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Museum takes family fun to soaring new heights
By CARY ORDWAY
Two things are certain about Seattle's Museum of Flight: 1/ If you're an aviation buff, you'll be thrilled at the collection of planes and exhibits showing the entire history of aviation, and 2/ If you're not an aviation buff you'll still be thrilled.
Even folks who have only a passing interest in aviation will be surprised at what they get out of this elaborate attraction. The sheer scope of the exhibits, the well-organized displays, the wow factor that comes from finding something interesting no matter what direction you look – it's all there for everyone to enjoy in a spectacular manner.
Located not far from Sea-Tac International Airport, the museum is actually at Boeing Field (King County International Airport), visible from Interstate 5 and notable for the unusual variety of aircraft on display on the tarmac outside the museum. It's an easy drive from downtown Seattle and a must-see for anyone visiting the Emerald City since the city's history is so intertwined with the airplane manufacturer, Boeing.
This museum is just made for families, offering Dad the chance to share his lifetime knowledge of airplanes with his kids – and what dad doesn't have at least some fascination with flying machines? Given the number of female airline pilots out there these days, we're guessing a lot of Moms like 1 airplanes, too. The Museum of Flight is an equal-opportunity attraction that is bound to please Dad, Mom – and of course the kids.
In our case, we took a couple of young grandkids, ages 7 and 9, to introduce them to the joys of flight. Neither had even been on an airplane before so we figured a great way to get them started was to walk them down the aisle of Air Force One (okay, not the current one, but one used by Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon), and then go one even better by taking them through the fastest airliner in the world, the Concorde. For a first-time airplane experience, it sure beats being herded onto your garden-variety airliner.
Of course these didn't leave the ground, but the Museum of Flight remedies that first by offering airplane rides (in other planes) and, second, by offering a robust selection of flight simulators to test your flying skills. All of that was extra cost, so we put those adventures on our to-do list for next time.
What IS included in your admission price is enough airplanes and exhibits to please even the most die-hard aviation enthusiast. If airplanes were people, this would be a virtual who's who of airplanes dating 1 back to their invention. Some are on the tarmac outside, while others are suspended from the ceiling in the T.A. Wilson Great Gallery, while still others are parked in a logical and organized fashion within the exhibit halls to allow you to trace the history of the particular aircraft and understand thoroughly why these particular airplanes are on display.
The William E. Boeing Red Barn area takes you through the birth of aviation as you learn how airplanes work and the milestones achieved as the first aircraft went from design to actual flight. There are separate galleries for World War I and World War II, each offering a display of several aircraft used in those wars along with examples of equipment worn by the pilots and detailed descriptions of how the planes were used in battle. Movies and dioramas add to the display, making it all seem more realistic and interesting, especially for young kids.
Airliners are on display inside and outside of the museum with some allowing you to go on board. Many of the aircraft are quite historic, such as the Lockheed Constellation and the very first Boeing 747. It's fun to compare the older planes to the newer ones, and also to go upfront to the cockpit and compare the instrumentation and features of the newer versus the older models.
Space plays a big role at the Museum of Flight with two galleries focusing on our travel into space. The Bill and Moya Lear Gallery allows you to climb aboard a full-size Space Station research lab and see historic spacecraft up-close and personal. The Charles Simonyi Space Gallery is the museum's jaw-dropper as visitors step into a hanger filled with the giant Space Shuttle Trainer, immediately giving you the sense that the Space Shuttle dwarfs all other U.S. spacecraft in size and complexity.