Northwest air museums teach history of flight
As you're driving through McMinnville, Oregon on Highway 18, it's impossible to miss the expansive modern new buildings that make up the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. Your first clue that this has something to do with aviation is the giant 747 airliner parked out front – not your typical office sign.
Our visit to the museum was quite by accident – we had driven through the area on the way to some Oregon Coast destinations and were amazed at the mammoth structures we saw in this campus-like tract of open space along the highway. Then we saw the sign – and the airplane – and it all came together for us. We had heard about the Evergreen Museum but hadn't realized it would be directly on our route to the coast.
We enjoy visiting aircraft museums and this was one of the best we've seen. The museum is generally divided into two areas: aviation and space. There are separate charges to visit each area or you can buy a combined ticket. Once you get inside you'll be amazed at the aircraft that are on display – for example, the gigantic Spruce Goose, the famous eight-propeller Howard Hughes Flying Boat, which is in pristine condition, dwarfing all other aircraft in the aviation exhibit building. This alone is worth visiting the Evergreen Museum because of its unique role in aviation history.
And that's just the beginning. Examples of just about every type of aircraft you can imagine are on full display allowing visitors an up-close look at these planes and helicopters, as well as complete information about why the particular aircraft are important. Over on the space side, there are numerous displays of rockets and spacecraft and informative explanations about how and why they all came about. The museum is a tremendous learning experience for youngsters and oldsters alike.
The museum is dedicated to Captain Michael King Smith who was raised in McMinnville, Oregon, and graduated from McMinnville High School 1984. He later graduated first in his class from Columbus Air Force Base. He also received many prestigious awards and later became an F-15 pilot for the 123rd Fighter Squadron of the Oregon Air National Guard. Captain Smith died in a 1995 automobile accident.
With an IMAX show also available at the Evergreen Museum, it's suggested that you allow five hours to see all of the aircraft, spacecraft and exhibits on display at the Evergreen. The whole family will enjoy learning about these aircraft and, in many cases, actually going inside the aircraft to feel what it might have been like to fly in these vintage craft. For more information on the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, call 503-434-4185 or visit www.sprucegoose.org.
Other aircraft museums
There are examples of aviation history all over the Northwest, but many are concentrated in the Seattle-Everett area because of the influence of Boeing, the aircraft manufacturer that has produced thousands of aircraft in Puget Sound factories. Here are some examples of other aviation-oriented visitor centers:Museum of Flight – Boeing Field, Seattle, WA
The Museum of Flight is said to be one of the largest air and space museums in the world, and more than 400,000 people visit the site each year. The museum's collection features more than 150 aircraft and spacecraft, and visitors can also tour the the Red Barn – where the Boeing Company first started. The museum includes some of the largest air and space archives on the West Coast.Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour – Paine Field (west side), Mukilteo, WA
Photos, from top: Famouse Spruce Goose drarfs other aircraft; Boeing 747 stands at Evergreen Museum's entrance; space capsule on display in Evergreen space museum; visitors listen to talk about a World War II fighter
Photos by Cary and Sandi Ordway; Julie Gangler contributed to this article
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