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SEATTLE—The Museum of Flight traces its history to the formation in 1964 of the Pacific Northwest Aviation Historical Foundation. This organization was founded for the purpose of recovering and restoring a 1929 Boeing 80A-1 that had been discovered in an Anchorage, Alaska, landfill. The all-volunteer restoration effort took place over a 16-year period, and the fully restored Jazz Age airliner—the only one of its type in existence—is now a centerpiece of the Museum’s Great Gallery.
The first public exhibits were opened under The Museum of Flight name in 1968 in a 10,000-square-foot rented space at Seattle Center, the publicly owned exhibition area built for the 1962 World’s Fair. Planning began at that time for a permanent home for the Museum, and the Seattle architectural firm of Ibsen Nelson & Associates was engaged to draft preliminary concepts.
In 1975, The Museum of Flight acquired the Red Barn, the original manufacturing facility of The Boeing Co. The 1909 all-wooden structure had been abandoned by Boeing following World War II and had come into the possession of the Port of Seattle, which planned to raze the building. The Port sold the Red Barn to the Museum for $1, and the structure was barged approximately two miles up the Duwamish River to its current location on King County International Airport/Boeing Field.
Work to restore the Red Barn got a boost in 1978 when the building was designated to the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of its status as the oldest aircraft manufacturing plant in the United States, as well as one of the largest all-wooden factory buildings remaining west of the Mississippi River.
The Red Barn was opened to the public in 1983. That same year, the Museum launched a Phase II capital campaign for the construction of the Great Gallery. Then-Vice President George Bush cut the ribbon on this dramatic, 3-million-cubic-foot steel-and-glass facility in 1987 Currently, the gallery’s innovative space-frame ceiling supports more than 20 suspended full-size aircraft, the heaviest of which—the Douglas DC-3—weighs more than nine tons.
The Museum’s current 190,000-square-foot campus was completed in 1994 with the opening of the so-called “Phase III” additions, which consisted of a Museum Store, the 92-seat Wings Café, the 250-seat Skyline Room banquet and meeting facility, and a state-of-the-art catering kitchen. That same year, one of the Museum’s most popular and widely recognized artifacts was installed on the floor of the Great Gallery, as the restored Mach 3 Blackbird spy plane was unveiled.
In 1996, another major artifact was delivered to the Museum’s front door . . . literally. The first presidential jet aircraft, a Boeing VC-137B first delivered to President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1959, was acquired on long-term loan from the U.S. Air Force and placed on display just to the east of the Museum’s main entrance, where it remains one of the Museum’s most compelling exhibits.
A year later, in 1997, the Museum opened the world’s first full-scale, interactive air traffic control tower exhibit. Taking advantage of the Museum’s location on one of the thirty busiest airports in the nation, The Tower exhibit gives visitors an inside glimpse into the fascinating air traffic control system with real-time feeds from actual FAA installations.
More recent major permanent exhibit openings include Rendezvous in Space: A Tribute to Pete Conrad, opened in 2000, and the youth-oriented Flight Zone, opened in 2001. Indicative of the Museum’s vision for all future exhibits, both Rendezvous in Space and Flight Zone are highly interactive, using multimedia and simulation technologies as well as hands-on elements to provide visitors with the chance to experience the wonder of air and space flight.
In June of 2002, The Museum of Flight broke ground on the first phase of a three-part master expansion plan that will more than double the size of the Museum facility over the next ten years. The first phase, supported by a $59.3 million capital campaign, will result in the construction of the Personal Courage Wing, an 88,000-square-foot addition at the north end of the Museum’s existing campus. Slated to open to the public in the Spring of 2004, the Personal Courage Wing will provide a Seattle home for the aircraft of the Museum’s Champlin Fighter Collection, currently on display in Mesa, Ariz.
The second phase of the master expansion plan, to be launched after the completion of the Personal Courage Wing, will be the Red Barn Pavilion. This steel-and-glass structure will join the existing Great Gallery and the new Personal Courage Wing, thereby completely enclosing the Red Barn. The Red Barn Pavilion will not only protect this historical treasure from the weather but will also create an additional 22,000 square-feet of gallery space that will be used to tell the regional story of aviation in the Pacific Northwest.
The final phase of the Museum’s expansion will consist of a Commercial Aviation Wing to be built to the northwest of the existing Museum campus across East Marginal Way. This enormous structure, which will be connected to the Personal Courage Wing via a skybridge, will ultimately house the very large artifacts of the Museum’s unparalleled commercial aircraft collection, including the prototypes of the Boeing 727, 737 and 747 airliners, among many others. The Commercial Aviation Wing will also house a dedicated Space Gallery.
The Museum of Flight’s master expansion plan is estimated to be a $140 million project in total. Its completion will make the Museum the largest independent air and space museum in the world.
ABOUT THE MUSEUM OF FLIGHT
The independent, non-profit Museum of Flight is one of the largest air and space museums in the world. The Museum’s collection includes more than 135 historically significant air- and spacecraft, as well as the Red Barn—the original manufacturing facility of The Boeing Co. The Museum’s aeronautical library and archival holdings are the largest on the West Coast. More than 100,000 children are served annually by the Museum’s on-site and outreach educational programs—the most extensive museum-based youth aviation and space education program in the country. The Museum of Flight is one of only 750 museums in the nation and nine in Washington state that are fully accredited by the American Association of Museums.