EVERETT — Crowds of people squinted into the cloudless sky above Paine Field and waited for the rumble of planes.
Joe Kunzler, 35, lives for air shows. He travels by bus along the I-5 corridor in search of them. Nearly every weekend between May and September, he takes pictures at events somewhere between the Canadian border and northern Oregon.
“My heart always races when I see the Skyraider fly,” Kunzler said.
The A-1 Skyraider was on display Saturday at Paine Field for the 10th annual Vintage Aircraft Weekend. The imposing plane was built in the early 1950s. People craned their necks looking up at the propeller. Mock guns, bombs and other weapons lined the bottom of both wings.
The Skyraider was one of dozens of planes available for viewing. A few adventure-seekers signed up for a ride.
The Snohomish County airport showcases the past, present and future of flying. For the uninitiated, its aeronautical gems can be easy to miss.
Museums and other attractions are scattered throughout more than 1,200 acres at the Paine Field campus. There’s little in the way of road signs to help people find their way.
A few drivers appeared lost on their way to the Historic Flight Foundation, the host of the airshow. Cars took a turn that led to the wrong end of the airport.
When they reached their destination, they were greeted with music from the Andrews Sisters and a runway lined with planes.
A P-51 Mustang on display, a plane known for its speed and ability to reach high altitudes, had the name of William “Bill” Anders stenciled on the cockpit canopy. He’s a former Air Force fighter pilot and Apollo 8 astronaut who circled the moon in 1968.
His son, Greg Anders, attended the airshow Saturday in the decorated Air Force uniform of a retired lieutenant colonel. He served 23 years.
Greg Anders now flies the plane.
“Everyone knows that plane more for my dad than for me, and that’s pretty cool,” Greg Anders said.
Now, he helps his father run the family business, a flight museum in Burlington. The Heritage Flight Museum, at the Skagit Regional Airport, highlights the history of military flight.
Snohomish County is working to promote hidden gems, such as the airshow, at Paine Field.
“Even some of the people who work at Paine Field or who live in the area aren’t aware of what they have there,” said Annique Bennett, Snohomish County’s strategic tourism plan coordinator. “We want them to be aware … It really is quite remarkable what we have.”
To point people in the right direction, the county has hired a company to draft four design concepts for sign schemes at the airport. Each features different shapes, colors and themes. The county is asking people complete a survey to choose which one they like best.
A final decision is expected by the end of the year, with plans for a formal presentation to the County Council, Bennett said. Representatives from the cities of Everett and Mukilteo, as well as the airport attractions, are part of the steering committee making decisions on the project.
The county is paying Tangram Design of Denver $50,000 to draft the concepts and what it would take to make them reality. Money for the project comes from a county lodging tax that’s used to support tourism.
The Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour are the most popular tourist attraction in Snohomish County. The tour gives visitors a peek inside the world’s largest building by volume, which houses assembly lines for the 787, 777 and 747 jetliners. It drew more than 500,000 people last year.
“That’s what we’re known for,” Bennett said. “The Future of Flight is the front door and the back door of the tour.”
Future of Flight and the tour are on the north end of the airport.
The Museum of Flight houses its Restoration Center and Reserve Collection in the central part of the airport, near Paine Field’s administrative offices.
“Each of the attractions, except for the Museum of Flight Restoration Center, do currently have signage, but they’re not cohesive,” Bennett said. “They don’t indicate to the visitor that they’re part of a larger set of attractions.”
There’s more than airplanes and military hardware.
In May, a Redmond company opened a rope and zipline course at Paine Field Community Park, at the southernmost tip of the airport. It’s called High Trek Adventures at Paine Field.
Historic Flight founder John Sessions dreamed of creating an historic aviation hub at Paine Field to rival any in the world. In 2015, the County Council turned down Sessions’ idea, which required providing airport land that county officials favored leasing to industrial tenants.
More out-of-towners soon could set foot at the airport. Alaska and United Airlines are expected to start to flying a combined 15 flights per day sometime in 2018 from a small passenger terminal that’s now under construction.
Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; email@example.com