Museum of Flight and Aviation’s Next Gen

By Scott Spangler on July 3rd, 2017

IMG_5693Carrying no expectations, I walked through the main door of Seattle’s Museum of Flight when it opened last Friday and was immediately overwhelmed by the airy, light filled Great Gallery. With aircraft of all types from all eras, it provides a comprehensive history of aviation from the Wrights to the day before yesterday in a single glance. Immediately I felt the need to sit down.

What was most impressive about the array of aircraft before me was their arrangement. Above me was a modern cruise missile, and above that was its predecessor, the ramjet-powered German V-1 Buzz Bomb. And to the right side of my field of view was the ramjet-powered Lockheed D-21B drone affixed to the back of its mother ship, the Lockheed M-21 Blackbird. In the Aviation Pavilion, when you come down the steps from the Concorde’s forward door you see the Boeing’s airline hopes, the 247D. Immediately behind it is the airplane that realized those commercial transport hopes, the Douglas DC-2.

IMG_5794 But these are things that only a truly sick aviation geek would see and appreciate. More important than one of the best and most diverse collections I’ve seen at any museum was the quality and quantity of people doing what I was going before lunch on a beautiful, sunny Seattle Friday—looking at airplanes and learning about the people who flew them.

The number of elementary school age kids there with their parents surprised me. There were hundreds of them, and middle and high schoolers as well, with a smattering of college kids, usually a flight of two, one male, one female, both armed with phones locked and loaded.

IMG_5764Divide the hundreds of kids by 10 and you have the number of of nattily attired docents who could have been their grandparents, and all of them had eager eyes that said, “ASK ME A QUESTION!’’” And they answers they shared were really adventure yarns told with the enthusiasm unmatched by any campfire. Others were bedtime stories swaddled in warm affection. Regardless, those of us within earshot were rapt.

What made my visit—and has tempered my less than rosy hope’s for aviation’s future—was the unseen but overheard comment of one youngster to his or her mom. Facing the life-size stature of a crewman dressed for flight and standing before a B-17, the kid said, “See mommy, this is how men dressed for war, just like in Wonder Woman.”

IMG_5779 Throughout the museum were similar statues, each of them dressed appropriately for the aircraft they stood beside. A mechanic on a work stand was turning a wrench on a B-29’s R3350, and a captain and flight attendant were striding purposefully toward the stars leading up (way up) to the prototype Boeing 747 (one of many aircraft, including a retired Air Force One, that visitors could walk though). And then there was this guy, standing by the closed air stair door at the tail end a Boeing 727. That would be D.B. Cooper.

IMG_5798Still overwhelmed and drowning in sights, sounds, and information, I struggle to summarize my visit that has been like no other. Maybe personality is the best word. All museums have a personality. Some are somber and serious. Others are vainglorious. And a few are about as exciting as a high school history lecture by a teacher counting the days until retirement. But the Museum of Flight is the cool teacher, engaged, and excited about sharing kernels of previously unknown knowledge that brings life to aircraft—and the people who designed, built, flew, and maintained them. If you are ever within several hundred miles of this magical place, visit, bring the family, and dedicate the whole day. You’ll need it. – Scott Spangler, Editor

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