Planes, planes, planes. If you’re an aircraft aficionado, aviation enthusiast, or just enjoy looking up at jets racing across the sky, nothing compares to seeing them up close in the context of their history. The Museum of Flight in Seattle does just that. More than just a collection of historic aircraft, the museum is dedicated to explaining all aspects of human-powered flight, from the Wright Brothers, to the original barn where Boeing got its start, to the space program. There are even easy-to-understand explanations of the scientific concepts of aeronautics and astronautics: how flight really works, how a plane gets off the ground, the complexities of maintaining orbits, and safe landings of spacecraft.
It was really cool wandering through the exhibit halls and seeing the actual aircraft that I’ve seen in print images, online, and film and video over the years. It’s one thing to see a famous jet fighter on the Military Channel, Google Images, or book, but it’s totally different seeing it up close, and imagining the brevity it took to fly it 80,000 feet or more. There’s an actual cockpit of an SR-71 for the public to get a chance to sit in, and I was surprised at how cramped it was (being tall, I could only sit halfway in it to begin with).
Suspended from the ceiling are dozens of real aircraft: helicopters, early wood and canvas early airliners, fighter jets, tiny stunt planes, and replicas of the Wright Brothers’ and a re-creation of Leonardo Da Vinci’s flying machine. Besides aircraft, there’s an abundance of information to help visitors learn as much as possible, such as multimedia archival footage and video, artifacts, and displays showing the impact all eras of flight have had on our culture.
The Museum’s mission is about more than just showing planes, though; it shows the whole history of flight, and does so in a human and historical context. There are two large collections of planes from both World Wars I and II, and with them, an extensive array of supporting materials showing the human impact and side of the wars. It was deeply moving, for instance, to read about and listen to the recordings and recollections of pilots, air crews, civilians, and others who were involved in the fighting, often to horrific casualties.
The Museum of Flight is definitely worth a visit because it has tremendous universal appeal: gawking at planes for kids and adults alike, a geek factor appealing enough for aviation nerds, and history galore for curious people like myself. It’s best to plan to stay for at least a few hours; I could’ve spent an entire day or two. If you like planes, are curious about technology, or just fly often, it’s a must visit.