You’ve likely heard of the Boeing Tour at Paine Field in Mukilteo – it’s one of the biggest visitor draws in the state of Washington. You may know it affiliated with the Future of Flight Aviation Center when that facility opened in 2005.
But have you taken the Boeing Tour and explored the Future of Flight Aviation Center? So many of us locals think we’ll take in this major attraction when relatives or friends visit… and then somehow that doesn’t happen.
So visit now for your own enjoyment during these winter months – when the ticket price drops during the “value season” through March 31 – and the Boeing Tour and Future of Flight are much less crowded. Tour reservations are a virtual necessity during the June-September tourist high season; now you can be more impromptu, although reserving a specific tour time is always wise and saves on the ticket price.
The Boeing Tour is the only tour of a commercial jet assembly plant in North America. Here 747s, 777s and 787 Dreamliners are built. You watch the world’s largest jets being assembled in the world’s largest building (measured by volume: more than 472 million cubic feet, covering 98.3 acres – a footprint as big as 75 football fields!). Mist 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 a short introduction 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 – part of the 2.3-mile labyrinth below the assembly floor. On the floor, employees often get around the huge building by using the 1,300 bicycles Boeing provides.
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. (With advance notice, special accommodations can be made for those who are physically challenged or in wheelchairs.)
From the overhead viewpoints, you’ll observe a truly remarkable operation employing 42,000 workers and learn fascinating factoids from your guide such as: 26 overhead bridge cranes operate on a total of 39 miles of ceiling track to transport wings, tails and other large parts to aircraft in the process of being assembled. Jets move along their respective assembly lines as these huge parts are fitted into place.
Children must be at least 4 feet tall to take the tour for safety reasons. Cameras and electronic devices, including cell phones, may not be taken to the factory; lockers are available at the Future of Flight.
Returning by shuttle bus to the Future of Flight Aviation Center, you can then explore its interactive displays highlighting commercial jet aviation. The 28,000-square foot gallery contains learning zones including Airplane Design, Materials, Flight Systems, Propulsion/Engines, Passenger Experience, Family Zone and Future Concepts.
Digitally design your own jet, then test and modify its flight worthiness. Stand next to a 30-foot-tall 747 tail to appreciate its tremendous size. Feel the composite material that makes up most of the revolutionary 787 Dreamliner. For an additional $8, take a virtual ride in the Innovator to far-away places such as Egypt and experiences such as the Battle for Iwo Jima and a Blue Angels’ flight.
A recent addition is the Family Zone with activities designed around the theme of aircraft manufacturing and assembly. Families can build simple aircraft models and use Lego (and Lego-compatible) pieces to design aircraft. A kid-sized airport and aircraft allow future pilots of all ages to practice their take-offs and landings.
Currently, the Family Zone is also home to a hands-on nanotechnology exhibit and new Bernoulli Table, which offers an interactive experience to teach the relationship between the velocity of air and the pressure it exerts.
Weekend Family Workshops are featured on Saturdays and Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Each workshop includes an aviation story and a make-and-take project.
Maker Mondays, open from 3 p.m. – 8 p.m. in the Gallery Maker Space, provide the opportunity to work on your own projects using 3D-modeling. Then print your project on the MakerBot Replicator. Makers under 15 must be accompanied by an adult. Admission is $5 per day plus $0.90 per gram for materials.
Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour
8415 Paine Field Blvd. – Mukilteo, WA
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily year-round, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Boeing tours begin at 9 a.m. and are offered on the hour; the last tour starts at 3 p.m.
Admission – Value Season (Jan 3 to Mar 31 & Oct 1 to Dec 19):
$16 adult reserved/$18 walk-up; youth $9/$10 (age 15 and under)
Admission – Peak Season (Apr.1 – Sept. 30):
$18 adult reserved/$20 walk-up; youth $12/$14
Reservations are highly recommended as only a limited quantity of same-day, non-reserved tickets are available. Reserve at http://www.futureofflight.org/admission or phone 360-756-0086 or toll-free 1-800-464-1476 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Julie Gangler is a freelance writer who has worked as a media relations consultant for the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau. She began her career as a staff writer at Sunset Magazine and later was the Alaska/Northwest correspondent for Travel Agent Magazine.