Do you have an inquisitive sidekick who just can’t seem to get to the bottom of their unending questions about space and air travel? Or a petite pilot who is itching to grow up and utter the words, “This is your Captain speaking”? If so, you must plan a visit to The Museum of Flight. More than just history and facts, Seattle’s air and space museum also doubles as a children’s museum that offers so much to see, do and explore. So put on your wings, read on and get ready to spend a day exploring Seattle’s Museum of Flight.
Where to Takeoff
A great starting point to this behemoth museum would be the Great Gallery. It’s filled to the brim with full size aircraft, everything from the first archaic stabs at air flight to jets, prop jobs, and ‘copters. Pretty much a dream for itty bitty Earharts and Lindberghs. There is plenty of room for the kiddos to wander (and strollers to stroll) and a few airplanes (including a fighter jet) are open to climb inside! So, if you have an aspiring Maverick or Goose on your hands, you’ll want to hit it up. For an additional fee, there is a 360 degree air combat flight simulator ride and a 4D-X simulator ride. Both of these attractions are geared toward older kids and more seasoned pilots in training who want to give flight sensation a whirl!
For the Littlest Passengers
If the wiggles are starting to rear their heads after the Gallery, pop up the side stairs to the Kid’s Flight Zone. Yep, you read that right! The museum has a dedicated area for little turbojets to play in, stacked with all kinds of interactive and educational exhibits. Learn how a jet engine works, use the roll, pitch and yaw controllers, check out what makes a wind tunnel, pop into the hang glider simulator or just goof around on the airplane play structures. It’s a cute little area great for clearing out those ants in the pants.
Cleared for Takeoff
After a go-around in the Kid Zone, you can head up to the observation level Tower for a history on flight and wing anatomy. And, of more interest to the young guns, check out the hands-on stations where you can pretend to be an air traffic controller (Standby, over!). The Tower also gives you an exciting view of the Boeing runway where you and your enthusiastic wee gliders can watch planes takeoff and land. (Psst…Mom and Dad, on a clear day, you get a huge view of Mt. Rainier from here, too!)
I Need My Space
What would a trip to The Museum of Flight be without some space ships, right?! It might be safe to assume there is at least one Star Wars fan in the fam, so take your little stormtroopers through the Apollo exhibit where they can see one of the real life engines built for the most powerful rocket ever made! Float on through this section to show your minuscule astronauts a lunar rover, a space capsule and the Apollo command module!
If your space alien gets a bit restless from the history lesson, high tail it over the Skybridge (you might even catch some Star Wars music as you cross!) to the West Campus’ Space Gallery where you’ll find a full-scale mockup of a NASA space shuttle that has even been used for actual astronaut training! In this area you will also find all sorts of educational sections to answer all the questions your small-scale rocketeers throw at you. How long does it take to get to Mars? Well, you can find out here (spoiler alert, it’s 6.6 months). How do astronauts go to the bathroom? This, too, you will discover in (quite astonishingly) great detail. What do they eat in space? Yep, this exhibit has you covered. Your little ones will come home with answers to some of the most pertinent questions universe-minded minions have come up with to date.
You May Now Move About the Cabin
Connected to the Space Gallery, you won’t want to miss the Aviation Pavilion, a fave among the small set. This massive area houses 19 commercial and military planes for the shorties to marvel at, with a handful that they can go inside! This includes the first jet Air Force One (used by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon), as well as a couple of huge commercial planes and the super fast Concorde. Check out the cockpits to show your bedazzled bambinos the impressive amount of buttons and controls the pilots have to know!
Good to know: Under the big commercial planes there is another children’s play area. Set up like an airport gate and airplane, the minis can pretend to check you in, load your luggage, and take you to your seat, in First Class, of course! Bon voyage!
Fill Your Tray Tables
Planning a visit around lunchtime? Hit up the Wings Café, in the main building, where you can refuel the troops if they seem to be approaching meltdown speed. There is a kid’s menu as well as lots of goodies for adults to nosh on as well. And loads better than airplane food! Also, there are a few other galleries to explore (World War II Gallery and the Boeing Red Barn) around the Café if you want to wander a bit more. These galleries have a few hands-on activities for your speed demons, but are more adult-focused. However, if you are looking for a saunter to wind down your co-pilots after lunch, this might be the ticket.
Good to Know
The Skybridge and the Aviation Pavilion are both covered, but open air. Bring along your jackets on a cold day if you want to spend a bit of time in there. It can get chilly!
What’s on the Horizon
The Museum Of Flight has enough activities every month to fill a cargo plane! Along with their Weekend Family Workshops held on Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. (click here for the calendar), you won’t want to miss their annual Santa Landing Party. Each year, Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive in an airplane, allowing kids to pass along their Christmas wish lists to the dynamic duo while you listen to Christmas tunes played by the Boeing Band and Orchestra. During the Santa Landing Party, the Museum opens early at 9 a.m. The outdoor event is free, and the indoor events are included with Museum admission.
If you want to save a buck or two…on the first Thursday of each month, the Museum stays open late and admission is free from 5 p.m.-9 p.m.
The Museum of Flight
9404 E. Marginal Way
Seattle, WA 98108
Hours: Daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission: $24/Adults; $20/Seniors; $15/Youth (5-17); 4 & under Free. Book your tickets online and get $1 off child and senior tickets and $2 of adult tickets.
—Alaina Weimer (all photos courtesy of the writer)