Seattle Regional Aviation
Sightseeing and Flying Opportunities
There's Plenty for the Plane Buff in the
There are lots of
places to go flightseeing, or to take balloon rides or
glider flights around the Seattle area.
NOTE : Click on the map
image to open up a Google Maps page with all these locations
So perhaps you want a change
from looking at planes, sitting passively and peacefully on the
ground. Instead you want the roar of engines in your ears,
and the wind in your hair, and rather than having your feet
firmly on the ground, you want to see the earth a long way below
you (or, if you are really adventurous and doing some
aerobatics, perhaps above you).
Here is information on some of
the sightseeing flight opportunities - by plane, balloon and
glider - open to you around the Seattle region.
The Many Different Aviation
Themed Attractions Around Seattle
Seattle is one of the
birthplaces of the US aviation/aerospace industry, along with
obvious other places such as Kitty Hawk and some not quite so
obvious places such as Wichita.
Whether for this reason or
purely by accidental chance, the greater Puget Sound region has
a treasure trove of aviation themed attractions and activities.
This eleven part series details many of them.
0. Aviation Themed Attractions in the Seattle Area -
1. Museum of Flight, Seattle
2. Boeing Factory Tour & Future of Flight, Everett
3. Flying Heritage Collection, Everett
4. Historic Flight Foundation, Everett
5. Museum of Flight Restoration Center, Everett
6. Heritage Flight Museum, Bellingham
7. Fly in a glider/sailplane/balloon
8. Special Events
Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, McMinnville, OR
10. Other Regional
Taking to the Air
If you'd like to not just look at planes, but also to experience
them in operation, or in some other way to take to the air, you
have a wide range of options open to you in and around Seattle.
On this page we offer some thoughts about some of the less
obvious ways of experiencing flight.
Glider or Sailplane Flying
Maybe you'd like to enjoy a glider (or sailplane) flight.
There are a number of gliding clubs around the Seattle area
where you can buy an 'Introductory Flight' and also some
commercial operators that simply sell flights to anyone.
Most glider flights involve a two seater glider (rarely, a three
seater might be used), and you are first towed up into the air
by a tow plane. When you reach a given height (typically,
about 2,000 ft) your glider pilot releases the two rope, and
you're then free to glide and soar through the air until
eventually returning back to land at the airport.
There are also sometimes 'motor gliders' - a strange hybrid of a
glider with a motor and propeller. These motor gliders use
their engine to fly up into the air, but then turn it off and
fly like a regular glider, although the extra weight and wind
drag of the motor detracts from its ability to glide a long way.
It is usual, on a glider flight, to be given a turn at the
controls yourself, but not all glider pilots allow this (perhaps
because they don't have the necessary pilot qualification to
allow this, or perhaps just because it is not something they are
However, having a turn at the controls is a reasonable request
and expectation, and if this is something you'd like to do, then
you should ensure that the ability to do this is discussed and
agreed upon prior to you agreeing to the flight.
A typical glider flight will last 10 - 20 minutes in the air,
depending a bit on the weather conditions and the pilot's
proclivities. If there is plenty of rising air (what are
termed 'thermals') and the pilot is good, he might choose to
ride some of these currents and extend your flight - assuming of
course there isn't someone else waiting impatiently on the
ground for their scheduled flight immediately after yours.
I've plotted the
locations and names of ten glider clubs in the Seattle
region on this Google map. More information can be
obtained from the
Seattle Glider Council.
It is always a good idea to call first to see what the operating
conditions are like and to book a flight in advance.
It is probably fair to say that the people who most like balloon
rides are the ones who have yet to do one.
There's a reason you are often told to allow 3 - 4 hours for
your 30 - 60 minute balloon flight. The reality of a
balloon ride is that often you are conscripted into helping set
the balloon up prior to your flight, and then required to help
pack the balloon back into its protective carry bag at the end
of the flight.
As for the flight itself, some of the time it is indeed idyllic
and peaceful as you lightly float above the trees, but then just
as you're relaxing and unwinding, there's a sudden roar above
your head as the burners ignite, creating more hot air to keep
If you've ever watched a balloon from the ground, some distance
from where it is, you've probably heard the noise of the burners
intermittently operating and pausing. So, think about this
- if you can hear the noise of the burners from perhaps a mile
or more away, what do you think they sound like from three feet
One last reality check for a balloon ride - if you're unlucky,
you'll have a bumpy landing and may end up with the wicker
basket tipping over as part of the
controlled crash landing procedure.
A further arguable disadvantage is that most people contend the
best time of day for a balloon flight is very early morning,
when the air is calm and still. This might mean you get up
as early as 4am depending on what time sunrise is. The
dusk flights are my preferred time of day, but particularly in
the summer, after a long day of the sun heating the ground,
there might be some thermals that the balloon bumps its way
through, changing your ride from a sedate glide through the sky
to something more bumpy.
However, with these reality notes now appreciated, if you'd
still like to enjoy a balloon ride with a very gritty
understanding of what is involved, the Seattle area is a very
beautiful place to fly above.
Typical balloon flights are at altitudes varying from perhaps
500 ft to rarely as much as 5000 ft, generally last either 30
minutes or an hour, and have anywhere from four to 16 people in
the basket. Usually the flight concludes with a
celebration of sorts - some cheap bubbly and nibbles.
The Google map has the
approximate locations and names of four different balloon
operators in the Puget Sound area. The actual launch
points vary a bit depending on winds and weather, and of course
the landing points also vary.
Most local aero clubs keenly offer sightseeing flights of
varying durations and costs. Here are two different
options to consider as well as these more traditional ones.
Olde Thyme Aviation
How would you like to fly in a 70 year old biplane - either an
open cockpit or a closed cockpit model? Olde Thyme
Aviation is a slightly quirky company that offers these types of
rides, which depart and (hopefully!) return to their operational
departure point immediately outside the Museum of Flight.
The route they fly typically takes you from Boeing Field up over
the Seattle waterfront, past the Space Needle, around the harbor
and back to the airport. This is a lovely short flight,
and of course, they can offer longer flights too.
They can also arrange flights in a World War 2 vintage AT-6
Texan two seater trainer (also known as the Harvard).
One can never be sure if they will be open and flying on any
given day - summer weekend days usually see them there, other
times are a 'catch as catch can' luck of the draw arrangement.
In all cases you are best advised to contact them beforehand to
book a flight and ensure they will be there.
More details on their
Kenmore Air is a commercial airline that primarily flies
seaplanes from two terminals in the Seattle area - one in
Kenmore, unsurprisingly enough (at the northern end of Lake
Washington) and the other at the southern end of Lake Union.
From these two bases they fly to the San Juan Islands and Victoria BC (plus several other locations with regular planes
too). They also offer 20 minute and two hour scenic
flights, and daytrip flights to the San Juan Islands.
The two hour scenic flights basically comprise flying a
roundtrip up to somewhere in the San Juan Islands, with one or
multiple stops along the way, depending on where they need to
drop off and pick up passengers along the way.
The day trips are similar, but allow you time at the destination
to sightsee, then returning on a later flight, instead of
keeping you on board for the entire flight.
Why not consider taking one of these flights - either to the San
Juans or to Victoria - as a combination day out and sightseeing
flight. Don't forget you'd need a passport if going into
Sometimes they have somewhat unofficial standby deals as well,
so it pays to ask if there are cheaper special deals available.
There's more information on their
but to try and cut a deal on a standby fare you'll need to phone
them up and talk to them in person.
Flight Foundation in Everett will allow you to ride in their
B-25. They charge $2500 for a whole plane charter, which
allows up to six people to share the ride.
This is a lot of money, for sure (less if you find five other
people to share the cost with, of course), but it is also an
experience you'll probably never have a chance to repeat.
Lastly, if you're looking for something a little more extreme,
it is hard to find something more extreme than skydiving.
Skydive Seattle offers tandem jumps that pretty much anyone can
do without needing special instruction. This gives you a
minute or so of free-fall after you jump out of the plane,
followed by seven - nine minutes of gently wafting down
underneath the opened parachute.
A similar tandem skydive is operated by Skydive Snohomish; they
also offer solo parachute jumps, but these require a day of
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25 March 2011, last update
21 Jul 2020
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