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Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum: At Home in the Clouds

posted Mar 7, 2014, 1:14 PM by Wendy Cunningham   [ updated Mar 13, 2014, 10:33 AM ]

Throughout history there have been a handful of men and women who have not accepted the pull of gravity as a limitation. What begins as awe and wonder as a child ponders how birds can soar high above the treetops, transforms as feathers become canvas, and then metal; treetops become clouds, then space.  Someone once said, “To most people, the sky is the limit. To those who love aviation, the sky is home.” Thanks to the vision of the late Captain Michael King Smith and his co-founder and Father, Mr. Delford Smith, the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum brings the beasts that fill the sky back down to solid ground.

Tucked comfortably in the middle of Pacific Northwest wine country, the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum and Captain Michael King Smith Educational Institute is just over three miles southeast of McMinnville, Oregon. An experience for all ages intending to inspire and educate, as well as promote and preserve aviation and space history, Evergreen is home to more than 150 historic aircraft and exhibits.  Get up close and personal with the SR-71 Blackbird, explore the Titan II Missile from inside her silo, and get a first hand glimpse from inside a fully restored B-17 Flying Fortress. The star of the show, however, is undoubtedly Howard Hughes’ aviation icon, the Spruce Goose. 

 

Designated H-4 by Hughes (not only did he despise the nickname Spruce Goose, but the Flying Boat is actually constructed of mostly birch with very little spruce) the wooden giant is the world’s largest airplane ever constructed, yet has only flown once.  What she lacked in airtime, she made up for in pure ingenuity as Hughes’ expertise was highly sought after during World War II, all the while his “Wooden Wonder” remained flight ready but out of the public eye. After Hughes’ death in 1976 she was set to be dismantled, a relic of aviation history, but it seems that just wasn’t how her story was to end.

She spent several years on display in Long Beach, Calf. and in 1992 Captain and Mr. Smith saw to it that the Spruce Goose was given a proper and permanent home. It took nearly 10 years to disassemble, move, and reassemble but it was well worth the wait, as the Spruce Goose and her impressive 320-foot wingspan is now the centerpiece of Evergreen’s Museum.

Also impressive and easily missed is the Captain Michael King Smith Firearms Collection situated on the mezzanine overlooking the Spruce Goose.  A relatively new exhibit at only four years young, Evergreen collaborated closely with the NRA’s National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Va. to guarantee the utmost in historical accuracy and breadth.  The Collection is a thorough capture of the role firearms play in every era of American history.  With 18 cases and seven to-scale dioramas there is something for everyone.  The history buff can reflect upon Roosevelt’s Rough Riders’ raid at San Juan Hill, or perhaps a World War II paratrooper’s decent into Europe, while the avid hunter can appreciate the father and son sport-hunting scene complete with pheasant and dog.  Furthermore, every major United Sates battle rifle is accounted for. Be it the German Mauser – the precursor to Springfield’s M1903, the stalwart M1 Garand, the persistent M14 or the short-barreled carbine Colt Commando foreshadowing today’s selective-fire M-4, they have it covered. Equally represented are pistols and machine guns.  Scanning the cases you’ll see more than battle rifles lie beneath the glass; the hefty semi-automatic Desert Eagle shines brightly in comparison to the battle worn Webley Mark VI.   But don’t let the Webley’s rough exterior fool you.   What just may be the first repeating revolver introduced into the British forces (the Mark VI variant introduced in 1915) proves among the most powerful top-break revolvers produced to this day. Equally as impressive and perhaps even more intriguing is the Lewis Machinegun.  Manufactured by the Savage Arms Company, this light machine gun is easily identifiable by its top-mounted drum-pan magazine and although made in the good ‘ole USA, the Lewis Gun saw service in Belgium and the United Kingdom before being adopted by the US Navy and Marines.  Appropriately enough the Lewis Gun also has the distinction of being the first machine gun ever fired from an aircraft; what soon becomes a tactical necessity, began in June of 1912 on a Wright Model B Flyer.

If the wife and kids have seen enough heavy metal for the day, do not fear.  While you catch one of several IMAX movies at the Evergreen Theater, let the misses meander through the Evergreen Farm Store for some wine tasting and gourmet treats.  If a larger hunger needs satisfying, try the Liberty Belle or Cosmo Café. Let the kids burn a hole in your pocket in one of two substantial gift shops before wearing them out at the Wings & Waves Waterpark.

Not to be overlooked are the countless volunteers, many of them veterans, each adding to the mystique of the museum and if given the opportunity are more than happy to share their personal accounts of the evolution of aviation in their lifetime, some spanning nearly a century.  Executive Director Larry Wood professes, “I consider our volunteers to be the ‘Heart and Soul’ of the museum. Air museums are usually artifact based so the things on display are ‘just things’. Our volunteers make the artifacts come alive by telling their stories of what the airplanes really mean. Some of them have experienced the aircraft – those stories give another silver airplane a real life meaning in the context of those who operated, maintained, and built it. Our “things” become living through those stories. That’s why I come to work every day.”

Needless to say, Evergreen is well on its way to becoming a destination. With a Boy Scout park on the back forty and a chapel and hotel in the works, it seems the legacy of Captain Michael King Smith truly lives on and that Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum is without question the tangible result of one man’s dream and a father’s commitment to see that dream through.

Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum is open daily 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.  The Evergreen Wings & Waves Waterpark hours vary seasonally.  For admission information as well as current events and exhibits, please visit www.evergreenmuseum.org.


Published in Recoil Magazine, Issue 8


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