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Aviation and space museums that soar

Looking for some inspiration for your own innovative airplane design? There are hundreds of aviation and space museums around the country. Here are six to put at the top of your list.
Image: Spruce Goose
The Spruce Goose towers over the other historic aircraft at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Ore.Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum

After touring the giant Boeing airplane factory north of Seattle, eight-year old Harry Winsor explained how things would work on his airplane and on his airline. The plane would have “those fancy seats that go down,” a snack bar would serve milkshakes and, in the bathroom, there’d be glass cups, “so you could keep them as souvenirs.” And Air Anywhere would take off for anywhere a passenger wished to go.

Harry and the Winsor family were visiting from Colorado and getting VIP treatment from Boeing as an apology for sending Harry a terse form letter in response to his letter containing a crayon drawing of an airplane.

Boeing’s missive, which Harry’s dad posted on his blog, noted that the giant aerospace company does not accept unsolicited ideas and so had disposed of Harry’s “message” and “retained no copies.”

Word spread, and the response of parents, aviation geeks, bloggers and former kids was unfavorable.

Boeing now has a committee drawing up a kinder letter to send to kids. And the non-profit Future of Flight Aviation Center, next door to the Boeing plant, currently has an exhibit of airplane drawings by kids and adults from around the world. The drawing Harry sent to Boeing is on display (Harry’s dad kept a copy), as are designs that include pools, workout areas and other innovative amenities.

Looking for some inspiration for your own innovative airplane design? There are hundreds of aviation and space museums and attractions around the country.

Here are six to put at the top of your list.

Everett, Wash.

What you’ll see: On Boeing’s 90-minute tour through the Everett factory, visitors go inside the world’s largest building (by volume) and see the production line for the 747, 767, 777 and the new 787 airplanes. The adjacent Future of Flight Aviation Center displays airplane engines and other giant airplane parts and offers a wide variety of interactive exhibits, including the knob and dial-encrusted flight deck from a 727 airplane.

Flight plan: The side-by-side attractions are located 25 miles north of Seattle. Tours of the Boeing Factory are offered daily. For ticket prices, reservation and more details, including height requirements, call (360) 756 -0086 or visit the Future of Flight and Boeing Tour Web site.

McMinnville, Ore.

What you’ll see: The museum houses the infamous, huge Howard Hughes Flying Boat HK-1, better known as the Spruce Goose, and more than 50 aircraft from various eras, including a Wright 1903 Flyer replica, a Russian Photon space capsule and a Lockheed SR-71A Blackbird.

Flight plan: Admission includes entrance to the Aviation Museum, The Space Museum, the Captain Michael King Smith Firearms Collection and a ride on the Evergreen Biplane. There’s also an IMAX movie theater and a wine tasting room on-site. For more details call (503) 434-4180, or see the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum Web site.

Tucson, Ariz.

What you’ll see: The collection at this 80-acre museum includes more than 300 aircraft and spacecraft, 125,000 aviation-related artifacts, a relocated WWII barracks and a space gallery with a moon rock and a training version of an Apollo space capsule. The collection includes President John F. Kennedy’s Air Force One, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress, and hundreds of other rare, important and restored aircraft.

Flight plan: Many of the airplanes and exhibits are inside climate-controlled hangars, but many aircraft are displayed outside, so dress appropriately and bring water. Walking tours and narrated tram tours are also available. For more information call (520) 574-0462 or see the Pima Air and Space Museum Web site. (Note: The Titan Missile Museum is nearby.)

New York

What you’ll see: Located on and in the 900-foot-long ESSEX class aircraft carrier Intrepid, the museum is itself a national historical landmark with a collection that includes a Concorde as well as aircraft from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard. The submarine USS Growler, the only submarine still in existence that fired nuclear missiles is also part of the museum and is open to the public.

Flight plan: The Intrepid is docked at Pier 86 on Manhattan West Side. In addition to year-round and temporary exhibits, the Intrepid offers several flight simulator rides. For more information call (877) 957-7477 or see the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum Web site.

San Diego, Calif.

What you’ll see: Housed in a 1930s-era Ford Motor Company Exposition building, the museum presents science, aviation and space history in a series of themed airplane, spacecraft and artifact-filled galleries that include a 1928 Ford Tri-Motor passenger plane, a working flying replica of Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, the Apollo 9 command module and many other one-of-a-kind private, military and commercial artifacts and aircraft.

Flight plan: The museum is located in San Diego’s museum-rich Balboa Park and is currently hosting The Science of Aliens, a special exhibit about the exploration of other worlds in fact and fiction. For more details, call (619)234-8291 or see the San Diego Air & Space Museum Web site.

Washington, D.C.

What you’ll see: The world’s largest collection of historic air and spacecraft includes a planetarium, an IMAX theater and thousands of artifacts, including the original Wright 1903 Flyer, Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, the Apollo 11 command module Columbia from the first lunar landing mission, and a moon rock that you’re allowed to touch. And that’s just at the building on the National Mall. The Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located near Dulles International Airport, contains many of the museum’s largest objects and artifacts, including the Space Shuttle Enterprise, a deHavilland Chipmunk aerobatic plane and the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay.

Flight plan: The National Air & Space Museum on the National Mall has 22 exhibition galleries. The Steven F. Udvar–Hazy Center, the museum “annex,” displays air and space craft on three levels inside a giant hangar. Outside, an observation tower offers great views of takeoffs and landings at Dulles. Admission is free at both facilities. For more details call (202)633-2214 or see the National Air and Space Museum Web site.

Harriet Baskas is a frequent contributor to, authors the and is a columnist for You can follow her on .