Visiting Seattle’s Museum of Flight

From Kitty Hawk to the Moon, this museum has something for everyone

You’ll find military aircraft from World War II in the Personal Courage Wing at Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

Pat Snider
You’ll find military aircraft from World War II in the Personal Courage Wing at Seattle’s Museum of Flight.

A visit to the Museum of Flight, south of Seattle, is not unlike a shopping excursion to Ikea — the facility is vast, sprawling, and packed with tempting tidbits offering a plethora of distractions.

In the case of Ikea, you eventually leave with twice as many items as you had planned on, perhaps even forgetting what brought you there in the first place.

It’s a somewhat opposite experience at the museum where you can easily run out of time and energy long before you have satisfied your interests. In either case, an advance game plan is important.

Located at the birthplace of Boeing, the museum pays homage to flight in all its forms from early Alaska bush pilots to interplanetary space travel.

You can watch a 3-D movie on aircraft carriers; walk in the footsteps of JFK aboard the first jet, Air Force One; learn about women pilots in World War II; and admire the sleek styling of a Lockheed M21 Blackbird, the world’s fastest plane.

With over 150 air and spacecraft, hundreds of permanent exhibits and artifacts, numerous interactive displays and simulations, the museum’s air and space collection can be overwhelming. Since it would be impossible to see and do everything on a one-day visit, it’s a good idea to do some online research and pre-planning to create an experience to match your interests.

The museum campus is divided into six permanent exhibit areas, any one of which could be a separate museum on its own. The Great Gallery is a gigantic glass and steel exhibit hall packed with 50 full-size, historic aircraft, many suspended from the ceiling.

It traces the history of flight from a replica of a 1903 Wright Flyer to an Apollo Command Module and even includes a flying car.

Throughout the gallery and museum, you will find docents (look for the men in suits), most of them are retired pilots, Air Force veterans, or former Boeing employees. Be sure to ask questions as they are a wonderful source of information and great stories.

Next door to the Great Gallery is the William M. Allen Theater, currently showing two films: “Space Next 3D” about interplanetary travel, and “Aircraft Carrier: City at Sea.”

Nearby, the Red Barn exhibit covers the history of the Boeing Company and is located in the original factory.

The Personal Courage Wing relates the history of the men and women who fought in both world wars with an obvious emphasis on the role of aviation. You’ll find representative aircraft from many countries including a Messerschmidt, Fok-kers, P-51 Mustang and Soviet Yakolev.

Crossing over a street via a glass-enclosed skyway, you enter the Space Gallery. Here, you can board the Space Shuttle Trainer where real astronauts prepared for their visits to space. Just beyond, is the Aviation Pavilion, a covered outside gallery occupying nearly three acres filled with actual planes from the 1930s to present.

If you are too young or too poor to have ever stepped aboard a supersonic Concorde, here is your chance.

You can walk through the first jet, Air Force One, and absorb the remarkable history of this flying Oval Office of Eisenhower, JFK, Johnson, and Nixon. You can also walk through the first 747, and the newest Boeing offering, the 787 Dreamliner.

With all these choices, the importance of creating a thought-out strategic plan should be obvious, and the museum has created an excellent website to help you.

As a first-time visitor, you can customize your visit by clicking on several parameters like age, length of visit time and interest, to view a list of events and exhibits that match your needs.

The on-premise Wings Cafe features snacks and hot entrees, and is a good place to refuel and refresh. To start planning your visit check out museumofflight.org.

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