Ever since I was a little kid, airplanes have fascinated me. I still get great joy out of simply watching them take off and land, or comparing them to each other when they’re all parked at an airport. I love how in small planes, you can really feel the flight, and I love how in jumbo jets, you feel almost nothing. Airplanes are just rad; that’s the bottom line.
When I visited the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon (not far from Portland), I was like a kid in a candy shop. Except I didn’t taste any of the planes. There are four major parts of the aviation museum: the main building, which houses pre-1955 aircraft, including the Spruce Goose, which dwarfs everything else in the collection; a second building with the modern aircraft including military jets and spacecraft (rumor has it that one of the recently retired space shuttles will soon be on display here); the IMAX theater; and lastly, the aviation-themed water park, where you can slide down from a Boeing 747 that sits on the roof of the building!
A good visit to the Evergreen Aviation Museum will take all day, but there’s so much to see and do that even little ones won’t get bored. The docents here are some of the best museum guides I’ve ever met. Each one is bursting with knowledge and stories about the planes and their history, and they’re so enthusiastic to share their passion — it’s contagious. I met one volunteer at the museum who had flown P-40′s in the Second World War. Then when he came home, his parents wouldn’t let him drive the family car!
The older planes were my favorite part of the experience. Most of the aircraft in the collection are the original planes that flew as long as a full century ago. In addition to original aircraft, the museum has reconstructions of historic planes like the Wright brothers’ Wright Flyer. I really loved the 1925 Ford Tin Goose, one of the earliest commercial airplanes. Flight attendants were required to spend one month at a four-star resort (tough job!) to learn how to treat their passengers like royalty. Oh, the good old days.
I loved how close I could get to so many of the planes in the collection. Docents offered peeks inside some of the military planes, and visitors are welcome to step inside the Spruce Goose. This largest plane ever built flew only one time, in 1947, for approximately one minute. It was kept flight-ready at a great cost for many years after, but eventually retired to its display in the Evergreen Aviation Museum, hulking over the hundreds of other planes in the collection.
A visit to the IMAX theater is a great way to rest your feet in the middle of your day at the museum. I enjoyed the Legends of Flight 3D film, which took me on a ride through aviation history. It’s a first class ticket to ride lots of historic aircraft, as well as an up-close look at the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which has been getting a lot of hype as it nears its first delivery date. The Dreamliner has already completed several successful test flights, and is expected to enter into commercial service sometime within the next few months.
The brand new water park at the Evergreen Aviation Museum opens in June 2011 — a great way to combine some educational tourism with good summer fun.