Updated: May 21, 2015
Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum:I have lived in Oregon for about a decade and I have never ventured down to McMinnville to see the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum - the place where they house the famous Spruce Goose airplane. Families that we know always tell us to make a day trip and get down there. My son just turned 5 and my daughter is 9 so I figured now was the right time. From the Portland area the museum is no more than an hours drive. The big attraction are all the airplanes housed in the museum - war planes, biplanes, helicopters, and the main attraction the Spurce Goose which was built (designed) by Howard Hughes. I was impressed from the moment I walked into the doors and saw the massive plane that literally takes up the entire space of the hangar. Our kids were excited to see the planes and use some of the interactive displays they have.
Spruce Goose - Let's start with the #1 reason why people go to the museum. This plane is huge and definitely worth the entry fee even if this is all you saw. You can get inside this massive "flying boat" and look around a bit. They offer photo ops in the cockpit if you want to pay extra $$$. The Spruce Goose came into being during the end of WWII. The government had sponsored the creation of the "flying boats" so that they could transport large #'s of troops and materials over the Atlantic Ocean. The project stumbled along and eventually Howard Hughes' partner in the process (Henry Kaiser) withdrew and Hughes remained to finish. In late 1947, the Spruce Goose was slotted for a test at the Long Beach port. Hughes was able to get the plane off the water (not a runway) and he flew it for about 1 minute at 70 feet altitude. The plane flew fine and he touched back down. That was the only flight the plane ever took and for 30 years after that historic day, the Spruce Goose was housed in large hangar at $1 million a year in cost. When Howard Hughes died in 1976 the plane needed a new home and it was temporarily housed for some 14 years until in 1990 the Evergreen Aviation group took over ownership. The most amazing feature of the aircraft is that it's made almost entirely out of wood. When you see it in the hangar it's hard to believe it's constructed of wood. You can get all the details of this magnificent airplane online at Sprucegoose.org.
What Else is at the Museum - Beyond the Spruce Goose there are literally dozens of other planes, spacecraft, and aviation displays that will keep you busy for house. They have replicas of some of the first aircraft ever flown including the Wright 1903 Flyer. See cargo planes, commercial and passenger planes, and bombers. On our visit we were lucky enough to get entry into the Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress. This plane was a workhorse in World War II and to be inside the bomber was an amazing experience. We got to see the machine guns that fired anti-aircraft fire (there were 12 .50 caliber machine guns mounted on this plane). It also featured a 9600 pound bomb load which was housed right behind the cockpit. The gunner position below the plane (belly gunner) was perhaps the most impressive of all things. A full grown man would get into this ball shaped capsule and have a great vantage point below the aircraft for firing his weapons. It was cramped and he could spend 4 to 10 hours in there. The docents at the museum were full of information and we learned a lot. My only wish is that you could enter more of the aircraft or helicopters without having to pay extra. There are several planes that seemed like the perfect spot for a photo opportunity, yet we will only allowed to stand next to the plane. Perhaps they will open up more planes in the coming years. That was the highlight of the trip for my kids. They were able to handle the machine gunes, see the bullet boxes, touch the controls and experience the inside of a WWII bomber plane. There are talks of a Space Shuttle coming to the space museum - which would be totally cool. Supposedly they are 1 of 4 facilities vying for the shuttle.