A Seattle Day Trip For Aviation Fans

A Seattle day trip could mean visiting a variety of places. Think “Seattle” and images or thoughts of the Space Needle, Starbucks Coffee or TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy” might come to mind. But not far from the heart of the city is Paine Field airport where several attractions represent the past, present and future of aviation. Any one of them is worth a visit. Bundle several together and it’s a day trip from heaven for aviation fans.

Seattle’s Boeing Everett Factory houses the largest indoor manufacturing facility in the world. The space is so big that it can hold 33 football fields and make its own weather system if not properly ventilated. It’s also the home of the new 787 Dreamliner aircraft that will keep workers busy well into the future. We took a 90-minute tour, walking through the construction process from start to finish.
Next door, Boeing’s Future of Flight Aviation Center is also an interesting walk-through facility designed to stimulate innovative thinking.

Future of Flight includes an aviation gallery with interactive exhibits and displays, a rooftop observation deck overlooking Paine Field, full-size jet aircraft engines, a cutaway slice of an actual passenger jet that shows the areas passengers don’t see and more.

Voted one of the top aviation attractions in the world, visitors can take the only public tour of a commercial jet assembly plant in North America at the Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour. The center features everything from airplane designs, materials, engines and flight systems to flight simulators.

Taking a unique look at the history of flight, two other places of interest to aviation fans, the Flying Heritage Collection and the Historic Flight Foundation, have nearly 30 actual, flying aircraft meant to be seen, touched and flown.

The Flying Heritage Collection has pieces created with leading technologies of the 1930s and 1940s as combat aircraft in World War II. The collection has U.S., British, German, Russian and Japanese aircraft types, many of which were often pitted against each other in great air battles.

The surviving aircraft were researched, found and sometimes recovered from former battlegrounds and airfields, then authentically restored.

Each summer, planes from the Flying Heritage Collection are flown to keep them operational and exercised on a regular basis. History buffs and aviation fans gather to witness the beauty of the vintage aircraft as they return to the skies, if only briefly. Year-round, some of the aircraft are available for hire, taking fans up in the air to view the area much like aviators of the past would have.

Another venue, the Historic Flight Foundation has engaged the best restoration resources available to return their collection to original splendor. Most always using original parts, the Historic Flight Foundation often searches the world over for what they need to keep the collection in the air. Those who work the collection are quick to point out “this is not a museum; our planes fly”.

Volunteer docents, many with first-hand knowledge about the operation and maintenance of their combined fleet, are eager to share their love of aviation with visitors.

Special events, open to the public, run throughout the summer and into the fall. Continuing this weekend, the Flying Heritage Collection continues its Fly Days series with the Battle of Britain Day on August 25, the IL-2 Debut on September 15 and the Ground Attack Day on September 29.

Photos- Chris Owen

Touring Scotland, A Trip To The Distillery

No attempt at touring Scotland would be complete without exploring the origin of Scotch whisky. Steeped in tradition and history, a variety of distilleries have been in operation for hundreds of years, exporting bonded and blended Scotches around the world. During a recent visit, we visited Highland Park Distillery and went behind the scenes for a rare look at what goes into making a product that can take up to 50 years to bring to market.

Highland Park Single Malt Scotch whisky is known as one of the world’s finest single malts. Distilled in Scotland’s Orkney Islands, generations of distillery workers spend lifetimes using a method largely unchanged since 1798. We walked through the distillation process and while the step-by-step procedure is similar to other distilleries, Highland Park brands have some distinct advantages over others.

“In Scotland we have June and we have winter,” Russell Miller, distillery manager explained, referring to cooler temperatures experienced year round at the distilleries location that provide “even paced, cool maturation.”

It’s a process that also includes using hand-turned malt, a key ingredient in their recipe for a good Scotch. Sherry oak casks are another critical part of the process and Highland Park has some that have been used and reused for nearly 100 years, giving their products a unique flavor.Probably one of the most important ingredients in the product though is pride. There is a work ethic element in Scotland that is simply undeniable. Here we have a product that is aged for up to 50 years before being sold. During that time, the world will become a much different place than when that scotch went in to a barrel to be aged.

To me, that very long production process has always begged the question, “How do they know how much to make for customers who may very well have not been born yet?” If they were making cheeseburgers, the answer is simple. Someone orders one and they make it.

The answer, our tour guide explained, is all about quality. “We’re pretty good at guessing,” Miller joked, “but it seems there will always be demand for our high quality product.”

[Photos- Chris Owen/Highland Park Distillery]

A Morning Touring The French Countryside

Touring the French countryside from Rouen, we stopped at Chateau du Breuil, known for a variety of wines shipped to over 50 countries around the world. But on this trip, we were more interested in the history behind the buildings and grounds that have graced the 40-acre estate since the 17th century.

Classified as a French national monument, Chateau du Breuil hosts structures, orchards and parks that are alive with today’s vegetation. It’s a stark contrast to buildings that house wine-making facilities dating back hundreds of years as we see in this photo gallery.

%Gallery-161899%Today, Chateau du Breuil is one of most prestigious distilleries in France, boasting labels that have won a variety of awards. Complimentary tours of Chateau du Breuil are available every day (except for Christmas and New Year’s day) from 9 a.m. until 12 a.m. and from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m. and include a tasting of several labels.

Not far from the Chateau, in Livarot, France is the E.Graindorge cheese factory where Livarot cheeses have been made since 1910, also offering a complimentary tour and tasting.

A unique way to discover the process of making fine French cheeses, the walk-through tour is a self-paced, interactive combination of films, panels and windows into the actual cheese factory that produces brands shipped around the world.

Spending just a few hours in the area, we explored two products commonly thought of when considering the French, gaining up close and personal experience with both. Not bad for a half-day’s work.

[Photos: Chris Owen]

Your Kindness When Flying Is Appreciated, Believe Me

When we think of flying, thoughts often turn to pricing, legroom and luggage fees among other contemporary issues. Back in the good old days of air travel, it was more about the fun of flying, brand loyalty and what might be served for lunch. But guess what? We have the power to turn back the clock to a happier time in the air with some common courtesy.

On a recent international flight, I happened to be talking to the passenger sitting right behind me in coach before takeoff. Everyone was getting settled in, arranging their cramped space, putting books, iPads, headphones, snacks and other items within easy reach.

When I mentioned that I had work to do and would probably not sleep or recline, that passenger behind me joyously proclaimed, “Oh thank God!” He went on to say how much he appreciated the thought and noted, “That’s just common flight courtesy.” Others chimed in, agreeing with him.

I really did not think much about it at the time. But in reflection, that few inches the seat goes back really does not make all that much difference when I do try to sleep on a flight. It’s not like reclining turns the narrow coach seat into a Lazy Boy with heated massage capability anyway. But not reclining can mean so much to the person behind us that loses the space.We may not be able to bring back in-flight meals on domestic coach flights or bigger seats to go along with cut-rate fares. But looking at the business of flying in a slightly different way can make all the difference in the world.

[Photo- Chris Owen]

Bad Flight Saved By Airline Crew, New Laws, Amiable Travelers

Last weekend, United Airlines Flight 108 from Newark, New Jersey, to Edinburgh, Scotland, put 2011’s Airline Passenger Bill of Rights to the test. It was not planned that way; we did not set out to see if the new regulations would kick in to help in a bad situation. But when things went wrong, rules established by the bill kept a bad scene from becoming a total disaster. I was on board and lived to tell about it.

The first leg of our travel plan on United Airlines took us through bad weather from Orlando (MCO) to Newark (EWR) rather smoothly, arriving a few minutes late at 8:15 p.m. On landing, a text from my FlightTrack Pro iPhone app informed me that our next flight, from EWR to Edinburgh, Scotland (EDI), scheduled to leave at 9:55 p.m., would be delayed until 12 p.m.

“Surely they mean 12 a.m., just a little late, not 12 p.m.,” I said out loud with the comment echoed by other passengers, also checking their phones after landing. But p.m. it was, so put up in a hotel we were – the cheesy Ramada Inn Airport hotel – along with carry-on luggage and food vouchers for dinner and breakfast.

Going back to the Newark airport the next day – a few hours early as good airline passengers on international flights do – we found a further delay for more maintenance, pushing departure to 1 p.m. Soon though, the situation improved. The flight was moved back to 12 p.m. and boarding the international flight, a process that can take some time, finally began.With boarding completed, the flight crew, who had also been ready to go since the night before, prepared the cabin and off we went – all of about two football fields in distance.

Newark airport normally has two operating runways. Today that was one working runway as the other was undergoing maintenance, placing us last in a line behind 15 planes.

A timely announcement produced some unanimous moans and groans from passengers. “Oh well, what can we do but sit here and wait.”

By the time we made it to number seven, almost an hour later, we had burned about 10,000 pounds of fuel, according to the flight crew. That’s so much fuel that we had to leave the takeoff queue, return to what the crew onboard called “the ballpark” and refuel.

“Not a big problem, we sure did not want to run out of gas crossing the Atlantic,” I thought, echoing the mood of the other passengers on board. To expedite the process, we stayed on the aircraft, avoiding a repeat of the time-consuming international flight boarding process.

But by the time fueling was complete, we were on the verge of violating part of that new passenger rights bill, which established a three-hour cumulative time limit for such delays. This is a big deal to the airlines, if for no other reason than the fact that they can be fined $17,000 per passenger if they don’t comply.

By law, at that three-hour mark, airlines are required to provide passengers on a delayed, grounded aircraft like ours with food, water, restrooms, ventilation and medical services, among other provisions.

Over the aircraft loudspeaker, the call was made by Rick Chase, International Service Manager, that if anyone wanted off the aircraft, to let the crew know and they would make it happen. Two passengers wanted off so we pulled out of the takeoff queue and waited for ground crew to come fetch them.

Back in the queue for take off after 4 p.m., it was looking like we were going to make it off the ground after all. Then a weather concern stopped the countdown.

Thunderstorms directly in our planned flight path were going to be a problem. United Airlines operations people, we were told, scrambled to file a new flight plan.

Again came the grumbles of passengers but no one wanted to be hit by lightning then plunge into the Atlantic. At about that same time, someone at United Airlines operations remembered that this particular aircraft had never flown this international route before.

Apparently, by law, custom or just an abundance of caution, a qualified mechanic must be on board when that happens, we were told. Rumor had it that due to cutbacks caused by the Continental and United Airlines merger, there were none available.

This time we did not go back to the ballpark but rather just stopped where we were and waited for the revised flight plan and a mechanic. At a little after 5 p.m., United Airlines Flight 108 finally took off, racking up a total of over 17 hours delay.

The whole situation was just bad news all around. A big part of the enduring memory though will be how very well the onboard flight crew handled the situation. Keeping us informed every step of the way, caring for our individual concerns and making the most out of a bad situation far exceeded the requirements of the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights.

They took what could have turned into a very nasty situation and transformed it into a “let’s all get together for a reunion” sort of thing. To the credit of United Airlines, before we got off the aircraft we were asked to visit UnitedAirlines.com/appreciation where the airline put their money where their mouth is, offering all passengers on the flight compensation for their time and inconvenience. While the package was customized for each passenger, some included a voucher for domestic travel within a year ranging from $400 to $2000, a 20 to 50 percent discount for a future international flight, or between 15,000 and 50,000 additional frequent flier miles.

It was more of a “it’s the thought that counts” sort of offer at the time, but I bet that after thinking about the situation for a while and how very well the flight crew handled it, that most passengers will indeed give United Airlines another try.

[Photo- Chris Owen]