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Museum of Flight, Seattle

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

Planes galore, inside and out, at the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

Read through this eleven part series for full information on the attractions, exhibits and rides you can expect to enjoy.



Built around the (relocated) original red bard that was the first manufacturing building belonging to Boeing, and now extending to more than 300,000 sq ft of indoor exhibit space plus many airplanes parked around the museum buildings outside as well over a 12 acre campus, the Seattle Museum of Flight is one of the country's very best and most extensive aviation museums.

They have almost 100 major exhibits at their Seattle facility, as well as other models and resources and substantial reference materials for professional researchers.  More items are stored off site or on loan to other museums.

Conveniently close to downtown Seattle and accessible by bus, the Museum of Flight deserves to be on every Seattle visitor's list of things to do.

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 - Seattle

In a word - Wow!

It is probably best that you arrange for the person who is least interested in airplanes to drive you to the Museum of Flight.  The drive there is itself a fascinating experience, because the museum is located alongside Boeing Field, an airport that is surrounded by many large and sometimes mysterious Boeing buildings for who knows what sorts of classified developmental purposes.

You're sure to see some military planes and a good number of civilian planes too because Boeing tests many of its passenger jets at Boeing Field before delivering them to customers all around the world.

The last time I was there I not only had the inaugural flight of the 747-8 which flew from Paine Field in Everett, around the region for a while, and then landed at Boeing Field, but also noticed at least half a dozen 787s impatiently awaiting certification (but not as impatiently as their future airline owners) and an RAAF 737 AEW&C plane - and that was what I managed to observe while doing the driving myself.

When you turn into the entrance road to the museum, you are confronted with three more planes by the side of the main museum building, and then when you turn into the parking area, you see more on the lawn.

The main gallery of the Museum of Flight has a mixture of planes suspended from the ceiling, as if in flight, as well as parked on the ground.

The museum building is an open airy structure, with a vast main gallery of planes, both parked on the floor and also suspended from their ceiling as if in flight. 

Another view of the main gallery, including a view of the back of the SR-71 Blackbird (actually a rare M-21 variant with a D-21 drone on top) and a Learfan 2100 in the top right.

It is hard to know where to start looking - whether at a recreation of the Wright Brothers' plane, or at futuristic planes such as the Learfan 2100 and the amazing SR-71 which still looks as 'state of the art' today, even though it is almost 50 years old.

This is the plane, the restoration of which started the Museum of Flight - a 1929 three engined, 18 passenger, Boeing 80A-1.


As well as the main gallery, there are several other areas.  One is themed with WW1 aviation, another with WW2 aviation, and part of the former Boeing 'Red Barn' traces the history of Boeing along with recreating some aspects of the original machine shop.

In addition to planes, there are all sorts of other things too.  Popular with children are some amazing flight simulators which can provide full 360 degree motion in all directions, making for very realistic flight experiences (and giving those with sensitive stomachs an excellent opportunity to, ahem, loose their lunch).

Needless to say, these simulator rides cost extra. 

Temporary Exhibits Give Everyone a Reason to Return

The museum has at least one temporary exhibit featured at any given time - my last visit had one called 'Style in the Aisle' and which featured the changing fashions worn by flight attendants, together with some fascinating history of their evolving role on flights.

The museum has various temporary feature exhibitions, this one being 'Style in the Aisle' and about flight attendants and their fashions.

In addition to special exhibits, the museum often hosts special events as well, so it pays to check and see if there might be anything special scheduled while you are in the area.

Mock Control Tower

Jutting out one side of the building is a mock control tower, made all the more realistic because it looks out onto the main runway of the moderately busy King County International Airport (or as it is more colloquially known, 'Boeing Field').

Interesting displays and panels explain the way that modern air traffic control and air traffic controllers work.

A mock air traffic control tower is a new addition.  The tower overlooks Boeing Field just like a real tower would.

Still More Planes (and Space Shuttles)

A covered overhead walkway takes you over the busy wide main road the museum is located on.  On the other side is a new 15,000 sq ft building being constructed to house NASA's full fuselage space shuttle simulator which you'll actually be able to go inside and walk around.

Outside and unfortunately currently uncovered are some very significant aircraft. 

On the other side of the road is an open area with several more planes on display, including this lovely Concorde which you can walk through.

Many people might consider the Concorde to be the most interesting of these planes.  You can actually go inside the plane and walk from the midships entrance up to the front, look into the cockpit, and deplane through the forward doorway.

Everyone who gets to see inside a Concorde is surprised how small the interior is.  This is looking aft from the mid door.

Other people might prefer to go through an earlier Air Foce 1 - in this case, a specially modified Boeing 707 which was the first ever jet engined Air Force 1.

The first jet powered 'Air Force 1' - a specially built 707-120, known as SAM-970.  It acted as Air Force 1 between 1959 - 1962, and subsequently continued VIP transport duties until 1996.

Most of us can only guess about what is inside the current Air Force 1 (a converted 747-200B), and it is interesting to see the doubtless very much less lavish interior of this very much smaller plane.

The main conference table inside SAM-970.

Who knows what secrets and what negotiations have passed through the communications equipment on board this plane!

The then classified communications center inside SAM-970 for secure communications between the President and the ground.

Other Museum Features

There is an excellent gift shop and a reasonably nice cafeteria within the museum building.

There are movie theaters that show aviation themed films.

During the summer months, and mainly on weekends, there is often a local airplane operator offering rides in historic planes from immediately outside the museum entrance.

The museum is open daily (except for Thanksgiving and Christmas).  AAA members can get a discount off the admission fee.

Getting There

The museum is located at 9404 E Marginal Way S, Seattle WA 98108.  There is free parking on the grounds of the museum.

If you don't have a car while you are in Seattle, you can take a Metro bus on route 124 to get from downtown to the museum (and back again).  It is about a 30 minute bus ride.

For more details, visit 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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