MUSEUM OF FLIGHT
In 1964, a number of aviation enthusiasts in the Seattle area banded together to form the Pacific Northwest Historical Aviation Foundation (PNHAF). Their initial goal involved the restoration of the last surviving Boeing Model 80A-1 airliner.
The airplane had been abandoned at the Anchorage, Alaska airport after World War II. An Alaskan newspaper reporter, Harriss Darby, discovered it in the local garbage dump. Just before bulldozers were about to demolish the airplane, Darby received permission to transfer it to his private property where he had accumulated other antique aircraft. Aware of its historic significance, Darby eventually tracked down the right people in the Seattle area. Jack Leffler, a retired United Airlines pilot acquired the airplane. A committee was formed and eventually U.S. Air Force transports were used to fly the dismantled airliner to Seattle. The methodical restoration process began.
By 1966, PNHAF had accumulated enough artifacts that it established a small museum at the Seattle Center near the Space Needle. In the mid 1970s, Harl V. Brackin, The Boeing Company’s historian and PNHAF member, proposed that the foundation acquire the Red Barn. Boeing intended to sell its original land adjacent to the Duwamish River next to the First Avenue South Bridge. William E. “Bill” Boeing had acquired the Red Barn in 1910, then used as a wooden boat shipyard. After Boeing started his airplane company, the Red Barn served as his plant beginning with the construction of Model C trainers for the United States Navy during World War I. Brackin suggested barging the Red Barn two miles up the Duwamish River to Boeing Field. Negotiations had begun in 1975 with officials from King County, owner and operator of Boeing Field. They agreed to let PNHAF locate the Red Barn on a parcel of land near the southwest corner.
In 1979, Seattle officials decided that they wanted to use the Seattle Center space for other purposes. PNHAF’s Pacific Museum of Flight was forced to vacate the premises and closed at the end of September. At the same time, PNHAF Executive Director Howard Lovering declared the foundation needed to finalize plans for a museum. By fall, the museum site plan, remarkably similar to the layout in 2010, was created. Meanwhile, the majority of PNHAF’s holdings had been consolidated into storage at the Tacoma Industrial Airport. In August 1980, officials broke ground on the construction of Phase I - the Red Barn and some administrative space. At the ceremony, they remembered the efforts of Brackin, who had passed away in 1977, to preserve the Red Barn. By the end of 1980, PNHAF lacked a site but it had three full-time employees-Lovering, educator Georgina Franklin and researcher Gretchen Boeing-Clough.
In 1981, PNHAF renamed itself The Museum of Flight Foundation and finalized the lease with King County. In October, architect Ibsen Nelsen unveiled his vision of the Museum’s Phase II - the building of the Great Gallery in which to display the larger artifacts. In 1982, the Museum initiated its Pathfinder Awards. The original inductees were Clyde Pangborn, Leslie Tower, Thomas Hamilton, Louis Marsh, Boeing, Noel Wien and Claire Egtvedt. On September 1, 1983, The Museum of Flight, located in the renovated Red Barn, officially opened at its Boeing Field location.
In 1987, the next phase in The Museum of Flight’s growth occurred with the opening of the Great Gallery. This six-story glass-enclosed structure has been the Museum’s centerpiece ever since. In 1991, the U.S. Air Force agreed to loan The Museum of Flight the world’s only Lockheed M-21 Blackbird spyplane, equipped to carry a drone. Only two aircraft of the type ever flew; the other crashed during a test flight in 1966. Similar in appearance to the better known SR-71, the Blackbird is extremely popular with Museum visitors.
Ralph Bufano succeeded Lovering as executive director in 1991. Bufano’s tenure, which lasted until fall 2005, is best remembered for the following: the re-hang of the aircraft in the Great Gallery; the acquisition of what is considered by many to be the world’s first fighter plane, the 1914 Caproni Ca.20; the permanent loan of the Concorde supersonic transport from British Airways and the opening of the Personal Courage Wing featuring the aircraft and artifacts from the Champlin Fighter Museum of Mesa, Arizona.
Dr. Bonnie Dunbar, a former astronaut and University of Washington graduate, replaced Bufano. Supported by her passion for space exploration, The Museum of Flight opened its Space Gallery in 2006. In 2010, Dr. Dunbar stepped down as President and CEO to concentrate on acquiring a Space Shuttle for the Museum. The Museum of Flight welcomed its newest President and CEO Doug King in November 2010.
William E. Boeing Red Barn
The Boeing Red Barn is among the Museum’s oldest and largest artifacts. Saved from demolition and moved to its current site by the efforts of aviation enthusiasts and community leaders, the Red Barn first served the shipbuilding industry before dozens of workers began building World War I-era United States Navy trainers for The Boeing Airplane Company. On most of two floors, the Red Barn today features exhibits that discuss the beginning of the Boeing story through the development of the first multi-jet engine aircraft. Other first-floor galleries describe the emergence of the Wright brothers (Birth of Aviation), legendary aviation visionaries (Founders of Aviation) and early regional developments (Northwest Aviation).
T.A. Wilson Great Gallery
The T.A. Wilson Great Gallery’s varied assortment of aircraft, from unpowered gliders and unmanned reconnaissance aircraft to some of the world’s fastest airplanes, offers something for everybody. In between are a wide-ranging variety of general aviation, commercial and military aircraft. Without question, the Lockheed M/D-21 Blackbird sizzles most. Visitors looking for something slower can inspect the nearby human-powered McCready Gossamer Albatross II. Tucked away in the corner are two state-of-the-art flight simulators. On the mezzanine level, visitors can observe flight operations at Boeing Field from the Tower. In the Flight Zone, kids can slip into cockpits and “fly” a hang glider.
J. Elroy McCaw Personal Courage Wing
As visitors arrive in the J. Elroy McCaw Personal Courage Wing’s World War I gallery either by hiking up the stairs or riding the elevator, they encounter one of the Museum’s more remarkable artifacts, the Italian-built Caproni Ca.20, believed to be by many historians the world’s first purpose-built fighter aircraft. Artifacts, films and dramatizations help explain the history of the war and the first widespread use of airplanes as aerial weapons. Because the United States entered the war more than two years after it began, the gallery’s strong international flavor reminds the visitor that Europe led in aviation well into the 1920s.
The Personal Courage Wing’s World War II Gallery allows Museum visitors to carefully examine some of the best-known piston-powered fighters ever built. These legendary aircraft are only part of the story. Besides various video presentations, visitors can enjoy a “fireside chat” with Franklin Roosevelt or detect the tension in CBS Radio legend Edward R. Murrow’s voice as he describes the German bombing of London. Curious about how the massive Republic P-47 Thunderbolt compares in size to a Boeing B-29? Almost all World War II military aircraft can be found in 1/72nd scale in the Holtgrewe model collection.
Charles Simonyi Space Gallery
Space travel remains one of the most challenging human accomplishments. To overcome the difficulties it presents, a successful human space mission requires years of crew training aboard simulators and mockups like The Museum of Flight’s Full-Fuselage Trainer. During training, they build a fundamental knowledge of spaceflight and the outer space environment, and rehearse the specific tasks they will need to successfully complete their mission. Though NASA retired the Space Shuttles in 2011, the need for astronauts did not go away. NASA’s operations aboard the International Space Station continue and the agency is developing a new vehicle for exploring destinations beyond Earth orbit such as the Moon, Mars and asteroids.
The Museum of Flight is more than a building. It’s a campus. The T. Evans Wyckoff Memorial Bridge links the main Museum building with the Airpark - home to some of the largest and most significant aircraft in the collection. Staffed almost exclusively by volunteers, the Airpark enables visitors to squeeze into the tube known as Concorde and experience a bit of history in one of the presidents’ planes, a former Air Force One. Oh, by the way, there’s the pioneer of the jumbos, the first Boeing 747 and the first of the most successful jetliner series ever, the Boeing 737.