RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME by Barry Smith
My earliest memories always involved wheeled and winged machines. Here in 1948 on our small farm in rural Snohomish County I am the very proud owner of my first wagon.
On that same farm my father had built a scarecrow and dressed it in his old WWII Royal Canadian Air Force uniform. As I endlessly dragged that wagon around it I became fascinated that he’d gone way beyond wagons to actually build things that flew and flew in them.In the early 1960’s our family lived in the then rural area west of and below Paine Field. The only high school around was in Everett and each school day I had to commute past a small hill in the northwest corner of the then Paine Field Air Force Base and County Airport. On weekends when I heard air activity, I found myself drawn back to the grassy highest vantage point on that small hill to watch the take-off and landing action.
In those pre-Boeing days there were plenty of Pipers and Cessnas, as well as the occasional World War II P-51’s and the incredibly loud USAF alert jets, the delta-winged F-102’s & 106’s, using the skies around Paine.
Years later I often thought about how that hill would be the perfect place for an aviation attraction of some sort. It was in a beautiful natural setting, with panoramic views of the mountains, islands and Puget Sound. Paine was a vital working general aviation airport, and by the late ‘60’s had become home to Boeing Company manufacturing facilities and the popular Boeing Tour. An aviation exhibit and education center tied to the Boeing Tour would be a unique international attraction and a valuable education resource.
As time went on I remained very interested in aviation. I worked in the banking and estate planning fields, and some of my clients had airplane collections. I volunteered at Seattle’s Museum of Flight doing development work. I travelled internationally a fair amount and often visited aircraft museums, still having the thought that Paine Field would be a terrific site for an educational aviation center.
In 2001 I had a conversation with Travis Snider, the chairman of the new Snohomish County Public Facilities District. The District had been created to use a small portion of sales tax revenue to fund new public facilities such as convention centers and sports arenas. I wondered out loud with him about the feasibility of using that funding mechanism to also create an aviation-oriented interpretive center at Paine Field connected to a new, relocated Boeing Company factory tour. Travis liked the idea and told me I was now the unofficial chair of a committee to see if such a project could really work.
Four years later – after much hard work by many generous, insightful individuals, great help from the Museum of Flight, substantial commitments from Snohomish County officials and critical support from Boeing, the Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour opened on that hill in the northwest corner of Paine Field.