Last weekend our family went camping in Washington State, in a lovely spot, close to the ocean, close to the outlet malls and in the middle of beautiful lush forest. Problem was that the sun played peekaboo with the rain making that lush forest damp and dark. That’s when we realized we were less than an hour drive from the Museum of Flight in Seattle and decided to head into town and overdose on all things flight related including jets, planes, gliders, rockets and space ships.
I always enjoy NASA exhibits and was intrigued by the full sized cargo hold of the iconic craft. I was also moved to tears in the memorial gallery where they screened videos of the Challenger and Columbia disasters. I couldn’t help but feel like that shocked nine year old girl again who had watched the Challenger explode on TV that day so many years ago…
I have been absolutely captivated by Col Chris Hadfield’s pictures from the International Space Station. The day that he landed safely on earth was very bittersweet for me; I was happy he was home to start new explorations, but I miss the tweets, pictures and videos from space in his unique scientific and soulful perspective. I have not felt this excited about space since I was a kid.
— Voula Martin (@voulamartin) May 6, 2013
The kids got a kick out of seeing the model of the space station and were even more excited by the space toilet. They tried to climb on it every time my back was turned and I suffered the indignity of yelling “GET OFF THE SPACE TOILET!” at my son much to the amusement of the other patrons.
Inside the Great Gallery we saw an astounding number of aircraft starting with a reproduction of the one that set the whole thing in motion, the Wright Brothers flier, right through to formerly top secret spy planes like the SR-71 Blackbird.
My husband is a huge aviation buff and his excitement was contagious; the kids were vibrating to see the planes and space ships. I was curious to see how the museum had changed since we’d last visited on our honeymoon 13 years ago. They have added so much over the past few years that I feel we almost needed to break it up into separate visits to fully absorb everything without feeling tired, rushed or like we were missing out.
In particular we were excited to see that they had added a Concorde to their fleet, on loan from British Airways. In the 1960’s, British and French aerospace companies foreseeing supersonic aircraft as the future of commercial travel collaborated to design and build the Concorde. To me, the supersonic jet was just really cool but I was surprised by the small windows and narrow seats. We were disappointed that the seats were cordoned off with plexiglass so we couldn’t get the full effect, nor could we get very close to the cockpit to see the unique view of the pilots.
While European agencies focused on supersonic, Boeing abandoned the effort instead concentrating on developing the worlds first ‘jumbo jet’, the Boeing 747 in order to meet the growing demand for air travel. On display in the airpark is the first 747 ever built. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to go on it as tours weren’t available. I’ve never been on one and am curious what the second deck actually looks like.
Boeing VC-137B was the first jet to serve as “Air Force One” for presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson. We first saw it in 2000 and it’s still there on loan from the National Museum of the United States. We were once again touched by the fact that this plane served as a mobile command center during some of the hottest parts of the cold war, carried Kennedy’s body after the assassination and was where Johnson took the oath of office.
The World War I & World War II Gallery’s totally floored me. There were so many planes, so many artifacts and pictures that I felt overwhelmed as I realized that next year is the 100th year since the start of the War to End All Wars. I cannot fathom how incredibly the world has changed since then and being immersed in the artifacts of that era was surreal. It was almost too much to take in, and as we left it to the end of our visit we were all very tired anyway. Of all the exhibits I think this was the deepest. While the subject matter was heavy, there were interactive exhibits to keep kids engaged; my kids enjoyed playing with the flight simulator and the radios!
Other exhibits include the great gallery, the flight tower, the Red barn (the original Boeing building) and much much more. If you have an aviation lover in your family, this will be a special treat for them, but go early, have a lunch with you (long lines in the Wings cafe) and make a day of it. As we were leaving, the kids and I were totally airplane-ed out but my husband spotted a few planes that we’d missed on the way in. As he and Billy wandered over to check them out, he told our son “thanks for taking daddy to the museum today!”