WA-List » An Ovation for Aviation

An Ovation for Aviation

Published by Steve Campion. Category: Transportation

Aviation had humble beginnings. The first powered flight was achieved by two bicycle builders from Ohio.  The world’s largest commercial airplane company built its first planes in a barn.  There’s a place in Seattle where you can see a replica of those bicyclists’ 1903 Wright Flyer as well as the actual 1909 barn that got the Boeing Company started.

Those are just two things to see at The Museum of Flight — and you probably won’t even consider them the most impressive or surprising artifacts in the collection after you wander the galleries for a few minutes.  That’s because Seattle’s aviation treasure on the southwest side of King County International Airport (better known as Boeing Field) is the largest private air and space museum in the world.  Where else could you see dozens of vintage aircraft, a DC-3 suspended over your head, an authentic Air Force One, an SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde, the first Boeing 747, and then step into an authentic Space Shuttle trainer or a full size interactive air traffic control tower alongside one of the busiest airports in the United States?   Only in Seattle!

The collection has become so astounding in recent years that we couldn’t possibly pick our favorite exhibits.  So we asked for help from Mike Bush, the Museum of Flight’s Director of Marketing & Public Relations.  He not only gave us a list of the exhibits to which visitors gravitate, but also told us which planes stir his excitement — to work with and to show visitors.  Thanks to Mike, we have an illustrated double list today: his favorites and the public’s favorites.  Be sure to read his colorful descriptions adjacent to the photos!

  • Location: 9404 East Marginal Way South  Seattle, WA 98108
  • Hours: Daily, 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
  • Phone: 206-764-5720
  • Website: MuseumOfFlight.org
  • WA-List suggestion: Plan on a long visit (or several visits) whether you come to the museum with an experienced aviation expert or with a child who just likes to pretend he/she is an airplane.  There’s plenty to excite either.


North American P-51D Mustang
One the great WWII fighter planes. Our Senior Curator Dan Hagedorn, believes ours to be the best restored Mustang in the world. This is a favorite of the retired Fighter Aces and Tuskegee Airman who frequent the Museum as well, all of whom have extraordinary stories to tell.
Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress
The bomber that changed WWII and the financial fortunes of the Boeing Company. The Museum of Flight’s Fortress is outfitted exactly as it was in war, and is open for public walk-throughs during the summer.
Caproni Ca.20
The world’s first fighter plane and the only one of its kind ever created, this 1914 Italian treasure was stored in a monastery for 85 years. It was dismantled, the pieces lowered through a second-story window, and reassembled by Museum of Flight staff exactly how it was found.
Boeing 747-121
The Museum’s 747 was the first one ever built – serial number 001 – and was used as a testbed for systems improvements and new engine developments. One of the things that makes it special to us, however, is that one of the original test pilots was Brien Wygle, a Museum trustee and a remarkable man.
Air Force One – Boeing 707-120
The first presidential jet plane – also known as SAM (Special Air Missions) 970 – carried presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. It’s exciting to know that you’re walking in the footsteps of such important historical figures, and if you look beneath the president’s desk, you can see the hat-rack where LBJ stowed his Stetson.


M-21 Blackbird Spy Plane
The fastest piloted jet ever, the Blackbird cruised at speeds of more than Mach 3 and altitudes of over 85,000 feet. The Museum’s M-21 is the sole survivor of only two M-21s built. This is a big favorite, thanks to its impressive size and unique look, and also because there’s a Blackbird cockpit adjacent to it, which kids and adults alike can climb into.
Taylor Aerocar III
The “flying car” is absolutely a favorite of kids who visit the Museum. It was a “roadable” airplane certified for use as both a plane and an automobile. The process to transform it from road to air takes about 15 minutes, and by all accounts was pleasant to fly.
Space Shuttle Trainer
While only the crew compartment section has been delivered at this writing, the Trainer is already becoming a fan favorite. Used for training by every space shuttle astronaut since the program’s inception, the Trainer will be reassembled by September, when visitors will be able to go aboard and walk in the footsteps of their space heroes.
The William E. Boeing Red Barn
The original manufacturing plant of the Boeing Company, the Red Barn was built in 1909 and moved by barge to its present location at The Museum of Flight. Telling the Boeing story with a great many rare artifacts, this is a particular favorite of local Boeing employees and retirees.
WWI and WWII Aircraft Models
Created by Dr. H. Logan Holtgrewe, this collection of more than 450 scale models presents each aircraft used in WWI and WWII in painstaking detail. A particular fan favorite is the 13-1/2-foot Zeppelin, complete with interior lighting.


Please forgive me for adding a personal note. The Museum of Flight has great personal meaning to me because my father (right), who died last summer, spent his entire career split between the US Air Force and the Boeing Company. An amateur pilot himself, he surrounded himself with an appreciation of flight throughout his adult life. He became a charter member of the Museum of Flight when it opened on East Marginal Way in the early 1980s.* My dad could identify every plane on the floor … and probably each plane flying overhead by its sound alone.

*The Museum had its beginnings way back in 1965 when the Pacific Northwest Aviation Historical Foundation was created by enthusiasts interested in recovering a 1929 Boeing 80A-1 from an Alaska landfill and restoring it. That one project took them 16 years, but a funny thing happened along the way: it morphed into what would become today’s first-class museum.

SOURCE of the two lists & all 10 written descriptions: Mike Bush, Director of Marketing & Public Relations, The Museum of Flight
IMAGES of the aircraft and the Red Barn interior are the property of the Museum of Flight and are used here by permission.
IMAGE of the the Red Barn exterior © Steve Campion
IMAGE of Don Campion is the property of the Campion family


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