With my parents in town for Christmas break, we took a day trip to The Museum of Flight in Seattle Southside. My children who are 7 and 9 loved it just as much as grandma and grandpa did. We all felt their child-like wonder as they gazed up at planes from every era in the T.A. Wilson Great Gallery. It’s truly inspiring to see one of the first bike-pedaled planes with paper wings hanging over a military jet that can travel 300 MPH faster than a bullet shot from a sniper rifle—and realize just how far we have come in flight technology. After trying our skills at the fighter pilot simulator, we listened to the docent tour as an expert shared details of individual planes and stories of reconnaissance missions during the Cold War. Children sat at his feet in fascination; he could have been a professional storyteller.
I was impressed that every staff member and volunteer I spoke with was able to answer questions in great detail. “We have over 700 volunteers at the Museum,” said Ted Huetter, senior manager of public relations and promotions. “We are very lucky, as our location means that there are generations of people who worked in the aerospace fields that want to volunteer here because of their passion . . . Many have first-hand knowledge of subject matters throughout the collection. If we were an art museum, it would be like having the actual artists volunteering to talk about their work on exhibit!” I agree with Ted; it was akin to being welcomed into someone’s home and listening to family stories from pictures on the wall. I gained new appreciation for the ingenuity of early flight pioneers, not just from the insights shared, but also from their admiration for their forbearers.
I knew the museum was big, but was amazed at the vastness of the collection. A bridge crossing the freeway takes you to the largest planes on display in the Aviation Pavilion, including the first Air Force One and the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery. We were able to take a private tour of the space shuttle used to train astronauts for the Apollo missions. For space enthusiasts, that is an opportunity not to be missed!
The last exhibit we visited was the J. Elroy McCaw Personal Courage Wing. There, we read stories about individual soldiers and the sacrifices they made for our freedom. Upstairs, the sounds of flying aircraft and machine guns play as you look at the planes used in combat, so close to them you can see the grain in the wood.
Hands down, the museum was the highlight of our staycation together. We stayed at the museum for 4 hours, and my kids did not get bored once. In every area there were things they could interact with from display boards with microscopes showing the wings of various insects to World War I flight simulators. I saw many families with very young children enjoying their time too. There is plenty of space for pushing even a large stroller through the exhibits, and ramps or elevators to access all parts of the museum easily. Wings Café on site allows you to take a lunch break and enjoy your time without feeling rushed.
A few tips for your visit:
- Look through the website before visiting! There is so much to see, you may want to prioritize where you spend your time. I estimate we barely saw half of what the museum has to offer. Weekend events for families happen regularly and are listed on the events calendar. Also, discounts are offered for space shuttle tours when booked online. The museum stays open late on the first Thursday of each month and admission is free that day between 5-9 p.m.
- Use the Visitor Guide + Map. Near the front of the guide a “Plan your Visit” page helps you make the most of your visit, whether you have one to three hours at the museum or are visiting with kids. The maps direct you to every exhibit, listing the names of all aircraft. It also lists the times of docent tours and other daily programs.
- Make time for a movie. 3D movies are just 25 minutes which gives your legs a break from all the walking you’re sure to do. Tickets are just $2-$3 per person. There are a few movie title options, so check online to make sure you’re there to see your first choice.
- Check out an adventure backpack for free from the Alaska Aerospace Education Center located in the Great Gallery. For kids over 7, the backpack sends them on a quest through the museum to learn about flight in animals, astronauts, or even being a spy!
- Make this a trip to remember—don’t sit in traffic. We stayed until closing at 5 pm, and chose to have dinner nearby. We happily ate our cheesecake while noticing that the 4-hour drive home was slowing changing into a 2 hour and 15 min drive back to Vancouver. We were able to sit as a family and talk about what we liked most and what surprised us.
I can’t think of a better place to visit on a cold wet Pacific Northwest winter day.
Slideshow photos courtesy of The Museum of Flight.