Tillamook Air Museum
I love it for all the wrong reasons. Jered encouraged me to write this post anyway, told me that for him it isn’t all about the airplanes either, and that isn’t even wrong. So, OK.
We do have to talk about the planes, though.
The Tillamook Air Museum houses a collection of over 25 historic aircrafts, including the Aero-Spacelines Mini-Guppy, the Mig 17, and the Grumman F-14A Tomcat. These planes played notable roles throughout the history of aviation, and they’ve been mythologized in countless aviation films.
The museum offers the opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with its artifacts. The Mini-Guppy, the largest craft on display, stands door flung wide, stairs unfurled, inviting visitors inside. As it’s a cargo plane, the interior isn’t much more than an empty hollow frame, but photos display vignettes from its past life. With the smaller fighter planes, you can hoist yourself into the cockpits, punch the buttons, and pull the levers. Many a visitor far past childhood can be heard making vroom and kapow noises. Naturally.
All of this exists inside a structure called Hangar B. Its twin, Hanger A, once existed but was destroyed by a fire in 1992. The remaining building—constructed by the US Navy in 1942 for storing blimps—is the largest clear-span wooden structure in the world; and, seriously, its proportions are jaw dropping: 1,072 feet long, 296 feet wide, 192 feet tall. When you’re inside you forget you’re indoors. The building isn’t insulated, and the vaulted ceiling is so high, it’s as if you’re discovering the sky is an illusion and the earth has a lid. It smells like a warehouse, faintly musty, but free of grime and dust.
While you explore, speakers ooze out pop and big band hits of the 1940s. The cavernous space imbues the music with an echo, the effect of which is haunting, as if the ghosts of WWII fighter pilots might materialize if you focus hard enough.
On the periphery of the museum is an exhibit hall with a collection of smaller wartime aviation artifacts. There are medals, helmets, flight suits, and other military uniforms. Everything is made of leather, wood, metal, glass, or canvass. There’s no plastic, no synthetic material. It sounds like a small thing, but it’s incredible evidence of how much the literal fabric of our world has changed in such a short span of time.
Other features of the museum include a theater screening video of the hangar’s history, a model air raid shelter, and a selection of wartime era cars. It’s all worthwhile to explore. But above all, for us at least, it offers an excuse to linger in the hangar, to soak up the atmosphere of a world both novel and timeless.
The air museum is not the reason to visit. The building is staggering and the feeling inside the building is powerful. There is an odd feeling of history in the building. When you watch the video about the building of the hangars and begin to develop and understanding of how fast these buildings were built and yet how perfect they are the sense of awe you feel is multiplied. It is a space unlike any other that you’ll ever set foot in.
We left the museum and were left speechless. Oddly delightful was about all we could say about an hour after leaving the museum.
The museum is open to the public Wednesday-Sunday from 10:00am - 4:00pm and is very easy to find. Once in Tillamook, simply follow Hangar Rd until you come upon the building with AIR MUSEUM painted on its side in giant letters.
Afterward, we recommend visiting the nearby Tillamook Creamery and grabbing an ice cream treat as well as taking full advantage of all the cheese samples.