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Great aviation museums—Northwestern US

Most pilots learn to fly because they have a passion for aviation, which makes aviation museums the perfect fly-to destinations. Here’s a list of some of our favorites in the Northwest.

  • A view of the main gallery at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum gives an inkling of just how gigantic the Hughes H-4 Hercules “Spruce Goose” really is. Photo by Gregg M. Erickson via Wikipedia.
  • The Great Gallery at the Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington. Photo courtesy Museum of Flight.
  • U.S. Navy veteran and Silver Star recipient Art Unruh talks about the Flying Heritage Curtiss P-40C Tomahawk. This airplane was given to the Soviet Union in 1941. It was later shot down, but its pilot glided it to a safe landing in a snowy field, where it was abandoned, discovered in the 1990s, and recovered. You can still see the bullet hole that punctured its oil tank. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • “The whole nine yards!” The ammunition bay of a P-51 at the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum. Lay all the ammo out straight and it will measure 27 feet. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • Volunteers work to restore a Grumman F4F Wildcat at the Museum of Flight Restoration Center at Paine Field. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • Sunrise over the Cascades. The doors to the enormous Boeing factory, at the north end of Paine Field, are painted with gigantic murals. The factory is the world’s largest building when measured by volume. Photo by Joe Kunzler.
  • A fisheye lens is needed to even begin to capture these two assembly lines inside the Boeing factory, which you will see on a Future of Flight tour. 777s are on the left, and 787 Dreamliners are shown on the right. Photo courtesy Future of Flight.
  • After your Future of Flight tour, take a few minutes to stand outside on the Strato Deck and watch airplanes take off and land at Paine Field. You probably won’t see this one, but you never know. Photo courtesy Future of Flight.
  • Medals awarded to Lt. Col. Duane W. Beeson of Boise, Idaho, displayed at the Warhawk Museum in nearby Nampa. The museum is filled with poignant and inspiring stories. The museum’s P-51, “Boise Bee,” takes its name from Beeson, who, in 1943, became the first WWII 4th Fighter Group ace. In 1944 he was shot down over Germany and held as a POW for a year. He returned to the U.S. in 1945, re-enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, and was promoted to Lt. Col. later that year. In 1946 he married Tracy Waters. Thirteen months later he died from a brain tumor at age 26. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • The immaculate Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawk “Sneak Attack” at the Warhawk Museum. Display cases are filled with memorabilia and letters from many dozens of American heroes, including Doolittle’s Raiders. The famous P-51 Merlin engine, along with many others, is also displayed for close-up examination. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • Time for a formation flight during the Warbird Roundup at the Warhawk Museum. The P-38 Lightning “Skidoo,” up from the Planes of Fame Museum in California, leads the way for the two P-40s: “Parrothead” and “Sneak Attack.” Numerous other aircraft flew that day, including a TBM Avenger, P-51, and several T-6s. The airshow takes place each summer. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • The North American B-25 Mitchell “Heavenly Body” shows her stuff in the Erickson Collection hangar in Madras, Oregon. Photo by Mary Harrsch.
  • The Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress “Madras Maiden” flies over Lake Billy Chinook, near Madras. Photo by Lyle Jansma, courtesy Erickson Collection.
  • This is the last flying Aeronca LC in the world. See it and many other colorful, historic, and important airplanes and vehicles at the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum. Photo by Crista Worthy.
  • Part of the high-energy Sonic Boom waterslide at the Wings and Waves Waterpark, next to the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum. The Evergreen 747 is literally parked on the roof of the waterpark. This unenclosed water slide gives riders the impression of soaring through the park in an open cockpit, while offering commanding views and unique glimpses of the Evergreen 747. Photo courtesy Wings and Waves Waterpark.

The Erickson Collection in Madras, Oregon, is often regarded as one of the top five private flyable warbird collections in the world. It's housed in a beautiful, custom-built hangar. Read our article about this fine collection and thrilling airshow in central Oregon.

Fly to the Ken Jernstedt Airfield Airport in Hood River, Oregon, to visit the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum. Opened in 2007 with 42 airplanes donated by collector Terry Brandt, the museum now boasts over 75 aircraft, many of which fly on a regular basis. The collection is mainly focused on aircraft built from 1903 to 1941, but also includes light World War II aircraft. You’ll also find more than 130 vehicles; the entire collection now fills four hangars. The museum's annual Hood River Fly-In, held the first weekend after Labor Day every year, draws antique aircraft and automobiles from throughout North America. The Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum’s Second Saturday of the Month program brings together volunteers and fans each month, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., as hangar doors are opened, engines started, and select cars and aircraft allowed to strut their stuff.

This flag, displayed at the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum, was carried into combat on D-Day on LCT-595, a Landing Craft Tank amphibious assault vessel. LCT-595 and three other LCTs were some of the first vessels into combat that morning. LCT-595 delivered its American Army swimming tanks under heavy German machine gun fire. Another LCT was destroyed by a German mine. After the attack, LCT-595’s captain told US Navy Boatswain George Edward Rudisill to remove the tattered flag and fly a new full one. Rudisill asked to keep the battle-worn remains of the original D-Day flag. He preserved keepsake in a shoebox, along with the only known photograph of LCT-595. Photo courtesy FH&CAM.

The Seattle area features several fine aviation museums. At the southern end of Boeing Field, the Museum of Flight is the world’s largest independent, nonprofit air and space museum, attracting more than 500,000 visitors annually. Call ahead to tie down right at the museum. Unique galleries feature extraordinary aircraft and focus on courage during battle, the development of air travel and package delivery, space travel, and more. Paine Field in Everett, just north of Seattle, hosts the Flying Heritage and Combat Armor Museum. The brainchild of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the museum holds a breathtaking collection of immaculately restored, airworthy World War II-era aircraft, as well as tanks and combat armor, and hosts special events on a regular basis. Our supremely well-informed docent earned a Silver Star for his heroics over Europe during World War II. His parting words to us were, “Enjoy your freedom.” Also at Paine Field is the Museum of Flight Restoration Center. We so enjoyed our visit with the talented volunteers restoring the rare birds inside, many of whom are former Boeing employees. At the north end of Paine Field, the Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour is a must-visit for aviation enthusiasts. Witness the assembly-line construction of Boeing 747, 767, 777, and 787 (Dreamliner) jets in the world’s largest building by volume and leave immensely proud of this great American company.

This letter, displayed at the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa, Idaho, was written to Hellcat pilot Nat Adams by James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, shortly after Adams completed active service in the Navy. Adams received two Distinguished Flying Crosses and multiple other awards. Among many other wartime heroic deeds, Adams helped save the life of George H.W. Bush, who would later become the President of the United States. Photo by Crista Worthy.

The Warhawk Air Museum is at Nampa Airport, about 20 miles west of Boise, Idaho. In addition to the P-51 Boise Bee, they have two extremely rare and immaculate P-40s, Parrothead and Sneak Attack. All three of these aircraft fly during the annual summer airshow, Warbird Roundup. Sneak Attack flew in several films, including Pearl Harbor and Valkyrie. Aside from those gorgeous P-40s, plus numerous other airplanes and vehicles, the cases filled with flight jackets, medals, and personal effects of our military aviators are profoundly moving. Even more so are the notebooks you can peruse, filled with copied pages from the personal diaries and letters of American military men and women, written while they were far from home. I have spent hours poring over these notes and always leave profoundly humbled.

The Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum is across the road from McMinnville Municipal Airport and the former headquarters of Evergreen International Aviation. An enormous hangar displays a variety of military and civilian aircraft, including a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird and a Beechcraft Model 17 Staggerwing. Dominating it all is the astounding Hughes H-4 Hercules, also known as the “Spruce Goose,” built, and flown once, by billionaire pilot Howard Hughes. The aircraft was designed to transport troops and materials safely across the Atlantic Ocean because the Germans were sinking hundreds of Allied ships. The gigantic flying boat was built almost entirely of birch, due to wartime restrictions on the use of metals, and is the world’s largest all-wood airplane. You’ll also find a Titan II ICBM and recreated missile control room, flight simulators, an IMAX theater, and “Wings and Waves” waterpark with an Evergreen Boeing 747 on its roof.

A panoramic photo of the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, taken from under the wing of the giant Hughes H-4 Hercules “Spruce Goose.” Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

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Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: U.S. Travel

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