By Nancy Covert
With a wingspan of more than 300 feet and carrying eight humungous engines, the one-of-a-kind mammoth birch wood plane, designed in the late 40s to be a flying boat, today stares out of its hangar, across a green vineyard a short distance from McMinnville, Ore.
The Spruce Goose, designed by the eccentric genius Howard Hughes, is today housed inside one of three steel/glass structures across Oregon’s Highway 18, southwest of Portland, at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum.
Resembling a mother hen with dozens of little chicks huddled beneath her soothing wings; the Spruce Goose occupies pride of place, across the highway from the McMinnville Airport.
Early in September my son and I drove from Lakewood to Oregon—ostensibly to pick up an order of canned tuna for a Steilacoom friend—well, it was on the way—but we really wanted to see this legendary flying boat that never really flew—except for a few moments when its designer took the controls near Long Beach, CA, and his dream plane briefly lifted from the water.
For several years, my son had explained, when he was in high school and college, he’d spend an annual weekend with friends in Lincoln City—always passing the airfield, but never stopping. The opportunity this past weekend to actually “see” the plane was one not to be missed.
Because of a couple side trips, though, including dining at McMenamin’s renowned Hotel Oregon, a funky restored 42-room, circa 1905 hotel, as well as the promised tuna pickup, we had less than two hours to do the place justice.
Plenty of docents are available to answer questions and explain the museum’s contents—from a replica of Leonardo Da Vinci’s flying contraption, to the Spirit of St. Louis; from the Sopwith Camel to the Spitfire, and one very impressive B-17, as well as a display about Smokejumping. All this and more: plus a wedding reception, scheduled to start at 5 p.m.
With so much to see in such a short time, it was a relief to have an assortment of airline passenger seats arranged around the room.
While circling the exhibition hall, we paused to examine several paintings in tribute to aviation highlights, such as the WASP years, one showing a pair of Spitfires circling a damaged castle, with the ghostly shade of a mounted knight watching from the beach, and one depicting the noble service rendered by former Oberleutnant Franz Steigler when he escorted a damaged B-17, named “Ye Old Pub,” flown by 2nd Lt. Charlie Brown to a safe landing. The painting tells the rest of the story, and the former adversaries met 50 years later.
Stiegler is said to have explained his action, saying, “I didn’t have the heart to finish off those brave men.”
For us, though, the real highlight was the opportunity to walk through the Goose—there’s an additional side trip available, for an extra fee, of a tour of the flight deck. It’s eye-opening to see an assortment of red/white/blue beach balls used as flotation material.
In all the years the plane has been on display, boasted one of the docents, the plane’s wings “have not drooped one bit!” Definitely a jaw-dropping sight.
And, naturally, since the museum grounds include a vast vineyard—there are about 189 vineyards and tasting rooms around SW Oregon—it’s also possible to purchase SG wine at the Museum’s gift shop!
Visit www.EvergreenMuseum.org for details about this nearby weekend destination.