One of the great things about living in the Pacific Northwest is its connection to aviation. Just about 10 miles north of where I live, is the Future of Flight (FoF), which is right next to Paine Field in Everett. The FoF was opened in December 2005 with collaboration between The Boeing Company, Future of Flight Foundation, Snohomish County Public Facilities District and the Snohomish County Airport (Paine Field) with the idea of showcasing the future of commercial aviation. Even though Boeing is a supporter and offers their Boeing tour from the same location, the FoF does not limit their displays to only Boeing products, but shares the past, present, and future of all commercial aviation brands. The $23 million project attracts about 175,000 visitors from 175 different countries every year. This was all too tempting to pass up and I was invited to check out what they have to offer first hand.
When I arrived, I was greeted by Sandy Ward, Marketing Director, and Ed Kaplania, Projects Manager (and aviation genius). For about the next hour and a half, they would be my tour guides showing me all the wonders of the FoF. The first thing I noticed was they had a Beechcraft Starship hanging on their ceiling; it was then, I knew I was going to fall in love with this place.
My favorite part of the visit was the cockpit of a Boeing 727-200. I was amazed with all the switches, buttons, lights, and fuses. I probably sat in the cockpit for 30 minutes. I felt like a 12 year old kid, having to flip all the switches and getting satisfaction from the tactile feel of each switch’s throw. Outside of the cockpit there is a virtual tour of the new Boeing 787 “glass cockpit” What a stark difference! The FoF plans to add a physical “glass cockpit” to put next to the 727’s so visitors can see first hand the vast difference. Although the newer cockpits are much more advanced, need only two (well really one) people, and have far fewer switches, there seems to be some connection lost between the pilot and plane.
Around the main floor there are computer monitors where visitors can design their own aircraft (see pic to the left). They can choose fuselage size, wing size, materials, etc. As you change each option, the program tells you how many miles the plane will fly, the passenger load, the fuel efficiency, etc. I was quite entertained trying the different options and it took me a while to realize I was actually learning things about how the design affected the stats of the aircraft. I was very happy with my end result (can hold 451 people in a 2-class layout and go almost 19,000 miles — which I know any plane that can go over 12,000 miles is pretty useless, but whatever, it looks awesome). After you are happy with your design, you are able to print off a copy in the gift shop for free.
There are a few high tech and static displays that allow you to explore the workings of a jet engine (I got to climb into one, kind of scary). One is able to explore the difference between the rivet/panel approach to the old Boeing 707, versus the smooth, single panel approach to composite materials. There is a mock up of the interior of the new Boeing 787, as well as one from a 767. You can spend a few hours reading about the histories of all the commercial jets, which is almost what I did.
Then to top it off, there is a roof-top viewing area that overlooks Paine Field. To the left, one can see the hangars where all the magic happens. Straight ahead is a Dream Lifter that flies the Boeing 787 parts around the globe, and to the right are new planes (including the Boeing 787) ready to fly. They also have the traffic control on speakers, so you can hear what is going on. Unfortunately it was rainy, cold, windy, and getting dark, so I wasn’t able to stick around long enough to catch a glimpse of a takeoff. When it is clear out, one can see the Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier, and Mount Baker while watching airplanes taking off and landing. Yes folks, this is pretty much aviation nerd heaven (only if they had a cafe up there).
For those who like aviation shopping, have no fear — there are two options: first you have the Future of Flight gift shop, with some aviation and northwest themed items, but you also have the Boeing gift shop, where I could easily spend a few grand without thinking. I contemplated not going into either (to stop the temptation of spending money), but how could I refuse? Luckily I walked out with only one model of a Alaska Airlines Boeing 737; it took a lot of will power.
If you like aviation and you are in the Seattle area, you need to check out the Future of Flight. It is a growing collection with many new exciting features planned. Guests also have the ability to take the Boeing Tour, which I hope to return and take soon. Don’t worry, when I do, I will be sure to let you know how it goes!
SEE THE REST OF THE PICTURES HERE.