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Seattle Regional Aviation Sightseeing and Flying Opportunities

There's Plenty for the Plane Buff in the Seattle Area

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 explained.



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 - intro/overview

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

9.  Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, McMinnville, OR

10.  Other Regional Aviation Museums

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 comfortable with.

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.

Balloon Rides

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 you aloft.

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 away?

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.

Airplane Flights

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 website.

Kenmore Air

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 Canada.

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 website, but to try and cut a deal on a standby fare you'll need to phone them up and talk to them in person.

B-25 flights

The Historic 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.

Details here.

A similar tandem skydive is operated by Skydive Snohomish; they also offer solo parachute jumps, but these require a day of training.

Details here.

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Originally published 25 March 2011, last update 30 May 2021

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

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