Patrons view the 787 exhibit Thursday at the Boeing Future of Flight museum at Paine Field. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Patrons view the 787 exhibit Thursday at the Boeing Future of Flight museum at Paine Field. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Purchase Photo

Boeing Future of Flight at Paine Field reopens — without tours

The Mukilteo aviation center has some new exhibits, but there are no plans to resume the factory tour.

MUKILTEO — The Boeing Future of Flight exhibit and events building that overlooks Paine Field, closed since March due to COVID-19, reopened Thursday.

It immediately drew visitors from across the globe.

Two British Airways 787 pilots ducked into a mockup of the Destiny Module, the International Space Station research lab replica on loan from the Museum of Flight in Seattle.

A Los Angeles couple, Nina Dung and Andrew Hwang, saw the lights were on and took a swing through the main exhibit area.

“We’re on a road trip from Los Angeles,” said Dung, who was captivated by an exhibit that lets visitors design their own virtual airplane. “This is great. It’s an amazing hall.”

The aviation museum reopened a week after Boeing announced the closing of the Everett 787 assembly line. Production of the twin-aisle passenger jet is being consolidated at the company’s plant in South Carolina in 2021.

An older exhibit that features a section of a 787 fuselage, with the words “Changing the Future of Flight” on its exterior, suddenly stuck out like a sore thumb. Inside the cutaway of the fuselage, a time-lapse video of a Dreamliner being assembled on the Everett line played in a continuous loop.

The star of the Future of Flight, the Boeing Factory Tour, which used to draw some 300,000 visitors each year, isn’t scheduled to reopen. There are no immediate plans to resume the tour, Boeing spokesperson Norm Mah said, though he added that that the company is developing a virtual factory tour.

A large portion of the gallery at the revamped Future of Flight is devoted to autonomous aircraft — designs that can carry one to four passengers.

New exhibits include a drone-piloting practice space and a giant circular screen suspended from the ceiling that depicts a simulated flight from Earth to Mars.

Activities for children and adults, including robotic coding and drone-flying workshops, have resumed.

Masks are required, and visitor capacity is limited to 25% of normal, Mah said.

Nina Dung (left) and Andrew Hwang participate in a birds-in-flight simulation Thursday at the Boeing Future of Flight in Mukilteo at Paine Field. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Nina Dung (left) and Andrew Hwang participate in a birds-in-flight simulation Thursday at the Boeing Future of Flight in Mukilteo at Paine Field. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Ticket prices are $12 for adults and $6 for children ages 6 to 15.

A ticket also gives visitors access to the outdoor Sky Deck with its panoramic views of Paine Field, the Everett assembly plant and the North Cascades.

A popular location for plane-spotters, the Sky Deck was free to visitors before Boeing took over in October 2018. A nonprofit, the Institute of Flight, operated the aviation center previously.

Boeing assumed control of the Future of Flight after negotiating a long-term lease with Snohomish County, which owns the building.

Charging to visit the Sky Deck was a disappointment for Brainard Lee, a retired Boeing employee who was outside the center with his wife, Gale, watching airplanes take off and land at Paine Field.

“They should never charge people to go up to the observation deck,” Lee said. “It should be free — it’s a great place to take the kids.”

Boeing spokesman Mah said the deck is closed to non-ticket-holders due to security.

The deck also offers views of the center’s neighbor — the Dreamlifter Operations Center, which includes parking for the enormous freighters.

The Dreamlifter, a modified 747, was specially configured to carry aerospace components, including fuselage sections used in the 787.

With production moving to South Carolina, could the bulbous freighters’ visits be less frequent?

Takeoffs of a fully-loaded, 875,000-pound Dreamlifter are an impressive sight, though the big jet generates noise complaints.

Boeing spokeswoman Jessica Kowal said Dreamlifter operations at Paine Field will continue after the 787 program is consolidated in North Charleston, South Carolina.

“In addition to transporting 787 components, the Dreamlifter supports 767 production by flying the nose section from our supplier Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Kansas, to Paine Field and 767 final assembly at the Everett factory,” Kowal said in an email.

Aki Hiko tries a flight simulator Thursday at the Boeing Future of Flight museum in Mukilteo at Paine Field. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Aki Hiko tries a flight simulator Thursday at the Boeing Future of Flight museum in Mukilteo at Paine Field. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

The Future of Flight and the factory tour have been among Snohomish County’s most popular attractions. Visitors used to ogle the 767, 747, 787 and 777 and 777X assembly lines from walkways high above the factory floor.

But with the 787 line closing next year, and production of the 747 — the airplane that gave birth to the Everett assembly plant in the mid-1960s — ending in two years, the 90-minute tour could be much shorter.

About a dozen orders for the 747 are still on backlog. But once those are completed, a huge amount of space could become available inside the world’s largest building by volume.

Guesses and wild guesses as to what might fill the void are rampant.

Boeing retiree Lee, who called the 787 announcement “a logical business decision,” said the company might use the space to expand military aircraft production.

“We don’t know who built the next generation fighter jet that was unveiled last month,” Lee said of a secretly built U.S. Air Force prototype. “That’s my wild guess.”

Said Boeing spokeswoman Kowal: “We’re evaluating our overall infrastructure across Boeing to optimize our facilities and footprint.”

Boeing Future of Flight hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday through Monday. It’s closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Another Paine Field aircraft center also faces an uncertain future.

The Flying Heritage and Combat Armor Museum at Paine Field has been closed since May due to the the COVID-19 pandemic.

The museum, launched by the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, is a showcase for Allen’s private collection of World War II and Cold War aircraft, tanks, military vehicles, combat armor and peculiarities of war. The Friends of Flying Heritage, the non-profit organization which operates the museum, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“A lot of people are very anxious about that collection and what’s happening with it,” said Randy Malmstrom, a vintage aircraft fan who keeps tabs on the museum.

Janice Podsada; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3097: Twitter: JanicePods

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

The Boeing factory at Paine Field in Everett. (Boeing Co.)
Could Everett become Boeing’s next jetliner headquarters?

The company is considering selling the Commercial Airplanes division offices at Longacres in Renton.

FILE - An American Airlines Boeing 737-823 lands at Miami International Airport, Monday, July 27, 2020, in Miami.American Airlines said Tuesday, Aug. 25 that it will furlough or lay off 19,000 employees in October as it struggles with a sharp downturn in travel because of the pandemic. Flight attendants will bear the heaviest cuts, with 8,100 losing their jobs.  (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
American plans flights with Boeing 737 Max by year-end

Customers can see on American’s website the type of plane for any flight if they know where to click.

Patrick Ky, executive director of the European Aviation Safety Agency, in Amsterdam on Nov. 27, 2018. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Yuriko Nakao.
Boeing Max judged safe to fly by Europe’s aviation regulator

A synthetic sensor to aid pilots when the mechanical angle-of-attack sensors fail is still two years out.

Cop turned pinup model in Gold Bar charged with $67K fraud

Brenda Cavoretto was injured when a dead body fell on her in 2012. She’s accused of overselling its lasting impact.

Washington unemployment rate drops to 7.8%

Most job growth occurred in leisure and hospitality, construction and other services.

Premera Blue Cross will eliminate hundreds of jobs as it seeks to cut costs sparked by the current economic downturn. (Submitted photo)
Mountlake Terrace-based health insurer Premera cuts 285 jobs

The layoff at Premera Blue Cross, prompted by the economic downturn, represents about 8.3% of its workforce.

FILE - In this Feb. 8, 2018, file photo, the logo for Twitter is displayed above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.  Twitter is imposing new rules, Friday, Oct. 9, 2020,  ahead of the U.S. presidential election, prohibiting people,  including candidates, from claiming an election win before it is called by either state election officials or two authoritative, national news outlets. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
Twitter to pay $100,000 over Washington campaign violations

The company failed to maintain records related to ads that ran from 2012 through 2019.

FILE  - In this Sept. 30, 2020, file photo, a Boeing 737 MAX jet, piloted by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Steve Dickson, prepares to land at Boeing Field following a test flight in Seattle. Boeing says the pandemic will reduce demand for new planes for the next decade, long after experts expect a vaccine for COVID-19. The company updated its forecast of the airplane market on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020. It remains upbeat about long-term prospects driven by increasing air travel in Asia. Boeing, which along with Europe’s Airbus dominates the aircraft-building industry, has seen orders and deliveries of new planes crumble this year. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Boeing’s struggles continue: No jetliner sales in September

The company has suffered 448 cancellations for the Max and dropped another 602 orders from its backlog.

Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice-President of the EU Commission, speaks at a press conference in Berlin, Germany, following the informal talks of the EU Trade Ministers on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020.  (Bernd von Jutrczenka/Pool via AP)
Rule: EU can impose $4 billion in tariffs over Boeing support

Tax breaks for Boeing from Washington state were deemed to have unfairly harmed certain Airbus jets.

Kellie Shanahan loads Jacob McGovern's vehicle with his class tool bag at Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood on October 1, 2020.  (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
How do you teach auto shop remotely? Edmonds class finds out

For some local high school students, auto shop is the thing that keeps them from dropping out.

Newly certified teacher Shana Brown assists a student with a Zoom meeting, while overseeing a class of seven students, in the former warehouse space at Malicious Women Candles on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020 in Snohomish, Washington. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
For some Snohomish County kids, a warehouse is a schoolhouse

Employers made space for students to attend virtual classes on-site. But at least one learning pod had to shut down.

FILE - In this  July 8, 2009, file photo, a worker dries a car at Seattle's famous Elephant car wash, near the Space Needle in Seattle. Seattle's iconic pink elephant sign soon will have a new home. The Seattle Times reports the Elephant Car Wash on Battery Street near Denny Way will close permanently, the company announced in a news release Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Seattle’s Elephant Car Wash to shutter, pink sign to be saved

Rumors have swirled surrounding a demolition permit for the site was filed Oct. 7.