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Future of Flight Aviation Center scale model Jake Schultz

The Future of Flight Foundation is Born


In late 2003, as the process of securing Snohomish County and Public Facilities District approval and funding of the project progressed, Barry Smith concluded that significant local Snohomish County leadership and philanthropic support – particularly for acquiring exhibits and developing an education program – also would be needed to make the Future of Flight viable. He discussed the matter with the Museum of Flight’s CEO and President, Ralph Bufano, and its COO, Richard Beckerman, who concurred with Mr. Smith’s conclusion. They arranged for the Museum’s pro bono attorney for philanthropic issues, Gerry Johnson (then with the Bogle & Gates firm), to provide advice to Mr. Smith and to help with the incorporation process.

On December 19, 2003, Barry Smith incorporated “Friends of the Aviation Museum and Conference Center at the National Flight Interpretive Center” as a Washington non-profit corporation. The organization’s stated purpose was to philanthropically support the operation of the Aviation Museum and Conference Center component of the National Flight Interpretive Center that Snohomish County was developing – in particular, the acquisition of exhibits and the development and operation of education programs. Gerry Johnson also helped the new group obtain Internal Revenue Service recognition as a “public charity” with tax-free status under section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code.

On September 22, 2004, the organization formally shortened its name to “The NFIC Foundation." On July 18, 2005, it changed its name to “Future of Flight.” On June 20, 2007, the corporation filed amended articles of incorporation that changed its name to “Future of Flight Foundation.” This was at the request of Airport Director Dave Waggoner, who thought it best that the nonprofit not have the same name as the building.

The organization’s original articles of incorporation named Barry Smith “Initial Director.” Over the next several months Mr. Smith recruited the founding members of a board of directors. On September 17, 2004, Melanie Jordan and Erik Nelson were appointed to the Board, as were ex officio members Daniel A. Rahkonen (representing The Boeing Company), Bill Lewallen (representing Paine Field) and Richard Beckerman (representing the Museum of Flight). The Board elected Melanie Jordan president and Erik Nelson vice president and secretary. Mr. Smith then resigned his Board of Directors position, and the board appointed him the first Executive Director of the organization.

Ms. Jordan was a licensed pilot and had an extensive background in aviation, starting at age 18 working as the office manager for a small commuter airline at SeaTac airport. She also worked in flight operations dispatch and was an air traffic control trainee. At the time she joined the Foundation’s board she was chair of the Arlington Airport Commission. Erik Nelson, an active third generation owner and manager of local car dealerships, was an early member of the Snohomish County Public Facilities District Board of Directors. He was an experienced pilot and had built his own aircraft.

Dan Rahkonen, a longtime Edmonds resident, was The Boeing Company’s project manager for the Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour venture. At the time he had held several leadership positions with The Boeing Company, including in the KC-46 Tanker and 767 Military Derivatives programs. He was immediately a strong advocate for the education and exhibit vision shared by Mr. Smith, Ms. Jordan and Mr. Nelson. Also, his contacts and enthusiasm were critical in solidifying The Boeing Company’s early support of the project.

Bill Lewallen, Deputy Airport Director, managed real estate developments at the airfield and served as the Airport’s project manager for the Future of Flight construction. Having pioneered the County’s Narbeck Park wetlands preserve on the east side of Paine Field, he was well attuned to the public value of educational exhibits.

Richard Beckerman, then Museum of Flight Vice President of Operations, brought critically important financial and management insights to the Future of Flight effort.

To fulfill its purpose of providing philanthropic support to the Future of Flight project, as well as to cover its operating expenses, the new organization needed to raise money. The founding board members made personal contributions to the cause, as did some other local individuals and a few aircraft suppliers. But the first sizable donation came from someone outside of the Snohomish County community, and was greatly aided by a unique scale model of the project.

Barry Smith had met a Boeing marketing person named Jake Schultz, who turned out to be not only an aviation fan but also a skillful model maker. He showed Mr. Smith one of his creations – a small, foldout mountain forest scene with an HO scale train, which fit into an attaché case. Mr. Schultz volunteered to build a similar depiction of the Future of Flight concept that Mr. Smith could use in his efforts to attract additional support for the project, including donations. After visiting the project site with Mr. Smith, Mr. Schultz requested a helicopter for a half-hour ride over Paine Field. With the help of Airport Director Dave Waggoner, Mr. Smith arranged this, and Mr. Schultz – strapped into a safety harness – leaned out of the helicopter a couple hundred feet above the site and took multiple photographs of the panorama from Mt. Baker in the north, across Paine Field, and to Mt. Rainier in the south. He used these pictures to create a three-section backdrop for a scale model of the project.

Fortuitously, Mr. Schultz finished building the 1:500 scale model about the same time that Mr. Smith got a lead on a possible major donor named James C. Ray. Mr. Smith learned that Mr. Ray would be at the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual AirVenture fly-in at Oshkosh, so in late July 2004 he packed up the project model in an artist’s case and headed to Wisconsin. He also took several small metal model airliners of the same scale as the project model, which he could place next to the building on top of silhouettes Mr. Schultz had drawn on the ground.

Mr. Ray was a Pearl Harbor survivor and World War II B-17 pilot who was hand-picked to lead a raid on a key road junction in the days right after the D-Day landings. He later became a successful businessman in several fields of endeavor, and had long generously supported programs to encourage young people to become active in aviation (including becoming pilots) and to educate them in science, technology, engineering, and math.

In one of the big tents set up at the Oshkosh airfield, Mr. Smith met Ralph Bufano of the Museum of Flight, who had Mr. Smith set up the model on a table. It was a big hit. Even the foreign attendees recognized the Boeing plant in the panorama photos, and they thought the Future of Flight and new Boeing Tour project was a great idea. After a few minutes, someone tapped Mr. Smith on the shoulder. It was James Ray. He asked Mr. Smith to bring the model to his hotel, where Mr. Smith set it up again and gave his sales pitch. Mr. Ray abruptly left the room, but returned a few seconds later with actor and aviator Harrison Ford in tow. Mr. Ray repeated the Future of Flight sales pitch to Mr. Ford almost word-for-word.

Mr. Ray later visited Paine Field and toured the Future of Flight site. Convinced of the value of the project, he made the Foundation a very substantial challenge grant. The organization was able to raise the target amount of donations, so it received Mr. Ray’s matching contribution. By January 2005 Mr. Smith “knew our nonprofit was launched for sure.”