25 April 2013

Seattle Museum of Flight

A couple of weeks ago I was in Seattle visiting friends, and one of the highlights of the week was my visit to the Museum of Flight in Tukwila (9404 East Marginal Way S) at what is now known as Boeing Field. It was a pretty crummy day weather-wise, so it was a perfect opportunity to spend a few hours indoors soaking up some top-quality aviation history. The site is still a working airfield, and boasts a wide range of aircraft displays both indoors and out:

Among the most popular exhibits at the Museum are the world's first fighter plane, the first jet Air Force One, the prototype Boeing 747, the West Coast's only Concorde, and the world's fastest aircraft – the Blackbird spy plane.

My first stop was the main display hall, which featured an impressive selection of aircraft on the ground and suspended above. While the natural highlight was of course the devilishly rapid Blackbird spy-plane, I also enjoyed the selection of space programme paraphernalia including a section of the International Space Station and the mini-exhibition on pioneering airmail services. There was a New Zealand connection here, because the first two Boeing aircraft, both sensibly-named Boeing Model 1 seaplanes built in 1916, couldn't attract their intended US Navy buyer, and were instead parcelled up and sold to the Walsh Brothers' New Zealand Flying School, which flew from Mission Bay in Auckland and trained local pilots hoping to join the Royal Flying Corps to fight on the Western Front.   

Boeing Model 1 seaplane replica

Apollo Mission Control console (CAPCOM)
Blackbird M-21

Apollo Command Module trainer, 1966
ISS module interior

Then it was on to the middle section of the museum, the original Boeing aircraft factory, which still has a hint of sawdust smell in the air. I enjoyed its exhibits of old barnstorming airshow posters and the February 1930 letter from S.A. Stimpson to the Assistant to the Boeing President, suggesting 'there would be a great psychological punch to having young stewardesses or couriers, or whatever you want to call them [aboard passenger flights], and I am certain there are some mighty good ones available'. Given the rougher ride 1930s air passengers endured, Stimpson was keen for stewardesses to have a nursing background:

Their first paramount qualification would be that of a graduate nurse (although this would never be brought into the foreground in advertising or anything as it sort of sounds as though they are necessary); and, secondly, young women who have been around and are familiar with general travel - rail, steamer and air. Such young women are available here. This is just a passing thought.

Next up were the wartime galleries of replica fighters from both World Wars, which I was pleased to note contained a small display board highlighting New Zealand WW2 air ace Edgar 'Cobber' Kain (1918-40).

Caproni Ca.20, 'the world's first fighter plane'

Spitfire LF Mk.IX
Curtiss P-40N Warhawk
Goodyear FG-1D Corsair
Republic P-47D Thunderbolt
Decal detail on Yakovlev Yak-9U
Decal detail, P-51D Mustang

Making use of the covered overpass to avoid the traffic and the by-now teeming Seattle rain, I ventured into the separate space programme exhibit, which boasted NASA's full fuselage trainer for the Space Shuttle programme. Walking through the trainer and into its open cargo bay gives you a wonderful sense of the scale of the vehicle after all those years seeing it on television. First hand it seems quite small, but naturally once the real thing is in orbit the lack of gravity means a little internal volume goes a long way for the crew.

Shuttle Full Fuselage Trainer (FFT)

Then it was outside to take in the final exhibits of my visit - the parked-up vestiges of the world's airlines. It was certainly a treat to shelter from the rain beneath the Concorde's undercarriage! But as I've been aboard Concordes twice before (at Duxford and in New York) and even seen some of the early prototypes at Le Bourget, the highlight of the rain-swept air park was probably the B707 known as SAM 970, which served as the first Air Force One presidential jet transport from 1959-62. It transported President Eisenhower on diplomatic missions in the eastern hemisphere and South America, and in 1961 flew President Kennedy to Vienna to meet Khrushchev and to Key West to meet Harold McMillan. SAM 970 also played its role in presidential drama when in November 1963 it flew Lyndon Johnson to Dallas once news emerged of Kennedy's assassination.

Under the Concorde
Air Force One - presidential suite
Lockheed 1049G Super Constellation
(Trans-Canada Airlines)
B747 prototype 747-001 (1969)

There was just time to fit in a quick photo sheltering from the rain under the wing of a multi-engined Boeing WB-47E Stratojet nuclear bomber, which served with the Strategic Air Command from 1953 to 1963. Not a bad way to finish up the visit!

See also:
Blog - MOTAT 2, 3 April 2013
Blog - Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, 29 January 2012
Blog - Le Bourget Air & Space Museum, 18 March 2011
Blog - Once upon a time in New York, 1 July 2010 
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