Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum

Evergreen is in McMinnville, Oregon – between Portland and Salem. (For aviation fans: 70 miles from Evergreen is the Tillamook Air Museumread more about it.)

Exhibits

Evergreen is a big Air and Space museum. When you arrive, you’ll see two 747’s on the roof and fighter jets by the parking lot. Overall, they  display almost 100 aviation and space vehicles, preserve over 13,000 small objects, and care for ~ 5,000 books, periodicals, and technical manuals. This Wikipedia article on Evergreen lists many of the key holdings. Here is a view from the balcony of part of the collection.

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The biggest attraction here (quite literally) is the Hughes H-4 Hercules, aka the Spruce Goose. During World War II, the War Department needed to transport huge amounts of cargo and personnel to Europe, but German U-Boats made travel on the Atlantic risky. They conceived of a flying cargo ship, made of wood (due to wartime shortages of aluminum) that would carry 150,000 pounds. The aircraft was not completed until 1947, when it was no longer needed by the government. It was flown only once, for 26 seconds, just to prove it was flight-worthy. It has been on display in McMinnville since 2001. It is a huge plane – the wingspan is 320 feet – 98 meters.

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Here’s what the flight looked like in reality AND in the 2004 film the Aviator.

Visitors to the museum can walk around outside and peek into cargo area. You can pay extra for a 15 minute tour including cockpit, or for a 45 minute tour. You can find a 360 video of the cockpit here.

Space Exhibits

In the Space part of the museum, you’ll find a 103 foot tall Titan space launch vehicle, an X-38 experimental re-entry vehicle, a Foton 6 space capsule, and several replicas of Apollo-era landers and modules. Interpretive signs cover each mission of Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and beyond.

If you are an aviation and space buff, there will be plenty at this museum to keep you interested for hours.

Activities for Kids

My dad spent his career as a flight engineer, and is a big science fiction geek, so needless to say, I went to a lot of air and space museums growing up. And my husband and I are also interested, so we have taken our kids to several. I have always found that the amount of time that adult science geeks (like dad and my husband) want to spend looking at historic vehicles and at interpretive signs is a lot more time than a kid wants to spend looking at them. So, let’s look at a few of the kid focused options.

Just inside the museum entrance is a kid zone. They’ve got lots of brain teasers and riddles.

 

They have multiple flight simulators. And some hands-on activities. They have an infrared camera.

 

They had, if I remember right, some helicopter thing for kids to sit in. I liked this exhibit where you could de-pressurize it and it was easy to lift the plate, or use vacuum to pressurize it and see how strong that was.

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And this one, where you could learn about lift. The fan blew air down and at first when you tried to lift the plate, the air pushed it down, till you raised it up higher, then the air sucked the plate upward.

The Bernoulli exhibit looked doable, but for some reason had a wooden plate over the fan area instead of the beach ball you need to do the activity.  And in this tube, it said “when you turn the tube over the material in it falls to the bottom” – but the only material in the tube was a blue feather, which was stuck to one end and didn’t fall.

There were additional kid activities in the space building. There was a pretend lunar command module where kids could press buttons and hear responses. There was a flight simulator – I can’t remember exactly what it was – I think it was a spacecraft attempting to dock with another spacecraft. One side was broken. The other was working but was very difficult and frustrating. (My 8 year old is autistic and had a bit of a meltdown over this.) There was a fighter jet cockpit you could climb into.

There was a carnival style / kiddie amusement park biplane ride by the door of the space museum that has a small extra fee. I had promised my son that if he could behave well in the museum that he could ride on this at the end of our time there. Unfortunately, I forgot that the ride closed 15 minutes before the museum closed! When I realized it, I expected a giant meltdown – autistic kids find changes in plans especially challenging – but luckily he handled it well – but you may want to be careful to plan ahead.

Outside, there was a great air and space themed playground.

Overall, I don’t think I would go to this museum just to bring a child there – there are better kid-friendly museums in Salem and Portland. However, if an adult in your family wants to go, there’s enough to engage a kid here for a couple hours. Plus, it’s worth noting the movie options (see below) and the fact that next door is the Wings and Waves Waterpark. It was once affiliated with the museum, but no longer is. But they apparently have entertaining aviation themed decor and the showcase is two waterslides that come out the exit doors on the 747 parked on their roof.

Movies

There is an IMAX movie theater which shows several aviation history themed movies during the day and other science films after hours.

Financial troubles

This museum was started by Delford Smith, the founder of Evergreen International Aviation. It opened in 1991 with a small collection of vintage planes, then in 1992 won the opportunity to build a new home for the Spruce Goose. The museum opened in 2001. Evergreen Aviation went bankrupt in 2014, the museum filed for bankruptcy in 2016. The buildings were purchased by the Falls Creek Event Center and leased to the museum. Falls Creek has now gone bankrupt and the buildings are for sale. Reviews say that they have had to sell a number of WWI and WWII planes.

You will see that some exhibits at the museum are in dire need of repair or updating (like the materials that say the shuttle program is “scheduled to end in 2011”.) I confess to being a little worried about the long term prospects for this museum.

Logistics

Admission Fees

Compared to other science museums and children’s museums, this place is pricey. In August 2019, it’s $27 for adults, $24 for seniors, $19 for kids age 5 – 16. (check their website for current info on fees and hours). They do participate in the ASTC passport program, so you may be able to get in free if you have a membership to a science museum in your hometown. Active military and their families get in free! They offer veteran’s discounts and AAA Discounts. Here’s the thing… this is a great museum that is struggling financially. Your admission fee helps them stay open! It’s not just paying for your experience on the day you attend, but also helping to preserve this resource.

Helpful to know:

The museum is mostly staffed by older gentlemen who I am guessing are former military and commercial aviators or otherwise retired from work in the field. I didn’t interact with them much, but they appeared to be very friendly and extremely knowledgeable.

We arrived two hours before closing time, and had seen much, but not all of the museum in the two hours we had. The museum has recommendations here on what exhibits would be priorities whether you had 3 hours  or a full day or were visiting with kids.

More than most museums we’ve been to, this one had plenty of places to sit and rest. And the best part was that they were all rows of seats from old airplanes!

There is a cafe, which is said to be good. We didn’t eat there because we’d just had a great lunch at The Diner nearby. The gift shop was large and stocked with lots of great items.

More STEM Destinations

We visited ScienceWorks as part of our “Road Trip of Science.” You can learn more about other science and engineering related museums we’ve visited in the Destinations section of this blog.

 

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