Vintage aircraft

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

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
  • Interactive displays and hands-on exhibits explain the marvel of commercial jet aviation and the future of powered, winged flight.
  • Aviation Zones include Flight Deck, Flight Systems, Propulsion/Engines, Materials, Passenger Experience and Future Concepts, plus a special zone for young children.
  • Visitors can digitally design a jet, test/modify its flight worthiness, and then receive a free personalized print-out of their final design.
  • Boeing Tour – the only tour of a commercial jet assembly plant in North America (the largest building in the world, measured by volume). Visitors watch 777 and new 787 Dreamliner jets being assembled.
  • Open to the public – see website for hours and admission prices.
Historic Flight Restoration Center – Paine Field (west side), Mukilteo, WA
(206) 348-3200
  • Collection of aviation enthusiast John T. Sessions: the most important aircraft produced between 1927 – 1957
  • Visitors see fully restored aircraft on display, restoration/maintenance in progress and actual flights of the vintage aircraft (weather permitting)
  • Collection includes these highlights and more:
    • B-25D Mitchell – early 1940s bomber nicknamed "Grumpy" that was flown to Historic Flight from Britain after 22 years in Europe by owner John T. Sessions – retracing the primary route used in World War II to deliver thousands of bombers to the European Theatre of Operations.
    • P-51B Mustang – fast, high-altitude North American fighter that escorted bombers deep into enemy territory during World War II and also saw action in the Korean War. Nicknamed "Impatient Virgin."
    • Supermarine Spitfire – agile fighter plane flew from 1936 to 1957, served four Air Forces and played a vital role in winning the Battle of Britain in 1940.
    • Grumman F8F Bearcat – interceptor fighter nicknamed “Wampus Cat” that defended U.S. Navy fleets from Japanese Zeros and incoming kamikaze attacks. One of 10 Bearcats still flying today.
    • Open to the public – see website for hours and admission prices.
Flying Heritage Collection – Paine Field (east side), Everett, WA
  • Historic 1935-1945 combat aircraft from the U.S., Britain, Germany, Russia and Japan
  • "Home of Flying Warbirds" – all aircraft authentically restored, many to flying condition
  • Rare private collection of Paul G. Allen housed in a 51,000-square foot hangar
  • Free Fly Days (weather permitting) when the vintage aircraft take to the skies and demonstrate their flying precision; opportunity to talk with the pilots and a military aviation historian.
  • Open to the public – see website for hours and admission prices.
Museum of Flight Restoration Center – Paine Field (east side), Everett, WA
  • Vintage aircraft are authentically restored by staff/volunteers in a 23,000-square foot hangar
  • Approximately three dozen aircraft in various stages of restoration, such as 1933 Boeing 247D,the world's first modern passenger airliner, and de Havilland Comet, the world's first passenger jet.
  • Volunteers explain the work in progress and significance of each aircraft.
  • Open to the public – see website for hours and admission prices.
Legend Flyers – Paine Field (east side), Everett, WA
  • Classic planes such as the Messerschmitt 262 fighter (only 10 originals in existence in the world) are re-created, rivet by rivet, by master technicians to exacting specifications.
  • The reproductions are displayed in museums around the world.
  • Open by appointment.

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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