Saturday, March 27th, was my birthday (29 again) and an excuse to have some fun. Rich planned out the day, starting with breakfast at IHOP (spinach, mushroom omelet with fruit) then as visit to the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field, south of downtown Seattle.
We anticipated spending only a few hours at the museum, however, it proved very interesting and too large to suitably see in a day. We’re definitely going to visit the museum again to both see the exhibits that we missed and spend more time on the ones that we breezed through. Here are some of the highlights from our trip.
We initially walked through the space exhibit, which detailed the development of rockets and space exploration in popular culture. I lingered over as display case that featured Buck Rogers memorabilia and a children’s kit for making and painting lead figurines. It had a little ladle in which to melt the lead then pour into casts. I kept staring at the kit, thinking “Isn’t lead dangerous?”
With today’s neurosis on toy safety, it seemed inconceivable that at one time lead was a common material in children’s toy and that a toy manufacturer thought it was okay for a child to melt lead over a burner!
Rich and I laughed when we looked at the historical pictures of NASA engineers in white shirts and slim ties. At the time, they probably felt that their computer systems were the pinnacle of technological innovations. Today, they look like something for a 1960’s movie.
The space exhibit also featured several space crafts, including the North American Block 1 Apollo Command Module, serial #007, which was very small, considering two men fit inside and were supposed to whirl around the earth for several days. This capsule was once identical to the module in which Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee died in a fire in 1967.
You could also walk in a mock-up of the International Space Station Destiny Laboratory. Because you lose muscle density when in an environment with no gravity, the space station has a treadmill that folds down from the ceiling on which astronauts can run on to maintain muscle tone.
The Great Gallery is six stories in height with dozens of small and medium-sized airplanes hung from the ceiling, and larger planes on the ground. One of the first vehicles we encountered was the humorous Taylor Aerocar III (below), a combination car/airplane with a 190-foot wingspan and cruise speed of 135 miles per hour. When in the car mode, the wings and tail can be towed like a trailer or left at the airport. Of course, I was drawn to it because of its shiny red paint and the chic 1960-era mannequins inside.
Everywhere you looked, there are planes in the Great Gallery. One plane, however, dominated the floor; it is the Lockheed M21 Blackbird with a Lockheed M-21B Drone on top. The picture below doesn’t do justice to the size of this futuristic plane that flies at a supersonic Mach 3.2 (New York to London in less than two hours) and can go 2,955 nautical miles without refueling.
Its engines are so powerful that they can drive gigantic ocean liners. To withstand the Mach speeds, 90% of the planes airframe is made of titanium composite. Its tires are filled with nitrogen and impregnated with aluminum. Even though this plane looks very futuristic, it was built in 1963 to do “reconnaissance missions deep into enemy airspace.”
The D-12 drone on top of the M21 was designed to be launched from the “mother ship” then follow a pre-programmed path where it would capture clandestine images using a high-resolution camera. The camera would then be released into the air where it would be retrieved after the drone self-destructed.
Spooky spy stuff.
When I started writing this article, I was going to express my astonishment (and delight) at the two large fighter jets in the gallery: the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II and the Micoyan-Gurevich MiG-21PFM. However, we watched the movie “We Were Soldiers” and the glamour of war machines wore off. The movie was about the Battle of la Drang in November 1965, the first major engagement of the United States military forces in Vietnam. Although, the movie did showcase the maneuverability of UH-1 Heuy helicopters along with the F-100 Super Sabre jets that flew at supersonic speeds and dropped napalm and bombs.
In spite of the horror wrought by these military jets, I was captivated by their size. The MiG looks like a rocket with wings and just enough room for two pilots. The Phantom is larger and can fly at higher altitudes.
The museum had the cockpits from two jets in which you could sit inside and have your picture taken. Here’s me in a SR-71A Blackbird and Rich in a full-scale mock-up of a McDonnell Douglas F/A-18L Hornet fighter jet. Don’t we look thrilled?
My next favorite plane, which I took many pictures of, was the 1940 Alaska Airlines Douglas DC-3 (below). This was one of the largest planes in the gallery with a 95 foot wing span and 65 feet in length. I was intrigued by the underside, below, which had thousands of rivets and pieces of metals that formed the sleek silver underside. It was very beautiful.
Unlike many museums where you can’t get up close to the displays, the Museum of Flight lets you walk within a foot or two of many of the planes. Being this close puts into perspective the perils of early aviators because their planes were super small and didn’t look overly sturdy. The Granville Brothers Gee Bee Z “City of Springfield” was just seven feet high and fifteen feet long, yet it could fly up to 270 miles per hour!
Also surprisingly small was the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15, which was developed by the Soviet Union and initially flown by Soviet pilots over North Korea in November 1950. At the time, four MiG-15s took part in the world’s first jet-versus-jet dogfight against four Lockheed F-80s. Over 16,000 MiG-15s were produced and flown by pilots in over fifty countries including China, North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, North Vietnam, Vietnam, Albania, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Egypt, Hungary, Finland, Somalia, Sudan, and even the United States (from China).
Just 33 feet long and 12 feet high with a 33-foot wingspan, the MiG-15 that is at the Museum of Flight was purchased from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force and has nine kill markings on it.
A special exhibit at the museum was “In Search of Amelia Earhart.” Most of the exhibits were black-and-white photographs, a few of Amelia’s personal items, and a model of the last airplane she flew, a Lockheed Model 10 Electra.
Below is a picture I took of one of the photographs. I spent several minutes staring at it because it summed up an era. ALL of the women are aviators. Amelia is third from the left, holding the bouquet of flowers. Most of the women wore proper mid-calf skirts, high-heels, hats, and even gloves.
In the exhibit, there’s a nurse dress that Amelia wore during World War I. She was very slender and fine-boned. And before a school girl commented that she didn’t look like an aviator, she had long, wavy blonde hair. Her striking figure and pretty face made her the perfect choice to appear in ads and endorse Lucky Strike cigarettes, malted milk, and luggage. In addition, she designed clothes that were sold exclusively at thirty department stores throughout the United States.
In the photographs on display, the only woman who never appeared in women clothing was Florence Lowe “Pancho” Barnes. She’s the woman on the left, wearing chaps, a leather jacket, white shirt, and slender tie. Amelia was a very colorful and adventures person, but nothing compared to Pancho.
Born into a wealthy family in Pasadena, California, Pancho learned from her father how to hunt, fish, and camp. From her mother, she was encouraged to toe-the-line and be a society lady. To help curb her tomboy tendencies, she was married to a reverend when she was eighteen years old. They had one son, William E. Barnes.
Five years later, after her mother passed away, she reverted to her flamboyant and headstrong way, going so far as to disguise herself as a man and stowing away on a freighter to Mexico. When she returned home, four months later, she became enamored with flying and after six hours of formal instructions, she flew solo. At the time, she was one of only two dozen aviatrixes in the United States.
Her inheritance gave her the freedom to pursue flying, resulting in her breaking Amelia’s world women’s speed record in 1930 with a speed of 196.19 miles per hour. Along with running a barnstorming show and competing in air races, she became a stunt pilot in Hollywood, and built the famed Happy Bottom Riding Club on the current day Edwards Air Force Base in southern California. She rubbed shoulders with test pilots Chuck Yeager and Buzz Alrin, went horseback riding with the young George S. Patton, Jr., and no doubt made her grandfather, Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, proud. For Professor Lowe pioneered American aviation with the establishment of the Union Army Balloon Corps during the American Civil War.
With an hour and a half before my birthday helicopter ride, Rich and I quickly walked through the William E. Boeing Red Barn exhibit, which featured the birth of aviation and start of Boeing. We then scurried across the covered walkway to airpark to walk through two airplanes: The first “Air Force One” and an Aerospatiale/BAC Concorde.
Below, you can see Rich standing in front of the Boeing VC-137B, which was originally built for President Eisenhower and used by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. Presidential airplanes are known as “Special Air Mission.” Once a current president steps aboard, however, it becomes “Air Force One.”
It was a treat to walk aboard the plane and see what was at the time, state-of-the-art electronics and communications equipment. In the door of the “presidential” bathroom was a small doggie door, no doubt for one of President Johnson’s beagles. There was also a special rack for his Stetson.
I never expected to be on a Concorde, especially with only twenty built between 1966 and 1979. Capable of flying at two times the speed of sound, the aircraft could go from London to New York and back in the time it took a conventional plane to go one way.
The plane is equally sleek inside as outside with spacious, two across, sapphire blue upholstered seats and overhead bins that conform to the low, rounded ceiling. It must have felt like sitting in a small tunnel because it’s very long and not particularly wide!
With just 35 minutes to spare, we hustled to our car and drove a few miles to Classic Helicopters where I enjoyed an amazing 30-minute flight around Bellevue and Seattle. See the article below.