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In the belly of the Spruce Goose.
In the belly of the Spruce Goose.

Spruce Goose and Space Museum

Field review by the editors.

McMinnville, Oregon

There are many reasons to visit the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, but only one that really matters. The Spruce Goose! The world's largest wood airplane, folly or masterpiece (or both) of crazed billionaire Howard Hughes. Every museum wants at least one exhibit worthy of a postcard, and the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum has the biggest one of all.

Spruce Goose is housed in a giant indoor gallery.
Spruce Goose is housed in a giant indoor gallery.

Which is a shame, really. The Spruce Goose overshadows -- literally -- all of the other planes in the museum, as well as its rockets and space ships and even its world's largest privately-held collection of machine guns. This museum has its access road painted like a runway, and its own vineyard, but it's difficult to get any attention with a bird as big as Spruce Goose in your nest.

Howard Hughes built the Spruce Goose during World War II. It was enormous because it had to carry 750 troops and all of their gear. It was wood because there wasn't much wartime metal to spare for something as big and crazy as Howard Hughes' airplane. On November 2, 1947, it made one, brief flight, and then Hughes hid it in a giant hanger, carefully maintaining it for over 30 years so that it could fly again (it never did). It became a tourist attraction in the 1980s in Long Beach, California, next to the Queen Mary, under a giant aluminum dome. Then Evergreen bought the plane, took it apart, and hauled it to McMinnville.

Hard to photograph, but you can hang out the cockpit sun roof for this view.
Hard to photograph, but you can hang out the cockpit sun roof for this view.

Spruce Goose.

"We'll have people come in and ask, 'Where is it?,'" said Philip Jaeger, the museum's director of operations. "We'll tell them, 'Look up.' And they'll say, 'Holy cow!'"

The Spruce Goose's wings, the longest in history, stretch overhead to the ticket counter and far away to the other side of the building. A Flying Fortress bomber, a DC-3 passenger plane, and dozens of other vintage aircraft are parked on the floor -- they're all nice, but they're pipsqueaks compared to the Spruce Goose. Some of the smaller planes probably could use the Goose's wings as a runway.

Walking inside the Spruce Goose is like walking inside a giant packing crate. Clomp, clomp, clomp; everything -- floors, walls, ceiling -- is muffled and creaky because it's wood. The plane's critics labeled it The Flying Lumberyard for a reason.

The Titan Missile would never have flown if it had been made out of wood.
The Titan Missile would never have flown if it had been made out of wood.

Up on the flight deck, we were surprised at just how roomy the Spruce Goose is, especially after a lifetime of traveling in cramped commercial airliners. Down in its vast belly, the view toward the tail is like staring into the gullet of an immense Sandworm from Dune. Philip pointed to beach balls lying between the plane's ribs and said that Hughes packed hundreds of them into the wings and tail as a precaution against crashing at sea. "Howard was paranoid that he'd sink," Philip said. "He probably bought every beach ball in Southern California."

Nestled under the plane's left wing tip is the museum's gun collection, with dioramas of GI paratroopers, San Juan Hill, and a boy's bedroom packed with weaponry. The exhibit reminded us of a similar good-old-days bedroom that we'd seen in the NRA Museum -- which turned out not to be a coincidence. Philip said that the NRA had "finalized the exhibit design" of the bedroom and its oversized, gun ownership-favoring quotes from true Americans such as Davy Crockett and Walt Disney.

Space Gallery.
Space Gallery.

We walked across the parking lot to a twin of the Spruce Goose building, which holds Evergreen's many space exhibits. There's a V-1 and V-2 rocket, a lunar lander, a Soviet lunar rover, and a big hunk of the Berlin Wall (We wouldn't have reached the moon if we hadn't been chasing the commies). Soviet and American spacecraft hang from the ceiling. Parked next to a supersonic spy drone is the X-38, the "space station lifeboat" that was never launched because it cost too much ("Sorry, astronauts," said Philip). Sunk into a pit in the floor -- because it's simply too big -- is a towering Titan missile. Its subterranean launch control room can recreate a five-minute countdown and blast-off at the push of a button.

The museum's Evergreen Water Park features a real 747 Water Slide, with multiple tubes snaking downward out of the former aircraft's emergency exits. It's is the kind of recycling that we like to see, and we wouldn't mind if Evergreen did the same with some of its other exhibits as well. Forget swords into plowshares, let's turn our old bombers and spacecraft into thrill rides! That would be worthy competition for the Spruce Goose.

Spruce Goose and Space Museum

Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum

500 NE Capt. Michael King Smith Way, McMinnville, OR
Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. Two miles east of town on Hwy 18/Dayton Bypass. On the north side, across the road from McMinnville Municipal Airport.
Daily 10-5 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Museum $20. Extra $ to tour the Spruce Goose flight deck.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Ben Franklin on a BenchBen Franklin on a Bench, McMinnville, OR - 2 mi.
Erratic Rock ParkErratic Rock Park, McMinnville, OR - 8 mi.
Jetliner Home in the WoodsJetliner Home in the Woods, Hillsboro, OR - 13 mi.
In the region:
Adidas Big Shoes, Portland, OR - 33 mi.

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