Review: Museum of Flight

Megan and I went to visit the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field in December when my dad and his girlfriend were in town. I’d been in Seattle for five years and had never seen it, so it was a fun experience. The best comparison is to the Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington-Dulles airport, which I’ve reviewed previously. Although the Museum of Flight is not an official Boeing museum, it has a lot of close ties and some unique features.

This museum is located halfway between Seattle-Tacoma airport and downtown Seattle, making it a convenient tourist attraction. You will probably even see a 787 Dreamliner at one of the nearby hangars as they prepare it before delivery! The official Boeing attraction, the Boeing factory tour, at Boeing’s Everett facility.

Read on to the end for a free giveaway!

picture of interior of Boeing 80A-1 plane

The first attraction after entering the museum is the standard collection of aircraft from the first century of flight. Models of the earliest aircraft are on display, along with some examples of military and commercial jets.

What the Museum of Flight lacks in size or number compared to the Udvar-Hazy it makes up for with unique experiences. For example, there is a large display on the history of civil aviation in Alaska, leading to today’s Alaska Airlines (headquartered in Seattle), and here’s an interior shot of a Boeing 80A-1, described as the “Pullman of the Sky.”

You’ll learn about the creation of Varney Airlines, later acquired and renamed Boeing Air Transport. But this was spun off as the original United Air Lines due to new postal regulations that forbade manufacturers from running their own carriers.

There are even some military jet cockpits that you can sit in to get a better feel for the controls. I took a look at this jet and was originally confused because it looked so much like the Blackbird SR-71 I saw at the Udvar-Hazy …but it was a little off. It turns out it was an earlier Blackbird M-21 and the thing on top is a D-21B drone that could be launched separately.

picture of Blackbird M-21 plane

I bet I'd be a real good pilot!

I bet I’d be a real good pilot!

The space exhibit, I’m sorry, had very little of any interest to me. Udvar-Hazy’s collection is amazing, even if you took out the retired Space Shuttle. At the Museum of Flight, among of the few things that caught my attention were the wire mesh wheels on the lunar buggy. That’s a clever idea for creating lightweight, springy wheels in a vacuum!

I always wondered...

I always wondered…

The Barn

Boeing was originally headquartered in a big red barn located along the water where they could launch the original seaplanes. At one point Boeing was considering moving to another state, but a local farmer gave away his land to the company so it could build what is now Boeing Field, where the Museum of Flight is located. The barn was moved and now houses historical artifacts that document the wood frame construction of aircraft in that time as well as some of United Airline’s early history.

picture of The Barn

We weren’t supposed to take pictures here, so you’ll have to do without.

Airpark

You can cross the pedestrian bridge to the other side of the street where Boeing has parked several retired aircraft. Sadly, they did not look well-maintained. Seattle is the exact opposite of the sunny, dry environment where most aircraft graveyards are located. Seattle is so wet that everything just accumulates dirt and rust.

picture of a Boeing 747 plane

Two of the aircraft you’re actually allowed to board and walk through, and fortunately they are the two most interesting planes in the collection.

One is a retired Boeing 707-120 that served as the first jet Air Force One. There are amusing signs like one reminding flight attendants that pouring coffee down the drain creates a mess unbecoming of a presidential aircraft. Overall I found the amenities not much better than one of today’s 737s, but of course the seats were more spacious and they had a real oven and stove! :D

All planes should have a kitchen like this one. I'd even volunteer to cook.

All planes should have a kitchen like this one. I’d even volunteer to cook.

picture of a spacious airplane seat

The other is a former British Airways Concorde. Sadly this is the only chance I’ll ever have to be inside a Concorde, but after being inside, I can’t say I’ll miss it much. Imagine being inside an extra long regional jet with seats that have only a little more padding and better upholstery. It’s so small and cramped that I don’t think it would have been very popular even if the government had let them fly it over land.

Doesn't seem worth the price.

Doesn’t seem worth the price.

World Wars I and II

Finally, we returned to the first building and visited the wing devoted to aircraft from World Wars I and II. WWI aircraft are on the second floor since, at that time, there really wasn’t that much (and the planes were a lot smaller).

Always being more of a travel buff than an aviation buff, I can’t say this part interested me much. There was certainly a lot to see. If you like military history, you’ll enjoy it. But it wasn’t my thing. One of more curious parts, however, was a collection of model aircraft assembled by a retired doctor. He managed to recreate just about every aircraft made in both World Wars, and the collections are housed separately on each floor. When he couldn’t find a kit, he would research and build all the parts himself!

This is probably about a 1/4 of the full collection.

This is about a 1/4 of the full collection.

Gift Shop

The museum gift shop is, like most gift shops, a good place to find trinkets and T-shirts and other useless things you probably shouldn’t buy. But it is also a good source of some of the more unique aircraft memorabilia and paraphernalia you wouldn’t find anywhere else.

There’s an entire rack of Space Shuttle mission patches. Another rack contains pins with the logos of different airlines (I found an old United tulip pin!). You can buy official scale models of most Boeing aircraft, as well as aircraft-themed toys from Lego and other manufacturers. I even found a company that makes little cocktail trays laminated with aviation sectional maps of your home airport!

You can finally go home with your favorite flight attendant!

You can finally go home with your favorite flight attendant!

Giveaway

Just make any post in the comments. I’m giving away a 787 Dreamliner styrofoam glider and a pair of admission tickets to the Museum of Flight. These tickets are in the form of a Groupon, which expires on March 31, 2013, and are only valid on weekdays. If you choose to use the voucher after March 31, it has a value of $17 that you can use toward regular admission. You can enter through Thursday at 11:59 PM Pacific time. I will select the winner at random on Friday.

Scott created Hack My Trip after learning how to travel better on a budget during grad school. He now flies over 150,000 miles every year.
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  • Ralph

    Good Review. Looking forward to going there myself now.

  • Eric S

    Loved your review and pictures. Traveling between Vancouver, WA (just north of Portland) and Seattle area we go by this all the time, and have enjoyed it twice recently (the last time on my birthday). I’d look forward to hearing your review of the Boeing tour in Everett as well!

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.berkovec.5 James Berkovec

    This motivates me to go up to Seattle and see the museum. Thanks for the story.

  • Laura

    sounds like it is worth a stop. I never thought of it before.

  • mike c

    Looks like fun!

  • Rich

    Great article. One correction though…this is not a Boeing Museum. While it is heavy on Boeing stuff (it is in Seattle), it is actually a private Museum.

    • Scottrick

      Thank you for that correction. It certainly isn’t obvious when you’re there!

  • AKold

    This was the first place I went when I made a daytrip to Seattle. Tons of fun!

  • Jackson J

    This is next on my list after hitting up the Musuem of Flight

  • http://twitter.com/gadha Abhinav Gautam

    nice

  • thetravelplaybook

    Hope I win! I have that shirt, btw. Good style!

  • FB

    i’ve been there and its a great place to spend 6-8 hrs.

  • Vikram

    nice museum! i loved the atc section where you can see planes landing behind the museum

  • http://www.facebook.com/haiky Haik Yapoudjian

    would love to see it one day!

  • http://www.facebook.com/joseph.mansour.5 Joseph Mansour

    Would love to visit 1 day!

  • Biggles209

    We could volunteer to wash the 747

  • Ron

    Seems like a great trip to take.

  • Courtney

    My son would love this place!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=547603412 Lois Patterson

    Would be perfect for when I visit SEA in February.

  • Andrew P

    Looks like a great museum…I’d love to go!

  • Michelle Singh

    I had the same reaction when I saw that Concorde- looks way too much like a RJ! Great museum though- been there twice and could go again!