At first glance, The Museum of Flight Restoration Center isn’t especially exciting. Apart from a beautiful Learjet 23 sitting outside, it looks just like just another grey hanger next to the rest of the grey hangers near the threshold of Runway 16 left at Paine Field. But, once inside, things take a historic and amazing turn.
As we entered, we were greeted by massive models hanging from the ceiling (the largest was at least 10 feet long) and parts of various aircraft neatly on display, with a very clean Rolls-Royce Merlin from a Supermarine Spitfire in the center of the room. After meeting Terry, our tour guide, we headed into the main hanger. We went through a set of double doors and we were immediately greeted by, well, a mess. But what a beautiful mess; to my left was the one and only mockup of the Boeing SST, their “revolutionary” supersonic commercial airliner, and to my right was a stunning Goodyear F2G “Super Corsair” with its impressive 28 cylinder radial engine, and the first of 204 Lockheed CL-329 private jets built.
Now when we say mess, it is compared to a museum, which is trim and clean, and usually doesn’t have nuts and bolts laying about on display, or people working on the exhibits. But that adds to the feel of the facility. Remember, this is a restoration center. As we continued, we were shown an Antonov AN-2 that flew over the North Pole, a Piaseck H-21 “Flying Banana” helicopter and Boeing’s first ever Hydrofoil boat. After touring the main hanger, we were brought to a second hanger. Terry opened the door and turned the lights on, and a bare, wingless Vought F7U Cutlass fighter jet greeted us as we walked in. But, hiding behind it, was the only airworthy Boeing 247 in the world. The 247 was the first modern airliner, and was very popular aircraft with United Airlines. Unfortunately, it may have been too popular with United as they soon monopolized the 247, leaving other airlines to go with alternatives such as the DC-1, DC-2, and one of the most significant transport aircraft in history, the iconic DC-3.
As we made our way around the hanger, we were able to see the first prototype of the Chance Vought F-8 Crusader fighter aircraft. We also saw the first Bowers Fly Baby and several other experimental aircraft. After drooling over the history and beauty of the aircraft in the second hanger, we were led back outside towards the first Boeing 727 ever built, N7001U.
We were led up the airstairs and waited near the top as Terry undid the padlock keeping the door locked from aviation extremists and thieves. “We’ve had trouble keeping people out” said Terry, “We’ve had people enter through emergency exits and this door, and once they are in, they take anything they can get easily. We’ve had handles stolen, signs and placards, and the aircrafts logbooks.” As we entered, we walked through the galley and into the main cabin. To my left was economy seating, six abreast, three on each side and the chairs looked very comfortable and had a fabulous retro design on them. Compared to modern airline seats, these were more comfortable, wider, and had quite a bit more legroom.
Walking towards the cockpit we passed through first class, which was laid out four abreast, two on each side. These seats were massive! The best way to describe it is as if United decided to put La-z-boy recliners in place of the regular seats. Making our way past the rows of recliner like first class seats, we reached the cockpit, and what a cockpit it was. Various dials, buttons, gauges, switches, lights, and levers littered the cockpit. There wasn’t a single glass screen in the cockpit. it really made me realize how far we’ve come with cockpit technology, and how advance today’s aircraft really are. After spending a bit of time in the cockpit, we moved aft towards the airstairs and Terry opened up two compartments on either side and let us take a look at the guts of the aircraft. After cracking a few jokes about D.B. Cooper, we headed back outside and down the airstairs, and that concluded the tour of the Museum of Flight Restoration Center and 727.
Every series of letters and numbers has it’s meaning. Some are more valuable than others. Some mean more to people. Some mean less. It’s all in your own perception. N7001U has meaning, it’s the first Boeing 727 that was ever produced. Being the prototype for the 727 series, it also was dubbed E1. After being rolled out of the Boeing Renton factory on November 27th, 1962, E1 took flight for the first time on February 9th, 1963. After testing for more than a year and a half, the “keys” were handed over to United Airlines on October 6th, 1964. After being handed over, it flew for 27 years, 495 hours, and operated 60 flights. The final flight was from Boeing Field to Paine Field after donation to the Museum Of Flight. After being turned over to the museum, United Airlines (the original operator) sent a crew to Paine Field to remove many major parts that were still usable for the rest of their 727 fleet.
It is currently in the hands of the Museum of Flight Restoration Center. Under the lead of Project Manager, Bob Bogas, and Chief Engineer, Terry “TC” Howard, it is hoped that N7001U will be returned to flying condition. If that is able to be completed, the piece of Boeing history will flown to the Museum of Flight Airpark where it will rest with the first Boeing 747 and the first Boeing 737. Due to United Airlines taking many of the major parts, the Restoration Center used two other retired 727s for replacements. The main contributor or “organ donor” was N124FE, a retired 727-100C that FedEx Corporation donated to the Museum of Flight. Due to this contribution and the donations of many others, the restoration project is heading in the right direction. However, with every few good things, there are some bad ones, due to the location and size of the project, many pieces cannot be replaced at this time due to a lack of space and resources.
Seeing inside the first 727 is without a doubt one of the coolest experiences we have had in a long time. Being able to enter and walk around inside such an iconic airplane was a once in a lifetime experience. As for the Museum of Flight Restoration Center, it is just as interesting (if not more) than the Museum of Flight, but in a totally different way. If you are ever in the Seattle area, We highly recommend coming up to Paine Field and visiting. It’s an experience that won’t soon be forgotten.
If you would like to read more on this project, please visit rbogash.com