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June 27, 2012

Seattle's Paine Field: Aircraft Heaven



Paine Field’s Aviation Attractions
Boeing Dreamliner to Vintage Aircraft


by Julie Gangler, Snohomish County Tourism Bureau

Only at Paine Field can you see Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner being assembled – and restored World War II “warbirds” take to the sky. You can get a close look at a Waco UPF-7 biplane, P-51B Mustang fighter and B-25D Mitchell bomber, or watch restorers work on a de Havilland Comet, the world’s first passenger jet.

Fly into Paine Field, and you can see all these amazing aircraft and many more among four aviation facilities clustered around this Snohomish County airport (KPAE). Located about 30 miles north of Seattle, WA, Paine Field is best known as home to Boeing’s Everett manufacturing plant and test runway for new 747,767, 777 and 787 aircraft. The airport also serves small recreational aircraft and corporate jets – and has recently become a tourist destination with the addition of the Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour, Historic Flight Restoration Center, Flying Heritage Collection and Museum of Flight Restoration Center.

If you want to see all four aviation attractions, plan on spending two days. You can easily do two attractions in one day, possibly three, depending on which ones interest you. Buy a Paine Field Passport at any of the four attractions to get discounts at all of them on admission, gift shops and caf├ęs; it’s good for one year from date of purchase.

For many, the Boeing Tour is a must. Affiliated with the Future of Flight Aviation Center since 2005, it is the only tour of a commercial jet assembly plant in North America. You watch the world’s largest jets being assembled in the world’s largest building (measured by volume: 472,370,319 cubic feet, covering 98.3 acres – a footprint as big as 75 football fields!). Rain clouds actually used to form in the Boeing plant before a state-of-the-art air circulation system was installed.

The 90-minute tour begins with an orientation film at the Future of Flight Aviation Center; then you board a shuttle bus to the nearby Boeing manufacturing plant. Wear comfortable shoes, as you’ll walk more than one-third mile through underground tunnels beneath the plant. You’ll also walk up and down steep steps several times and ride an elevator 35 feet above the factory floor for a birds-eye view of the jets’ assembly stations. There you’ll observe a truly remarkable operation employing 32,000 workers and learn fascinating factoids from your guide while you watch some of the 26 overhead bridge cranes operate on a total of 31 miles of ceiling track transporting wings, tails and other large parts to awaiting aircraft.

Returning by shuttle bus to the Future of Flight Aviation Center, you can then explore its interactive displays and hands-on exhibits highlighting commercial jet aviation. Visit its Aviation Zones including Flight Deck, Flight Systems, Propulsion/Engines, Materials, Passenger Experience and Future Concepts. You can also digitally design our own jet, test and modify its flight worthiness, and then receive a free, personalized print-out of your final design.

The Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour is located in the northwest corner of Paine Field; in the southwest corner is the newest aviation attraction, the Historic Flight Restoration Center. Opened in spring 2010, Historic Flight houses the private collection of aviation enthusiast and pilot John T. Sessions. It contains the most important aircraft produced between 1927 and 1957, all fully restored – or in the process – to airworthiness. You can walk right up to these vintage aircraft on display in the facility and watch John and other pilots take some of them aloft on weekends, weather permitting.

Historic Flight Restoration Center's Grumman Bearcat (behind) and Grumman F7F-3 Tigercat

The collection includes 15 aircraft with great stories, such as the North American Aviation B-25D Mitchell, an early 1940s bomber nicknamed “Grumpy” that was flown to Historic Flight from Britain in 2009 by John and fellow pilots; they retraced the primary route used in World War II to deliver thousands of bombers to the European Theatre of Operations. The “Impatient Virgin” is a P-51B Mustang fighter that escorted bombers deep into enemy territory during World War II and also saw action in the Korean War. Other aircraft have equally amusing nicknames, including “Wampus Cat,” one of just 10 Grumman F8F Bearcats still flying today, and “Bad Kitty,” a Grumman F7F-3 Tigercat, one of six surviving Tigercats.

You can also see a Waco UPF-7 biplane, Canadair T-33 Silverstar, Beechcraft Staggerwing D-17 and Supermarine Spitfire – an agile fighter plane that flew from 1936 to 1957, served four Air Forces and played a vital role in winning the Battle of Britain in 1940.

On the southeast side of Paine Field, the Flying Heritage Collection showcases the rare private collection of philanthropist Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft with Bill Gates. The 51,000-square foot hangar is “Home of Flying Warbirds,” containing 1935-1945 combat aircraft from the U.S., Britain, Germany, Russia and Japan. All the aircraft are authentically restored, many to flying condition. Come on a weekend when Flying Heritage holds “Fly Days,” weather permitting. Watch its vintage aircraft take to the skies and demonstrate their flying precision, plus take advantage of the opportunity to chat with the pilots and a military aviation historian.

The Flying Heritage Collection features 15 vintage aircraft including the Curtiss P-40C Tomahawk, Focke Wulf 190 D-13 Dora (the only such long-nose model to survive World War II), Grumman F6F Hellcat with foldable wings, Messerschmitt Bf 109 E-3 (the first modern fighter plane), Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa Oscar (Japanese Kamikaze attacker) and Polikarpov U-2/Po-2 (flown by Russian “Night Witches” over Germany).

The collection also contains an intriguing variety of artifacts ranging from a Jagdpanzer 38(t) Hetzer tank destroyer and Flak 37 88mm Gun (the most famous artillery weapon of WWII) to SpaceShipOne, the first privately funded aircraft to exceed Mach 2 and Mach 3 and fly over 100 kilometers/62 miles in altitude.

Paine Field’s fourth aviation attraction is the Museum of Flight Restoration Center, also located on the east side. Here you’ll find about three dozen vintage aircraft in various stages of restoration by staff and volunteers in preparation for their eventual move to the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field in Seattle. The current highlights are the 1933 Boeing 247D, the world’s first modern passenger airliner, and de Havilland Comet, the world’s first passenger jet. Volunteers are glad to explain the work in progress and significance of each aircraft.

Snohomish County Aviation Attractions

Snohomish County Paine Field Airport (KPAE)
Phone: (425) 388-5125
www.painefield.com


Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour – Paine Field (west side), Mukilteo, WA
www.futureofflight.org
425-438-8100
Interactive displays and hands-on exhibits explain the marvel of commercial jet aviation and the future of powered, winged flight.
Aviation Zones include Flight Deck, Flight Systems, Propulsion/Engines, Materials, Passenger Experience and Future Concepts, plus a special zone for young children.
Visitors can digitally design a jet, test/modify its flight worthiness, and then receive a free personalized print-out of their final design.
Boeing Tour – the only tour of a commercial jet assembly plant in North America (the largest building in the world, measured by volume). Visitors watch 777 and new 787 Dreamliner jets being assembled.

Historic Flight Restoration Center – Paine Field (west side), Mukilteo, WA
www.historicflight.org
(206) 348-3200
Collection of John T. Sessions: the most important aircraft produced between 1927 – 1957
Visitors see fully restored aircraft on display, restoration/maintenance in progress and actual flights of the vintage aircraft (weather permitting)
Collection includes these highlights and more:
B-25D Mitchell – early 1940s bomber nicknamed “Grumpy” that was flown to Historic Flight from Britain after 22 years in Europe by owner John T. Sessions and fellow pilots – retracing the primary route used in World War II to deliver thousands of bombers to the European Theatre of Operations.
P-51B Mustang – fast, high-altitude North American fighter that escorted bombers deep into enemy territory during World War II and also saw action in the Korean War. Nicknamed “Impatient Virgin.”
Supermarine Spitfire – agile fighter plane flew from 1936 to 1957, served four Air Forces and played a vital role in winning the Battle of Britain in 1940.
Grumman F8F Bearcat – interceptor fighter nicknamed “Wampus Cat” that defended U.S. Navy fleets from Japanese Zeros and incoming kamikaze attacks. One of 10 Bearcats still flying today.

Flying Heritage Collection – Paine Field (east side), Everett, WA
www.flyingheritage.com
206-342-4242
Historic 1935-1945 combat aircraft from the U.S., Britain, Germany, Russia and Japan
“Home of Flying Warbirds” – all aircraft authentically restored, many to flying condition
Rare private collection of Paul G. Allen housed in a 51,000-square foot hangar
Free Fly Days (weather permitting) when the vintage aircraft take to the skies and demonstrate their flying precision; opportunity to talk with the pilots and a military aviation historian.

Museum of Flight Restoration Center – Paine Field (east side), Everett, WA
www.museumofflight.org/restoration-center
425-745-5150
Vintage aircraft are authentically restored by staff/volunteers in a 23,000-square foot hangar.
Approximately three dozen aircraft in various stages of restoration, such as 1933 Boeing 247D, the world’s first modern passenger airliner, and de Havilland Comet, the world’s first passenger jet. Volunteers explain the work in progress and significance of each aircraft.
Please visit each attraction’s website for hours and admission prices.
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