The Future of Flight Aviation Center Gallery is an “uncommon classroom.” With its up-close views of examples of the latest in aircraft propulsion, materials, and flight systems, it provides visitors of all ages a unique education in aviation technology innovation. Its displays of possible future technologies spark the imagination. And the hands-on activities are just plain fun as well as informative. Several exhibits and activities appeal especially to students and tie into elements of the Future of Flight Foundation’s education program.
The Foundation has also addressed the interests of its youngest visitors in the Gallery, from an early children’s play area with aviation-themed toys to today’s Family Zone, home to a range of activities designed around a theme of aircraft manufacturing and assembly. Children can build a simple aircraft model or use plastic building blocks to express new ideas about aircraft design. A kid-sized airport and airplanes allow future pilots of all ages to practice their takeoffs and landings. Coloring and reading activities are also available.
With the help of generous donations, the Gallery experience has grown richer over the years, and the nonprofit is continually pursuing new exhibits and activities that foster visitors’ interest in aviation innovation and exhibit the future of flight.
Changes to the Gallery’s exhibits and activities started shortly after the facility’s opening. The following additions are a sample.
In early 2006, a short video was installed in the Gallery showing a flight of SpaceShipOne, the first private manned craft to travel beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Later in the year the Passenger Experience Research Center (“PERC”) opened in the Gallery.
In 2008 the Gallery’s propulsion exhibits were updated with the addition of a 3-D Rolls-Royce engine display.The next year the Gallery added a display of two fan blades from state-of-the-art General Electric jet engines: the GEnx engine to be used on the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the GE 90 engine used on the Boeing 777-200 and 777-300 aircraft.
In partnership with The Boeing Company, in 2009 the Foundation added a future concept exhibit about algae as a potential source of biofuel for commercial aircraft. The exhibit illustrates how a simple combination of sunlight, carbon dioxide, and algae could be a low-carbon, renewable jet fuel source.
From March through June 2009, in celebration of its 75th anniversary, Air France loaned the Foundation an exhibit highlighting the airline’s evolution and innovations through the early years (1930s and 1940s), the jet age (1960s), modernization in the 1970s, and the era of Le Concorde supersonic airliner in the late 20th century. This exhibit included videos and numerous artifacts. Students at the Arts and Technology High School of Marysville, Washington, produced a video showing their vision of what flying on Air France might be like in the future.
In 2010 General Electric loaned a GE 90 engine. This was the world’s most powerful engine at the time, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, producing 127,900 pounds of thrust. It replaced the Pratt & Whitney 777 test engine that had been on display.
Also in 2010, the original flight simulator was replaced with the seven-seat Innovator. Using actual flight footage, special effects, and realistic motion, visitors can barnstorm in a stunt plane, fly a fighter plane, and more.
In 2011 the work of the board of directors’ exhibits committee and its team combined with fundraising successes to add several exhibits and features to the Aviation Center Gallery.
With a substantial monetary contribution from Rolls-Royce, the nonprofit worked closely with the company’s technicians to install an interactive trade show Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engine display. An actual Trent 1000 engine (on temporary loan) was installed next to it. In terms of emissions and noise, it is the cleanest and quietest engine that Rolls-Royce has ever made, exceeding all current regulatory requirements. At takeoff, the two Trent 1000s on a 787 deliver the power equivalent of about 1,500 family cars, yet are only as loud as a subway train arrival. Sound effects allow visitors to experience the engine firing up and taking off and to play interactive games.
Installation of a 47-foot by 30-foot glass door in the south wall significantly enhanced the Gallery experience. A minimal structure and clear, half-inch-thick laminated glass donated by PPG Industries allow an almost unobstructed view. The door opens onto the runway ramp area next to the building, allowing more dramatic reveals during Gallery events and aircraft delivery ceremonies as well as providing an outdoor venue for other special events. A grant from PPG made this installation possible.
Also in 2011, Edmonds Community College students helped reengineer exhibit kiosks to make them more portable. The Snohomish County Public Utility District and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation awarded the Foundation a grant for the design and installation of a solar energy module demonstration project on the observation deck level, as well as an exhibit about innovations in solar energy and solar-powered aircraft.
Made possible by grant funds from Snohomish County and the federal Department of Energy, a wind turbine was installed on the roof, and a wind energy exhibit, including a meter showing the amount of electricity being produced by the turbine, was added to the Gallery. While not directly pertaining to flying, the wind turbine exhibit complemented the Aviation Center’s mission to encourage innovative thinking. Perhaps such equipment could one day pre-charge the batteries of electric airplanes.
In 2012 several more important changes and additions were made to the Aviation Center. Washington State University updated the biofuel exhibit. The Magic Planet five-foot-diameter digital video globe turns a variety of scientific and geographic data into an interactive atlas. It displays live streaming media from other museums and from government organizations, as well as real-time global weather and flight patterns. The Alcoa Foundation, The Boeing Company, and Future of Flight Foundation donors provided funding for this exhibit.
A Flex Track drilling system on loan from Electroimpact (a Boeing supplier with facilities in Mukilteo) since 2012 demonstrates the state-of-the-art carbon fiber construction methods used on the Boeing 787. Mounted on the 787 fuselage section in the Gallery, the device shows how a portable, lightweight, laser-guided CNC (computer numeric control) drill can precisely place holes as it travels along the curved surface of an airframe. An EADS Company subsidiary (part of the Airbus group) donated an Evolys® Business Class seat display that demonstrates seating ergonomics and technology used on the Boeing 777. Panasonic Avionics provided high definition replacements for 38 exhibit monitors, and a large aerial photograph and map of Paine Field and the surrounding area was installed on the lobby floor, becoming an instant favorite feature for visitors.
In 2013 the Foundation added a Materials Weight and Stiffness Tester to the materials zone in the Gallery. Visitors can interact with samples of several materials to compare their characteristics. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum provided the design. In addition, a modified hydrogen fuel cell powered airplane went on display – a loan from the Museum of Flight.
In 2014 a simulation of flying with the Navy’s Blue Angels stunt team was added to the Innovator virtual reality attraction. In September 2014 the Foundation began Maker Mondays, which allow visitors to use the MakerBot® Replicator™ equipment to design and print 3D plastic items. This exhibits the dramatic changes 3D printing technology is making in aviation manufacturing.
In April 2015 an interactive Nano Mini Exhibition was added to the Gallery’s Family Zone. It was created by the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network with support from the National Science Foundation. Its hands-on features present the basics of nanoscience and engineering materials, which are being used more and more by aviation equipment manufacturers. It has several stand-alone interactive stations. At one, visitors work together to assemble a large model of a carbon nanotube. At another they explore progressively smaller magnetic materials: magnetite sand, iron powder, and ferrofluid. At the station entitled Balance our Nano Future, visitors get an idea of the challenge of building stable nanostructures by trying to balance blocks on a tippy table.
In May 2015 the Foundation installed a Bernoulli table in the Family Zone, funded by the 2015 Aviation Geek Fest sponsored by the Future of Flight Foundation. The Bernoulli principle is an important aspect of the science of fluid dynamics. As applied to aviation, it explains how the movement of air over a curved wing creates the lift that allows airplanes to fly. The table illustrates this principle with vertical jets of blowing air that make small plastic balls hover. This new exhibit has been a hit with visitors of all ages.
In June through September an astronaut mannequin was placed on the landing of the staircase to the Strato Deck, and visitors enjoyed posing for photographs with it. This was a loan from the Museum of Flight. It was part of the Museum’s 50th Anniversary Celebration project titled “Astronauts on the Town.”