Superfortress, and the Cold War’s B-47 Stratojet; plus jet fighters spanning the wars from Korea to the Persian Gulf.
If like me, you are a lover of all things aerospace then the Museum of Flight should be high on your bucket list of aerospace museums to visit.