Spruce Goose

California’s role in aviation history? A quiz.

Here’s an aviation history quiz:

What do the first major U.S. airshow, the first and only flight of the Spruce Goose and SpaceX have in common?

Hughes H-4 Hercules (“Spruce Goose”) model. Courtesy SFO Museum


This nice timeline created by Air New Zealand lays out some notable events, people and aviation products from the Golden State.

Not in the timeline?  The first airport hotel, opened at Oakland International Airport in 1929. See my story about hotel and other at-the-airport inns in my “At the Airport” column on USA TODAY.

In the meantime, here’s ANZ’s timline of California Aviation.

Bye-Bye Spruce Goose?

Spruce Goose from outside

If you want to get an up close look at the Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose – or play for a day in a water park built with a Boeing 747 on the roof – now might be a good time to make those plans.

The Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum – and Wings and Wave Water Park – may be sold on November 30 in a foreclosure auction in Oregon.

Spruce Goose and others inside the museum

The museum is hoping to delay the sale and has posted this notice on its website:

“We have been notified that our landlord, the Michael King Smith Education Foundation, has received a writ of execution on the sale of both the Space Museum and Wings & Waves Waterpark. The Foundation is a separate entity that owns buildings on the Museum Campus including the Space building, chapel and the Evergreen Wings & Waves Waterpark.

The Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum is an independent non-profit organization. Museum Management is actively working on solutions to address this situation with the landlord. Visitor count at both the Museum and Waterpark is strong, and the Museum is profitable. We will continue to operate as usual and look forward to welcoming our guests.”

(Photos courtesy of the museum)

New worries over fate of the Spruce Goose

Spruce Goose from outside

Spruce Goose as seen from outside the museum – Courtesy Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum


In McMinnville, Ore., the financial troubles of a private aviation services company are causing big headaches for the museum that is home to Howard Hughes’ H-4 Hercules, the flying boat better known as the Spruce Goose.

On Dec. 31, Evergreen International Airlines, a subsidiary of troubled Evergreen International Aviation, filed a petition for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The possible demise of the cargo carrier has tourists, aviation buffs and many in the museum world concerned about the fate of the affiliated Evergreen Air & Space Museum.

In Oregon’s wine country, about 40 miles southwest of Portland, the museum welcomes about 150,000 visitors a year. The collection includes everything from a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird to a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.

But the centerpiece of the collection is undoubtedly the original Spruce Goose.

Built primarily of lightweight birch because of World War II restrictions on metals, the airplane has the world’s largest wingspan (320 feet) and made its only flight—of less than a mile—on Nov. 2, 1947, with Hughes himself at the controls. It then was put in storage.

During the 1980s, the craft was displayed under a dome in Long Beach, Calif., next to the Queen Mary cruise ship. Disney briefly managed that money-losing complex. In the early 1990s, however, the Spruce Goose was shipped to Oregon in pieces and reassembled inside a new building at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum.

Although an Oregon Department of Justice investigation is underway into possible inappropriate commingling of company and museum funds, officials at the museum have issued statements reassuring the public that the artifacts, especially the Spruce Goose, are safe; that the museum is an independent, financially stable nonprofit; and that, with its adjacent aviation-themed water park, it remains open for business.

Still, “there has been some confusion,” said Judiaann Woo, director of global communication at Travel Oregon.

“People just hear a bit of the story and think, ‘Oh, that’s closed. Let’s go somewhere else,’ ” she said. “But this is a major attraction that people from all over the world come to see, so we want to make sure the public knows it’s still there.”

Others in the aviation and museum world feel the same way.

Spruce Goose and others inside the museum

Spruce Goose inside the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum. Photo courtesy of the museum.


“This is the museum that stepped up to save the Spruce Goose at a time when one of the possibilities was for it to be cut up and pieces of it sent all over the world,” said James Kidrick, president and CEO of the San Diego Air & Space Museum.

He considers a visit to the Spruce Goose to be “one of those boxes you’d want to check off if you have an interest in science, space, aviation and things that made this nation great,” he said. He hopes the museum does not suffer too much negative fallout from the financial woes of Evergreen International Aviation.

If it does, it won’t be the first—or the last—museum to stumble.

“We do hear of museums having difficulty, and many small museums have closed throughout the years,” said Ford Bell, president of the American Alliance of Museums. “But rarely is it one with a major collection like the one in McMinnville.”

But it does happen. In December, financial problems forced the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Mass., to close after 83 years of operation. It housed one of the world’s important collections of arms and armor.

Most of its treasures are being transferred to the Worcester Art Museum and will remain accessible to the public, but “the concern we have when a museum is in financial trouble is for the collection,” Bell said. “We don’t want collections to disappear and become inaccessible to the public.”

And most communities don’t want a local museum to close its doors.

“Museums are tremendously important economic engines for their communities,” Bell said. “So in the case of the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in Oregon, I would encourage people to go visit it now and hope that they figure out a way to make sure it remains viable.”

(My story about the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior)

Aviation-themed waterpark opens in Oregon

Wings and Waves Waterpark

For Washington Journey Online, I put together a story about the country’s newest and perhaps most unusual waterpark, which opened June 6, 2011 on the grounds of the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.

The museum is best known for being the home of the giant Howard Hughes HK-1 “Spruce Goose,” which made a short, single flight back in November, 1947, as well as a wide variety of spacecraft, helicopters and military, commercial and personal aircraft. An extensive firearms collection, historical artifacts, an IMAX 3D theater and many educational exhibits are also on-site.

So while it may seem strange that an aviation museum would build its own water park, it makes perfect sense that an aviation-themed water park is what got built.

Wings and Waves Waterpark

And the aviation-theme is impossible to miss: the new Wings and Waves Waterpark has as its centerpiece a Boeing 747-100 airplane mounted on the roof of a 60-foot tall building.
Inside the building, there are colorful, scream-inducing slides, a giant wave pool, a water vortex and a multi-level play structure with slides, water guns, spouts and buckets and a helicopter that hovers overhead and occasionally dumps 300 gallons of water on those below. The park even has its own museum: the H2O Museum has more than two dozen interactive exhibits and explains concepts such as Bernoulli’s Principle, the water cycle and jet propulsion.

Wings and Waves water park

Splashdown Harbor, the 91,000 wave pool, sits in the center of the waterpark and offers swimmers eight different wave motions as well as depth charges and bubblers. A 20-foot wide high-resolution video screen by the pool is slated to show everything from NASA splashdown videos to feature films during the park’s planned “Dive-in” movies events.

And, then, of course, there are the rides. The park has 10 water slides, with four main slides coming directly out of the belly of the rooftop airplane. The yellow Sonic Boom slide, with its open top, is designed for novice riders. The green Nose Dive is just that: a two-person inner-tube ride that starts with a big drop and winds its way to the pool. The fully-enclosed blue Tail Spin speeds riders through a series of tight, figure-eight, high banking curves. And then there’s the Mach 1: described as a “test your mettle ride,” this high-speed, enclosed-body slide requires riders to descend 60 vertical feet on their backs, with their arms and legs crossed.

Sound like fun? Here are the details:

The Evergreen Wings and Waves Waterpark sits just west of the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, which is 3.5 miles southeast of McMinnville, Oregon, on Highway 18. It’s about an hour from Portland and 40 minutes from Salem.

Aviation-themed waterpark lands in Oregon

Aviation themed water park

The country’s newest water park opened Monday, June 6, 2011 in an unlikely spot: the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon.

The museum is well-known for being the current home of Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose, the largest airplane ever built, but it’s claim to fame may change a bit now that the Wings & Waves Waterpark is sending squealing visitors down four giant slides that start inside a Boeing 747 mounted on the roof of a 60-foot-tall building.

“To get kids’ attention these days you need to more interactive. It’s all ‘Been there; done that; got the T-shirt.’ So we built an aviation and water museum with slides it in,” explained Evergreen Aviation museum’s executive director Larry Wood.

Exhibits and artifacts explain concepts such as Bernoulli’s principle, the water cycle and jet propulsion. Rides include the Nose Dive inner tube ride, the Mach One slide that descends 60 vertical feet and a ride that Dave Garske of Hoffman Construction, the park’s builder, calls “a man-screamer. It’s fast and you’re screaming and you’re readjusting your suit when you get to the bottom.”

For more fresh waterpark attractions to seek out this summer, see my story Get wet and wild at these new waterparks on msnbc.com.