Sometimes it’s a light hum, other times deeper roar. No matter which sound it is, my eyes are ever glancing upward hoping to catch a glimpse of those modern winged marvels. At times, it seems as if they are guiding me from one museum to the next as I explore the Paine Field Aviation District.
3407 109th St. SW, Everett
As I tour the world’s largest collection of vintage aircraft and tanks at Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum, I can’t help but marvel at their historically detailed restoration. Almost all of the 24 airplanes and 25 vehicles are rebuilt to working condition, and “ready to fly” and “ready to roll.” The collection, acquired by the late Paul G. Allen, is housed in two large buildings, with another soon to open, and rotates, so you might see something new each time you visit. Plus, they have two additions to be unveiled this year and more on the way.
Some of my favorite planes are those with a unique story like the Polikarpov U-2/Po-2 flown by Russian women nicknamed the “Night Witches” which frequently conducted night raids onby German soldiers during WWII. Designed as a crop duster, they made daring night raids during bombing runs and gave the Germans many sleepless nights. The Focke-Wulf Fw 190 A-5, a German plane known for its speed and lightness. In 1954, the plane crashed in a Russian wetland and remained hidden for over 30 years. Today, it is the only of its kind with an original engine. Another is the de Havilland D.H.98 Mosquito T.Mk III, which is made primarily of wood and became one of the fastest and most versatile aircraft in WWII. This artifact made an appearance in the 1964 British film 633 Squadron.
Another highlight is the “Why War: The Cause and Conflict” exhibit. Here I try my political savvy at the conflict simulators, and some of my decisions don’t end in my favor. While viewing the full-scale replicas of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima, I am confronted with sobering tragedies of war. And, at the large interactive touch screens, I learn about the Korean War, investigating its key players and conflicts.
“The “Why War” exhibit was designed not to tell people why wars happened, but to let them figure it out for themselves,” said Michelle Donoghue, Marketing & Events Coordinator. “This gives visitors a more interactive and fun way to experience history rather than reading about past events from a textbook.”
This is not a museum to rush through, for there are plenty of fascinating artifacts alongside the displays, like a flag flown on D-Day, an Enigma machine, and a replica of SpaceShipOne. Docents are on often there to answer questions, and some have even manned these mighty machines.
I’m told if you want to get up close to the collection, attend one of their events like SkyFair in July, which is the museums biggest air and ground show. The day includes flying presentations, tanks in motion, and some planes you can go inside.
I take advantage of their customizable lunch menu at Diamond Knot Brewery & Alehouse and order the Thai Chicken salad, cinnamon ginger beignets, an additional giant tater tot stuffed with bacon and cheese, and a blonde beer. Other tasty items include a classic BLT, Porter pork sliders, and beer-battered cod. Afterward, stop by Mukilteo Chocolate for ice cream or handcrafted chocolates like their award-winning lavender cheesecake truffles.
8415 Paine Field Blvd.
At the area’s premier aviation attraction, the Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour, I’m one of 320,000 annual visitors to join the 90-minute Boeing Tour to see Boeing 747, 767, 777, and the 787 Dreamliners being assembled in the factory.
Tip: Required height is four feet. The tour is hands-free, and no cameras or phones are allowed.
On the bus ride to the factory, I discover some interesting facts. The factory building is the largest in the world. It is so big that Disneyland could fit inside it and still have 12 acres left over for parking! Another is that with 35,000 employees this location operates like a mini-city. It has its own fire department, security service, and bank. Plus, there are multiple cafeterias, day care services, shuttle service and tricycles[O1] to ride around the massive complex. And, the[O2] first four doors are the size of a football field, and the last two doors also include the end zones. Inside, we gaze down at the planes in various stage of assembly.
There are many complimentary visitor experiences at the Future of Flight Center. Visitors and photographers line up outside on the grassy hill to take in views of the new Boeing aircraft as they set out on their test flights. Visitors to the center can also enjoy the runway from the top of the Strato Deck rooftop. Both are offered for free.
Hilton Garden Inn North Seattle
8401 Paine Field Blvd
Right next to the Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour, is the Hilton Garden Inn North Seattle. The modern hotel has plenty of amenities including a pool, fitness room, free WiFi, complimentary hot buffet breakfast in the morning, and the restaurant opens daily for lunch, dinner, and drinks. Another perk, is that guests can see the runway day or night and attractions are only minutes away. There is even a Future of Flight Package that includes two tickets for the Boeing tour.
I’m sitting on the outside patio at The Scotsman Bistro, a cozy restaurant with Scotch flights and a Scottish owner that warmly greets everyone. The menu is a mix of comfort foods and includes Scottish dishes and a very popular enchilada. What do I choose? A house margarita, Caprese salad, Scotch eggs, and garlic butter prawns.
2909 100th St. SW
Plane restoration includes many working parts, and at the Museum of Flight Restoration Center & Reserve Collection, I get a glimpse into that process. The museum has around 30 dedicated volunteers who restore aircraft to be static exhibits at The Museum of Flight in Seattle. On the Restoration Tour, I hear about their projects, like the Havilland D.H. 106 Comet, Mexicana Airlines first jet airliner, a Piasecki H-21B Workhorse, a rescue helicopter nicknamed a “flying banana” from Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, and my personal favorite the Link Trainer, a simulator for training pilots, used heavily during WWII.
10719 Bernie Webber Drive
The Historic Flight Foundation houses 13 historic planes, and a few vehicles, including a 1927 Cadillac Tour Phaeton car that President Franklin Roosevelt rode in during his tour of Glacier National Park. One of the first things I notice is that theirre artifacts are not roped off and I can peer inside the cockpits.
“We want visitors to be able to see working planes up close,” said Doug Brown, a volunteer. “Every piece has its own fascinating history, and the collection being so tangible helps bring those stories to life in a more recognizable form.”
We weave our way through the collection, and he points out some of the favorites like the P-518 Mustang, which had 700 hours of combat flying during WWII, including four attacks on D-Day. We hop aboard the Douglas DC-3, a Pan American plane that delivered supplies in China and later became a VIP aircraft for Johnson & Johnson. We also climb inside Grumpy, a B-25D Mitchell bomber built to carry a 3,500 bomb load.
As I sit in the cockpit, I can’t help but wonder about the men who manned the plane. I try to picture myself as a crew of five maneuvering within the tight space, sharing the hard times of war, but also moments of laughter and happiness.
As our tour continues, I learn that during the summer the museum has monthly fly days with flying presentations, ride flights, a BBQ, and a drawing to win a ride in a vintage aircraft. And, for those who want more flight time, certain membership levels include a flight on one of the historic planes.
Z’s Burgers is a retro diner with plenty of airplane game. Model airplanes dangle from the ceiling and a handful of menu items are named after Boeing planes. I’m told this is the place for a burger, but the Neah Bay halibut fish n’ chips catch my attention; I am not disappointed.
11928 Beverly Park Road
At the end of my journey, I take to the skies, but not on a plane. I wobble on ropes bridges and brave balancing 50 feet off the ground at High Trek Adventures & Ziplines. This ropes course has over 60 challenges, three levels of difficulty, and is entirely self-guided. When I get to the zip line, a Dreamlifter glides above me. I launch myself down the track, and for a moment we sail together.
Happy Hour on the Strato Deck
Not wanting my time in the Aviation District to end, I head to happy hour on the Future of Flight Aviation Center Strato Deck. With a cold beverage in hand, I join other plane lovers. We sip our drinks in the sunshine and listen to radio tower communications coming through the loudspeaker. When that distinct hum fills the air, our eyes go upward, searching for those sleek flying machines soaring in the sky.