Tour the Museum of Flight in Seattle, home to Boeings and much more

At one of the largest air museums in the world you can check out planes from every era, including WWI fighters, Cold War bombers and even a 747. Here's a closer look.

Geoffrey Morrison
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Geoffrey Morrison
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Museum of Flight

Just south of Seattle is the huge Museum of Flight. It houses aircraft from all eras of aviation, like this, the only surviving Boeing Model 80A-1.

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The floor-to-ceiling windows of the Great Gallery offer far better lighting than most air museums I've visited. There's a slightly higher percentage of Boeing aircraft than other museums, which isn't surprising given that it's located adjacent to Boeing Field. Here's the civilian version of the P-12, the Model 100, with a Stearman C3B behind.

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Even though this hall is cavernous, the curators do a great job using the whole volume. That's a MiG-21 in the middle. 

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Not sure I've seen one of these before, and I love it. A LearAvia Lear Fan 2100. Two turboshaft engines fed a gearbox to drive the single prop. Then there's the Y-shaped tail and largely composite construction. It never made it to production. 

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V-1 and M-12

The V1 flying bomb (top) was, incredibly, built from parts salvaged from the factory in Nordhausen. 

The star of the show in the Great Gallery is the M-21. It's not, as you might have first thought, an SR-71. This is the only surviving M-21 variant of the earlier A-12. It was created as a test-bed mothership for the D-21 drone you can see on its back. 

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Personal Courage Wing

The Personal Courage Wing concentrates on WWI and II aircraft, like this P-38

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An F4U Corsair, specifically an FG-1A, the designation for the Corsairs built by Goodyear. This example flew off the USS Intrepid, which we have also toured

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Not a Zero

Although a reproduction, it's not one you see very often. Most museums with Japanese WWII aircraft have the more famous Zero. This is a Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa, also called an Oscar, and it was assembled using pieces from four downed Ki-43s. The Zero was flown by the Japanese Navy, the Hayabusa was flown by the Army. 

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Lower left is a Yakovlev Yak-9, one of Soviet Union's main WWII aircraft. This rare rebuilt original is the only one in North America.

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Top-down on a pristine P-51D. Note the bullets in the wing to feed the .50 caliber guns.

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A better view of one of my favorites, a P-38. This example is one of the last built. 

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Upstairs we step back a few more decades. Given the time, and their construction, few original WWI aircraft survive. Most museums have reproductions or replicas. However, there are a few originals here.

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Triple black

Probably the most famous WWI aircraft, this Fokker Dr.I Triplane reproduction was built starting in the late '50s and completed in the early '70s. 

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The Albatros D.V.a is certainly one of the sleeker-looking WWI aircraft, but it did not have performance to match its looks.

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Like several of the museum's reproductions, this Nieuport 24bis was flyable. The 24bis was used by nearly every Allied country in the war.

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In the trenches

In the center of the WWI Gallery is a mockup of the infamous trenches. 

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An original Pfalz D.XII, brought to the US after the war. it was in the 1930 movie The Dawn Patrol and then again in the 1938 movie called ... The Dawn Patrol (and you thought reboots were a new thing). You can see it in this clip from the first movie and briefly in the trailer for the second.

It was later restored to flying condition. 

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Aviation Pavilion

Across the street, accessible by a covered bridge, is the Aviation Pavilion, where the larger planes are stored.

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T-Square 54

The museum's B-29, called T-Square 54, flew in the Pacific during WWII and as a tanker during the Korean War.

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Boeing Bee

This B-17F was built right up the road. It served as a trainer aircraft, then was stationed in Britain at the end of the war, but didn't see combat. After the war it entered civilian use and served as a tanker and even appeared in movies such as Tora, Tora, Tora and Memphis Belle.

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One of the 18 remaining Concordes, G-BOAG, aka "Alpha Golf."

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It's a bit hard to see, due to where the museum has placed the plexiglass walls (which are there to protect the plane from people like me). 

I was able to get in and around the Concorde at the Fleet Air Arm in England far better. 

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Narrow body

Despite its speed and high ticket price, the seats and cabin were far smaller than those of even modern regional jets. 

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Even smaller still are the windows, barely larger than a paperback book.

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I love this era, the midcentury SAC aircraft. In this case, a B-47 Stratojet. This example served in SAC for 10 years, then was converted to the weather reconnaissance WB-47 variant. 

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6 burning

The B-47 had a top speed of over 600 mph/(966 km/h). 

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47 plus 5

The legendary B-52, which is still in service and will be for another few decades, was developed from many core B-47 ideas. There is a B-52 on site, and will be displayed in its own dedicated area soon.

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Air Force One

The first jet-powered Air Force One, a converted VC-137B, aka the Boeing 707. One of three Special Air Mission aircraft delivered in 1959, it was used by Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Nikita Khrushchev and Henry Kissinger. Eisenhower became the first president to fly aboard a jet aircraft, and it was this aircraft, the SAM 970.

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Important cargo

Though presidents would get newer aircraft starting in 1962, this plane was still in service with the Air Force for vice presidents and other VIPs until 1996.  

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Command post

As you'd expect, and like in newer versions, there is a full suite of communications equipment. 

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Crew and staff

The plane's crew, and some of the president's personal staff, sat up here. 

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Mobile oval

Under the desk is a special hat rack for President Johnson.

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Air meetings

Conference room in the sky.

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Staff seating

The rest of the president's staff would sit back here.

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Press pool

Other staff, and any press aboard the plane, sat back here. The overhead compartments actually folded down to become beds.

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Aft galley

One of two galleys on board the aircraft.

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This is the first Boeing 727 produced. It flew from 1964 to 1991 with United Airlines. 

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727s were notorious for being exceptionally loud. Some are still flying cargo, but none fly passengers.

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The original rationale for three engines was it was cheaper than four, but theoretically safer than two. That is no longer thought to be the case. Wendover Productions has a fascinating video about why there are no more trijets.

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Three crew too

Two pilots, and a flight engineer. 

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Look at those seats

Depending on how they were arranged, the original 727 could carry around 131 passengers. 

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Long hauler

It's estimated that over the course of its 27 years of service, this 727 flew over 3 million passengers. 

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And as you'd hope for from a museum with a large number of famous Boeing aircraft, there's a prototype 787. This was the third aircraft finished, and was used to demonstrate the plane to potential customers around the world. 

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This is a GE90, one of the truly massive engines that powers the larger 777, though it is somewhat related to the GEnx that powers many 787. 

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Carbon fiber composite blades

Consider this: The GE90 can produce 115,000 pounds of thrust. During testing, one was installed on an older 747. The GE90 had more power than the aircraft's other three engines combined. 

For an idea what this looks like, GE recently tested the new GE9x on a newer 747.

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GE or Rolls Royce

The 787 was designed to be more efficient, allowing for "long and thin" routes. Long distances between smaller cities. The engines are a big part of that, with either GEnx or Rolls Royce Trent 1000 options.

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47 tail

A few pics of the B-47 from one of the 787's big windows.

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Crew of two

The 787 only needs a pilot and co-pilot, though longer routes will have a second cockpit crew.

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Now how cool would it be if aircraft had a big open area like this to relax in during flights? Yeah, not likely. 

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Tucked in the back corner is this 737, which seems overshadowed in this pavilion of huge planes. However, the 737 is the most-produced passenger jet in history, and this was the first produced.

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The iconic 747. As you can probably guess, this is the first airworthy example built. They named it City of Everett. 

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Test bed

The City of Everett never flew passengers, but spent its whole life as a flying lab, testing innovations and new features for the 747, as well as new engines for other aircraft. 

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Cables and computers

The exposed structure is fascinating, letting you see the control cables.

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Water weight

Rather than hiring a few hundred people to fly around in a prototype airplane as ballast, manufacturers use kegs of water instead. Arranged all over the cabin, they can be filled and emptied to adjust weight balance to determine different flight characteristics of a fully loaded aircraft.

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While this is a great look around, you can see a lot more of the 747, including the upper deck and the cargo hold, at the Technik Museum Speyer.

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The City of Everett helped test midair refueling in the early 1970s.

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Black box

The aircraft's actual "black box," which is really two boxes, one for the flight data recorder and one for the cockpit voice recorder. These are the two boxes in the upper right. As you can see, black boxes aren't actually black. 

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Space, the final gallery

Technically in between the Aviation Pavilion and the rest of the museum, I saved the Space Gallery for last. Although the museum doesn't have one of the remaining Shuttles, it does have the trainer mockup, which you can get a separate ticket to go inside.

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To infinity, and beyond... Seattle

You can go in the bay, though, which was great. 

I'll stop now, but there's a lot more at the Museum of Flight I couldn't fit in here. 

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