Hub for aviation enthusiaists envisioned for Paine Field

EVERETT — A WWII-era hangar with a nostalgically curved roof sits disassembled in storage near Moses Lake, since aircraft collector John Sessions saved it from the scrap yard about a year ago.

The Quonset hut-style building once served as a base for fighter planes that guarded part of the Manhattan Project at what would become the Hanford Nuclear site.

The historic structure might, some day, help fulfill an entirely different mission at Paine Field: guarding aviation history.

That’s if a vision Sessions pitched to Snohomish County leaders last month takes flight. His idea would create a 12-acre campus at Paine Field for studying and restoring vintage planes.

The County Council agreed not to commit the land to other uses for up to six months to see whether the proposal will fly.

“We thought about it for several months,” Sessions said. “We think the timing is right to do the study and see what we can create.”

Sessions hopes to have a business plan well before the time is up.

What he’s proposing is similar in feel, but smaller in scale, to Duxford, England. Museums and aircraft restoration centers make the airfield near Cambridge a magnet for aeronautic buffs from around the world.

For those interested in learning about airplanes, Paine Field already figures prominently.

The Future of Flight Aviation Center &Boeing Tour reported 247,568 visitors in 2013. There’s also Paul Allen’s Flying Heritage Collection plus the Museum of Flight Restoration Center. And there’s the Historic Flight Foundation, a modest museum Sessions established in 2003, that includes vintage fighters, such as a P-51 Mustang and Supermarine Spitfire.

Most serious restoration work on Historic Flight Foundation’s aircraft is done off site.

“Between John Sessions’ collection, Paul Allen’s collection, the Future Flight and The Boeing Tour, if you like aviation, this is the best place on the planet,” said Peter Camp, an executive director who helps Executive John Lovick’s administration manage the airport.

The examination of Session’s proposal is just beginning.

“There are a lot of issues here we have to sort through,” Camp said. “We actually have to look at how it will work, how will it affect money, how will it affect operations, and is it even something we can do under FAA regulations.”

The proposal would take shape around Kilo 6, a taxiway in the southwest portion of Paine Field that runs at a 45-degree angle to the main runway. The land sits about a mile and a half south of the Future of Flight, with views the Cascade Range and the Olympic Mountains.

An 80-acre property to the north is eyed as a future Boeing Co. manufacturing site.

Kilo 6 has been mostly vacant in recent years, except for a brief stint as a parking lot for new 787 jetliners. It sees some activity during aircraft festivals.

During and right after World War II, however, the area was used to store bombers.

“After the Korean War, it has had little use,” Paine Field director Dave Waggoner said.

The airport’s master plan designates Kilo 6 for general aviation hangars.

Sessions’ proposal might involve the county deeding the land to a public authority with its own governing board. That’s only one possibility, though.

Paying for the project presents other questions.

The Federation Aviation Administration would need to sign off on any plans, including handing over the property.

“It would surprise most people how much airports like Paine Field are regulated by the FAA as part of the national air-transportation system,” Camp said.

The agency has complex requirements governing the use of airport property.

“Obviously, we can’t undermine the relationship of the airport with the FAA,” said Sessions, who noted that the agency has allowed history facilities at other U.S. airports.

Paine Field’s main obligations are to the Boeing Co., other aerospace manufacturers and to general aviation.

“Those are our top three priorities,” Camp said.

The FAA can’t say much about Sessions’ idea until it receives formal plans, according to Allen Kenitzer, a Renton-based spokesman for the agency.

Sessions’ initial concept would include up to five buildings averaging about 28,000 square feet each.

As it stands, Historic Flight is outgrowing its 18,000-square-foot space, next to the proposed campus, where up to 13 aircraft are displayed at a time.

Historic Flight specializes in aircraft from 1927 to 1957.

“We feel it’s perhaps the most interesting period so far in aviation,” Sessions said. “Mankind evolved from the rag-and-wood biplane to the Boeing 707.”

A future campus would try to conjure up that period, though covenants and other architectural restrictions.

“You don’t want to present the history of aviation in a cinder-block building that looks like Soviet architecture,” Sessions said.

In his vision, other institutions could focus on different periods. He said he’s in contact with aircraft collectors from around the world about Paine Field, but said it’s too early to discuss names.

County documents refer to the proposed facility as “Aviation Heritage Air Park.” That won’t be the permanent name.

“Eventually we’ll need to have a name for it,” Sessions said.

They’ve brainstormed ideas incorporating the word “aerodrome” and have gotten suggestions about a naming contest.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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