Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Review of the Museum of Flight, Seattle Washington
Today I had some time before the Heroes Virtual Launch began ( this will be the subject of a future blog entry) so I spent a few hours at the Museum of Flight.
Overall this is one of the best aviation museums I have ever attended.
I would rate the museum as follows:
Public Education B+
Interactive Exhibits A+
Fixed Wings A+
Lighter Then Air B
Home Building/Experimental B+
Rare Birds B+
(History and Public Education would have been A+'s if they had not completely excluded Rotorcraft and lighter than air concepts and history)
The Museum really goes out of the way to explain the concepts of flight to all age and experience levels.
The exhibits are close, not often behind glass and you really have the feel you are not separated from the exhibits as you are at most museums.
When you walk through Air Force One only portions are covered with plexiglass most of the interior is not separated from the public. There are plenty of 'do not touch' signs but you don't have to look at everything 'behind glass' like at the United States Air force Museum in Dayton.
There are dozens of small rooms with movie screens showing documentaries and films throughout the museum.
This museum has the best interactive exhibits I have seen in not only aviation museums but also any Science and Technology Museum I have ever been to.
They have the usual 'open cockpits' that you can climb into but they also have REAL experimental aircraft that the kids (and you) can climb into and all over. They have DOZENS of flight simulators. Some of them just show the basic controls for kids as they control a wood model in a 'wind tunnel' while others are full-immersion 3-D simulators for jets, Bi-Planes, WWII missions, and more.
All of the simulators were 'free' (no additional cost), clean and working. The simulators I have seen at other museums are often well worn, not entirely functional or require an additional fee.
Built into the museum is a "Control Tower" that looks over Boeing Field ( a real active airport ) the tower is equipped with radios playing traffic calls and the basic ATC equipment.
One station has silhouettes of aircraft that when you spot them at the airport you can identify them on the interactive chart.
The museum was very clean from the exhibits to the halls and the restrooms. Everything had a well cared for look and feel.
The museum has a very enthusiastic staff of what I guess are volunteers that give tours and generally make themselves available to answer questions and explain exhibits. Two of the staff I spoke to were Vietnam vet pilots. I found there frank way of speaking refreshing and all of them had an in-depth knowledge of what the spoke about.
This is definitely a Fixed-Wingers museum. Outside of the rockets that is about all they have. They explain all of the dynamics of flight, history, building and each interactive exhibit is all about fixed wing aircraft. In the summer they offer Bi-Plane rides right from the front of the museum.
Lighter Than Air
The forgotten step child of most aviation museums does not get much coverage at the Seattle museum of flight either. Balloons and airships get some brief candids in the history photos but they at least have a better showing then rotorcraft.
The best Lighter Than Air exhibits are both interactive. One has a 10 foot hot air balloon that when you press a button is raised to the ceiling buy a vent of hot air from below. The other is a basket suspended from the ceiling that you can walk into and look down on a lower level of the museum.
Rotorcraft are nearly non-existent according to the Museum of Flight.
They have one small, single person tip-jet helicopter suspended by cables from the ceiling in the corner of the main hangar. If you were not looking for it you would miss it. The only other rotorcraft in the museum is a Rotorway Scorpion in the child's section which ironically had a 'exhibit closed' sign on it (the only closed exhibit I saw anywhere during my visit). There were two small 2 inch models in a 40 foot glass case in the WWII hall and somes rotors on a model roadable car.
No history exhibit mentioned Cervia, Pitcairn, Bell, Sikorsky or any snippet of rotorcraft history at all. As I did not have all day to spend at the museum there might be a small blurb somewhere but I was looking and unable to find any text during my visit.
If you want to assure yourself that helicopters and autogyros exist you have to go to the museum gift shop to find rotorcraft models and foam r/c choppers.
When I filled out my customer comment card I mentioned there lack of rotorcraft.
At least the one helicopter they have is a unique one.
Rockets of all kinds and from all nations get great representation at this museum. The exhibits are up to date, educational and well done. In particular I liked the walk-through space station module, mars rover displays and meteorite/moon rock displays.
Lots of good historical exhibits for WWI and WWII as well early flight with the Wright brothers. The real shining history exhibits is the actual original Boeing factory with original tools, workings, artifacts and old planes in mid-assembly.
A number of Experimental aircraft are at the museum and in the interactive exhibits. The home-builder will also enjoy the many cut-away exhibits and wing spars built right into the architecture of the museum. The real joy for the home builder is touring the original Boeing "Red Barn" the factory where it all started. You can see not only the tools and early aircraft in mid-assembly but also engine assembly.
If you are looking for one-of-a-kinds the museum is worth the trip to Seattle. I won't spoil all of the fun but the 1st fighter plane is my favorite. She is original and in an unrestored state with some of the cloth hanging off of her wings. Also, the have an SR-71 with a reconnaissance DRONE attached. To my knowledge not even the Museum of the Air force does not have one of these or even displays a model of one.
While the Cafe' is not large it has some great features such as... Micro-brew Beer!! The Cafe' looks right out to the taxiway and runway of the airport and some of the outside exhibits. They only have one menu item with an aviation name, Barnstormers Chili. Well, that hits home for me so that is just what I ordered and it was better than any fast-food chili I have ever had.
I look forward to going back to the Seattle Museum of Flight someday with more time to visit and hopefully more rotorcraft exhibits.