Flying Boat and Flying Fortress

We left Ashland mid morning and followed recommendations from friends and parents to stop for lunch at the Seven Feathers Casino on I-5. The parking lot was big and the buffet more appealing than the truck stop or fast food we usually eat on travel days (whatever parking lot is bigger). We were too early for the buffet but, with free casino players cards, we could each get 3 tacos for $1.99 and $5 in free slot play.  The tacos were fine but we were totally befuddled trying to make the slot machines work!   We eventually learned you have to put in  $1  to get the free slots started!  After about 10 minutes Randy had $8.70 and I had  $0.20  to cash in.  It was a bargain lunch!

We  settled in for an easy trip north on I-5, crossing to Highway 99 into McMinnville. It seemed like an easy route and neither of us double checked the GPS until we ended up at a ferry crossing – at least there was a place to turn around!

We had to backtrack east, go north, and then south.  We arrived an hour after we should have. We usually travel with a map in my lap –  the learning experience was that now we will ALWAYS travel with a map in my lap.

Why are we in McMinnville? The Spruce Goose is here – along with many other flying machines! We have driven by the Evergreen Aviation Museum a few times but felt this needed to be a dedicated stop. We have spent two days totally dedicated to the museum.


Our independent RV park is connected by a walkway to the large museum campus. Being so close meant that each day, when I had had enough of flying machines, I walked home and Randy stayed until they closed.


The dreaded Soviet MIG doesn’t seem quite so scary here.

There are a number of aircraft outdoors where we walked with Elko after hours.  This USA C-9 was in service from 1975 – 2011 to transport vice presidents and other high level personnel for presidential administrations from Ford to Obama.


Of course, the celebrity flying machine is Howard Hughes’ Flying Boat – The Spruce Goose – too big to fit in one picture.



The picture below shows part of the cargo section.


This, the largest flying machine ever made, was developed as a transport vessel for men and materials during WWII.  It was intended to fly over German submarine infested waters where they made shipping dangerous. Eighteen million federal dollars given to the project included a mandate that no rationed materials (metals) be used. Nor could personnel already being utilized in the war effort be involved with building the vessel. Hughes developed his own engineers and brought in furniture makers from North Carolina to work with the wood, his chosen building material.  Hughes put in $7,000,000 of his own money and managed every minute detail of construction.

The name the Spruce Goose was detested by Howard Hughes and isn’t even accurate.  His Flying Boat was made mostly of birch, layered together and glued. Seven tons of small nails were used during construction and then taken out when the glue had set. The glue seams are stronger than the wood.


The Flying Boat was completed in 1947 and flew only one time, in a surprise demonstration with Howard Hughes as pilot. It flew a little over a mile at the height of 70 feet. After Hughes’ death, the Flying Boat had several owners (including Walt Disney), eventually coming to the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville. To get here the flying boat was taken apart and shipped by barge in still large, but manageable components. After arriving in McMinnville in 1993, it was reassembled and made available for viewing in 2001.



The wingspan of the Flying Boat is longer than a football field and the tail is as tall as an eight story building. Hundreds of beach balls were used to fill empty spaces in the hull and floats to assist with buoyancy. Instead of wing walking on the wings, men could walk in the wings.

The hangar holding Hughes’ Flying Boat is massive and holds many other flying machines as well. Imagine our surprise when one of the first planes we looked at was donated to the museum by someone we know!


This Quickie 2 was built, flown and donated by Greg Kelsay and Amos Garrison from Boise. We know Greg but didn’t know about this plane.


We were able to go inside a B-17 ”Flying Fortress” and learn about the 10 men crews. The phrase “the full nine yards” harkens back to the 9 yard lengths of shells for gunners on B-17s.   Randy posed as a waist gunner.

Over the course of WWII, 33 percent of B-17s failed to return from their bombing runs. We learned about the crew of the Memphis Belle who beat the odds and returned from 25 bombing runs – and met the threshold for going home.  We watched the 1944 government documentary on the Memphis Belle one night, and the 1990 Hollywood version the next.


We also learned about Lt. Charlie Brown who piloted the severely  damaged Flying Fortress “Ye Olde Pub” as it limped back to base after a bombing run with an injured crew. The B-17 encountered a Messerschmidt bf-109 and miraculously, the German pilot did not finish them off, but only escorted them out of German airspace. The two pilots met 45 years later and became good friends. “A Higher Call” by Adam Makos is based on this event and I already have the audiobook ready for our next long travel day (Vancouver to Boise next Friday).


Did you think early pilots wore the goggles and white scarves just to look handsome to the ladies? Not so. Castor oil was the lubricant used in early airplanes and pilots needed to keep their eyes and nose clear of the spray. Infusing castor oil spray was bad news when you couldn’t get to a bathroom easily.

There are so many airplanes and so many stories and all this was just part of one of the buildings!  There is an IMAX theater showing three movies. (I saw two films and Randy saw all three.) There is an Air and Space Building which took a another whole day to explore!

This display shows Soviet Union and US space program timelines right across from each other.  You can see the successes, setbacks and competing goals which eventually merged into cooperation.


We learned about  Wernher von Braun, the Rocket Man. Interested in space as a young man, Von Braun’s V-2 Rocket technology was used in the first ballistic missiles for Nazi Germany.  At the end of the war he surrendered to US soldiers and eventually worked for the US Space Program. His Titan and Saturn rockets sent satellites, astronauts and Space Lab into space.

There are many other space exhibits including simulators that let you try to land the space shuttle Discovery and the Apollo Lunar Module!

One building we did not explore was Evergreen Wings and Waves – a water park where you get to slide right out of the plane!  Maybe next time…


About Serene

Former full time RVers, transitioned to homeowners and travelers. We've still got a map to finish! Home is the Phoenix area desert and a small cabin in the White Mountains of Arizona.
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7 Responses to Flying Boat and Flying Fortress

  1. Ann shadiow says:

    Guy and I spent a lot of time there in 2003. I am sure there has been changes, but the spruce goose was a highlight!

  2. Ann shadiow says:

    Guys father sat in the belly of the B-17 as a gunner in the ball turret. He flew 27 missions and prior to coming home from the war, their B-17 ditched in the English Channel.

    • Serene says:

      Wow, interesting! The magic number of 25 missions must have been negotiable depending on the period of the war. What a blessing he survived it all. We saw the ball turrets – very small, scary and uncomfortable looking. We heard that the smallest guy on the crew got that job.

  3. Mark McClelland says:

    I had a chance to try a machine gun turret in a B-17. Turns out that I am WAY too big to fit. It was politely explained that airman were “more compact” 75 years ago!!

  4. judithkranz says:

    You made a difference! —— I already have an Oregon trip planned for mid-June and now I’ve added something to the agenda; a visit to the Evergreen Aviation Museum. Didn’t even think of it until seeing your report. I love that stuff and can’t wait! Happy Easter — He has risen!…

    Steve and Judy

    • Serene says:

      He is risen indeed!

      So glad to have been of help. I’m sure you will enjoy Evergreen. You may want to consider their Basic Membership. We paid $75 and that was less than paying admissions for two of us for two days. Plus you get other perks like free admission to 300 other museums. It might be worth it even if you were just one day at Evergreen. Info is on Evergreen site.

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