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SEATTLE—The domain of air traffic controllers, whether in a local airport tower on one of the nation's regional centers, is unknown territory for most people—but not for long. Executive Director Ralph Bufano announced, "To the best of our knowledge, the Museum of Flight has the nation's first full-size air traffic control tower exhibit. Following our formal opening March 9, 1997, visitors from across the country and around the world will have a clearer understanding of the highways in skies and how our air traffic control system works."

Millions of airplanes in U.S. airspace take off, fly, and land safely every day—a fact that is taken for granted, but remarkable, nonetheless. The Museum of Flight's new Air Traffic Control Tower exhibit will showcase the extensive system of communication between pilots and controllers that makes flight one of the safest modes of transportation. Live radio cross-talk and behind-the-scenes displays of controller workstations radar stations, and tower cab equipment make the abstract, complex work of controllers visible and understandable to the general public.

Construction got underway a year ago on this unique, 30-ft. Tower addition to the Museum's Great Gallery. Inside it, we tell the story of air traffic control since the 1930s, from the bonfires used to mark the country's first air fields to today's electronic network of advanced computers. Upon entering the exhibit, the visitor will become a commercial pilot of an imaginary jetliner, "Museum Air One," flying from Denver to Seattle. Four stations leading into the control tower represent the sequence of hand-offs from one set of controllers to another, in different portions of airspace. Videos, interactive computer games and audio tapes, and three-dimensional models will all help explain what goes on between pilots and the air traffic control system during each leg of a flight. Before they reach the Tower, visitors will enter the Radar Room, where they will be able to read radar displays and test their skills as Center and Tracon

air traffic controllers with interactive video games—not all controllers workin towers, but in special radar rooms like ours, which are located between towers. The Tower "cab" itself will be divided into three controller stations: one for the ground controller, one for the flight data controller, and a third for the local controller. A fourth station is where pilots file their flight plans for the return trip. Each of these stations will feature mock-ups as well as actual FAA equipment. The Museum of Flight is located on Boeing Field/King County International airport, one of the busiest civil airports in the country, so visitors will be able to eavesdrop on live "tower chatter" between pilots and controllers as they watch planes land. Our Tower exhibit with its bird's eye view of the runway will look and feel very much "at home" on the field.

Noted for its educational use of exhibits and artifacts, the Museum of Flight plans an extensive series of school programs in the Tower. As part of their experience, students will play the roles of pilot and controller and complete Tower "logbooks," recording their progress as they interact with different elements of the exhibit. They will also be exposed to the variety of careers associated with operation, maintenance, and administration in the air route system. School groups in grades 5 to 9 that would like to experience this program should call 206-764-5720, ext. 384, to schedule a session.

William E. Boeing, Jr., Museum of Flight trustee and patron, provided the lead gift for the Tower project in memory of his mother, Bertha Potter Boeing, and his uncle, Thorp Hiscock, an aviation pioneer who developed the first two-way air-to-ground voice radio. The King County Science and Technology Centers Initiative made additional funding available. As mentioned, the FAA donated equipment and the technical guidance of its curatorial committee and controller staff. Architect for the Tower project exhibit is Lidija Gregov of Gregov Architects, Seattle. ECI General Contractors of Seattle (formerly known as Eberharter Construction) was responsible for the structure, and Promotion Products Incorporated (PPI) of Portland, Oregon, handled exhibit design. Fabrication and installation was shared by PPI and The Boeing Company model shop. The combined total of cash and in-kind contributions for the project amounts to $1.5 million.

The Museum of Flight is the largest air and space museum on the west coast. As an independent, non-profit cultural foundation, the Museum is dedicated to the preservation of aircraft and related artifacts as well as to the knowledge, enjoyment, and self-discovery of flight.

The Museum of Flight, at 9404 East Marginal Way South in Seattle, is open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is $9.50 for adults, $8.50 seniors ages 65 and older, $5 for youths ages 5 through 17, and free for children ages 4 and under and Museum members. Thanks to Wells Fargo, all visitors are admitted free on the first Thursday evening of every month, from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. Please call the Museum of Flight at 206-764-5720 for general information.