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Museum of Flight Restoration Center

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

This anonymous building looks like an office, but it is the home of the Museum of Flight's Restoration Center in Everett, WA.



Most aviation museums take understandable pride in presenting their planes in as pristine and original-seeming a condition as they possibly can.

But have you ever wondered how the planes are so well finished?  Many times they started their new museum life as an incomplete, rusting, abandoned hulk on the side of an airfield somewhere, forgotten and seriously neglected.

The Museum of Flight Restoration Center allows you to see planes in the process of being transformed from wrecks back to 'real' and many times air-worthy and flyable planes.  It is a fascinating chance to see behind the scenes.

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


Museum of Flight Restoration Center, Everett

This is a complete contrast to the other collections of airplanes around Paine Field.

Whereas the other planes are generally pristine, gleaming, and in apparently perfect 'as new' condition in the other regional aviation museums, the Restoration Center proudly shows you planes in the very early stages of the restoration process, and showcases the chaotic jumble of stuff and equipment used to repair and restore their planes.

The rear of an F7U-3 Cutlass, one of the Navy's less successful fighters.  An old airport fire truck can be seen on the left.

This 'behind the scenes' rather than polished and finished approach flows through to the visitor experience too - and this is not a criticism, but rather a positive comment.  The building is poorly signed, and you walk in to an empty reception area.  Only after wandering around the reception area slightly nervously for a while do you notice an honesty box encouraging you to make a $5 contribution in return for entry, and after doing so, you simply walk through the doors at the rear of the reception area, past some offices, and into the main workshop area.

Planes and parts of planes are crammed in tightly together, along with things that may possibly be engineering equipment to work on the planes with, or possibly parts of planes themselves.

There are some other things too, like an old fire truck.

Visitors can more or less freely walk around the workshop, and the all-volunteer staff who work there are all eager to talk to people and share their personal passions and wealth of knowledge about the planes they work on.

A range of various workshop equipment in a relatively empty part of the Restoration Center.

Indeed, for a person with extra time to spare, a relaxed friendly chat with some of the volunteer restorers is probably the most interesting and best part of the experience.  One suspects that the pleasure is shared by the volunteers too, who seem generally very eager to stop and talk.

Of particular interest to me was an unusual sight at one end of the workship.  I could see half a passenger plane poking through the hangar doors, with the other half presumably outside the building.  Could it be?  Yes, it was.  They are working on restoring a de Havilland Comet - the tragic first ever passenger jet that both saw the dawn of the commercial jet age and simultaneously and almost singlehandedly killed off Britain's commercial/passenger airplane building industry.

A look over to the front part of the de Havilland Comet 4C; the rear is outside the workshop.

I hurried over to look at it, and one of the volunteer staff came over, noting my interest.  He offered to take me through the inside of the plane - an unexpected treat and one I accepted with alacrity. 

The restored cockpit of the DH.106 4C Comet.

Although the plane will never fly again, they have spared no effort to restore every part of it to as-new order, with a full suite of all cockpit instrumentation and controls, down to the smallest details.

I looked at the Engineer's panel.  While it looked like a complicated mess of gauges and switches, in reality it was neither, and it was easy to comprehend how the trend towards eliminating engineers, the same as, in the past, navigators and radio operators had also already been eliminated, would follow. 

Back then, planes had an Engineer - this is the Engineer's workstation in the cockpit.

The Restoration Center had arranged with the company that had originally made the fabrics for the interiors of the Comets to make up new fabric so that they could accurately recreate the cabin interiors.  (The 4C version Comets were built in 1960 and 1961.)

My volunteer guide proudly showing the newly built first class seats in the Comet.

The first class seats didn't actually look that wonderfully comfortable, and while moderately wide, didn't have a huge amount of leg room either.

Coach class looked reasonably generic, with only the greater thickness of the seats pointing to their older design.

But look at one thing in both these pictures - the minute amount of overhead space in both first and coach class.  No bringing rollaboards onto a Comet!

A view back into the coach class section of the Comet.

One last comment about the Comet - a plane which deserves its own web page (or pages).  It was at about the same time I was touring this plane in Everett that the last Comets were finally retiring from active service (in their Hawker Siddeley Nimrod variant) with the RAF, over 60 years after the first flight of the Comet (1949).

Once the plane surmounted its early problems, it gave sterling and reliable service for decades, but rather like the DC-10, it suffered from an unfair bad reputation that prevented its future commercial success.

But, back to the here and now of the Museum of Flight Restoration Center.  I emerged out of the Comet and continued enjoying the rest of this amazing collection of planes and parts of planes, just as you will too on your visit.

The Restoration Center is open Tuesday - Saturday from June through August, and for the rest of the year, it is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.  If you have an interest in the 'behind the scenes' aspects of airplane restoration, you'll find this a compelling and fascinating experience.

For more details, see their website.

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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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