Seattle, WA Part V: Museum of Flight
The Museum of Flight is about 6 miles south of Seattle and is the largest private air and space museum in the world. The museum is adjacent to Boeing Field, which was named for Boeing Company founder William Boeing. The entrance to the Museum of Flight is shown in the photo below.
Except for a time during WWII when it was taken over by the U. S. Government, Boeing Field was the main airport for Seattle from its opening in 1928 until Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was completed in the late 1940s. Today, Boeing Field is a county airport that is primarily used for private aircraft and cargo shipments. Boeing Company also uses it for testing and delivery of some of its planes.
In the 1960s, a group of aviation enthusiasts formed the Pacific Northwest Aviation Foundation in an effort to preserve significant aircraft and important aviation artifacts. The first official Museum of Flight opened in a 10,000 square foot space leased in the Seattle Center in 1968.
In 1975, the original factory building of the Boeing Company (the Red Barn) was saved from demolition and was donated to the museum. The Red Barn was moved to its present location at Boeing Field and was restored. The Red Barn became the museum's first permanent building when it opened to the public in 1983. Although the museum receives a lot of support from the Boeing company, it is an independent, non-profit organization.
Inside the Red Barn are exhibits about Boeing history from 1916 through 1958. There is also a recreation of part of the early factory workshop.
The Great Gallery was added to the museum in 1987. The Great Gallery is a six-story high, steel-and-glass exhibit hall. There are 30 or 40 aircraft on display in the gallery, including many that hang from the ceiling. The displays range from a reproduction of the Wright Brothers plane that first flew at Kitty Hawk in 1903 to current space exploration. The photo below shows some of the planes in the Great Gallery.
One of Paul's favorites in the Great Gallery was the Taylor Aerocar III. The Aerocar is a completely road-worthy car, but it is also a certified airplane. It can be converted in about 15 minutes. After landing at the airport, the wings can be either stored at the airport for the return flight or towed behind the car. Moulton Taylor, designer of the Aerocar, almost reached an agreement to mass-produce the Aerocar in the 1960s, but the deal fell through.
The Great Gallery also has a section on space travel. There are a number of exhibits from the early days of space with a reproduction of a Sputnik 1 satellite to a mock up of an International Space Station laboratory module that is currently in orbit. The photo below shows an engineering mock-up of a lunar rover made by Boeing.
While in the area on space travel, we had to take our usual tourist photo.
Another feature of the Great Gallery is the newly-renovated Tower at Boeing Field. There are some displays relating to the mechanics of flight, but the most interesting feature is a simulated airport tower with exhibits about how air traffic controllers keep travelers safe. You can listen to real radio transmissions from Boeing Field tower, and there are screens with that give information about the location and altitude of actual commercial flights. The flight data is delayed by 5 minutes for security reasons. You can watch flights like the biplane in the photo below take off and land at Boeing Field.
The latest addition to the museum is the 88,000-square foot J. Elroy McCaw Personal Courage Wing. This wing features 28 WWI and WWII fighter planes on two floors. One of the most interesting planes was the Caproni Ca.20, which is considered as the first fighter plane. This single-seat monoplane was built in Italy in 1914. It has a .303 caliber machine gun mounted above the arc of the propeller. Unlike the other planes in the museum's collection that have been restored, the Caproni is essentially in original condition. The next photo shows the only Caproni Ca.20 ever produced.
Across the street from the museum building is an area called the Airpark where you can see the first jet-powered Air Force One used by Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy from 1959 to 1962. The plane was replaced in 1962 by an updated Air Force One, but it was still used after that time to transport the Vice President and other VIPs. It was retired in 1996.
Air Force One is the one thing in the museum we both wanted to see most. Everyone calls the plane Air Force One, but actually, Air Force One is a temporary call sign used only when the President is on board. The official name for this particular aircraft is SAM 970. SAM stands for Special Air Mission. There are currently two 747 aircraft used for presidential transport. They are SAM 28000 and SAM 29000.
SAM 970 is similar to a Boeing 707 commercial airliner, except it is the cargo version (called a C-137) that has been specially-modified. The plane originally was white with red markings, typical of military transport planes. Jacqeuline Kennedy had a designer come up with the more-subdued blue and white markings. A similar paint scheme has been used on all subsequent presidential transport planes. The photo below shows SAM 970 aka Air Force One.
The next photo shows Margery in the rear passenger area where staff would have sat.
In the center of the plane is a conference room. The conference table can be raised and lowered by means of an electric motor. They say LBJ, who was tall himself, would sit in the tall chair and sometimes raise the table to its maximum height so it was almost up to the chins of those across from him to intimidate them.
In the front of the plane is the lounge where the President spent most of his time, the communications room, and seating space for the Secret Service.
The Airpark also has the only Concorde SST on the West Coast. It was donated to the museum by British Airways when they retired their fleet of SSTs. The Concorde was built by British and French aerospace companies from 1966 to 1979 and were in service for a total of 27 years. Although there were numerous seating arrangements available, the Concorde is quite small and typically carried only about 100 passengers.
The SST designation stands for Super Sonic Transport, and the plane was capable of flying at two times the speed of sound. It could fly from London to New York and back in the same amount of time it took a standard plane to fly only one way. The Concord provided fast, luxurious travel; but increasing operating costs, reduced demand, and economic pressures on airlines resulting from the 9/11 attacks lead airlines to discontinue use of the Concord in 2003.
Another plane at the Airpark is the very first Boeing 747. It was interesting seeing this prototype since we saw the prototype for the latest wide-body, the 787, during our tour of the Boeing plant a few days before.
After our visit to the Museum of Flight, we stopped by Bahama Breeze for a late lunch. Bahama Breeze is one of our favorite restaurants providing a fun, Caribbean Island atmosphere and an interesting, delicious, tropical menu.
Margery got an email coupon good for $10 off any dinner, and we were grateful they allowed us to use it for lunch.
Paul had a Cuban sandwich and Margery had almond encrusted talapia. Both were excellent. After lunch we called it a day and headed back to the campground. We've had a busy time in the Seattle area, but we still have more to see before we head out to our next destination.