Begun in 2004 by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the collection was opened to the public at its Paine Field location in 2008. Rare World War II airplanes and other artifacts are housed in an airy 1950s-era, 51,000-square-foot hangar formerly used by Alaska Airlines. More than 20,000 people visited the collection in 2011.
The new building, a modest but modern hangar, will allow more of Allen's warbird collection to be displayed and make it easier for museum staff to move the planes around for periodic flights and maintenance. The building is expected to be ready for the public by spring.
Amy Spain, director of the Snohomish County Tourism Bureau, said her organization is excited about the expansion. The county's strategic tourism plan of 2011 identified aviation as an anchor. The planned expansion falls in line with the county's study, Spain said.
"We are delighted that Flying Heritage Collection is growing," Spain said. "It's going to attract more visitors and offer an expanded opportunity for aviation enthusiasts and history buffs from around the world, as well as the local public."
In a time of continued economic recession, the museum expansion is an asset to the county, said Adrian Hunt, executive director of the Flying Heritage Collection.
"It's a significant investment in the economy and the cultural heritage of the region," Hunt said. "Paul Allen doesn't just collect, he wants to put these old airplanes back together, get them flying and share them with other people, not keep them tucked away. The museum is not a money maker. It's about giving back to the Puget Sound region."
Cory Graff, curator of the Flying Heritage Collection, said the current hangar is "packed to the gills."
Graff, an art student in his undergraduate years, likes to show off his scale models of the aircraft and the museum. On a conference room table at the museum, he maneuvers the models around to show how the addition will relieve the pressure in the old hangar.
"With the new building, we'll have more room to move the airplanes around and to show off all of the finished collection," Graff said.
The expansion, designed by Concept Architecture of Lake Stevens, is to include a small theater where museum staff can show films, and another gift shop, lobby and set of restrooms.
Ryan General Contractors of Woodinville plans to start the project by the end of the week.
"The new hangar will have a technology theme," Graff said. "It will be less about the war and more about the development of aircraft."
Paine Field has become an "aviation mecca," Graff said. "With the Boeing Tour here, the airfield has become a destination for people who love airplanes. We're glad to be part of that."
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Flying Heritage Collection
3407 109th St. SW Everett 206-342-4242 flyingheritage.com
The collection, operated by the nonprofit Friends of Flying Heritage, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Labor Day. Cost is $8 for kids ages 6 to 15, $10 for seniors and military personnel and $12 for general admission. People can come out free at noon on Aug. 11 and 25 and Sept. 15 and 29 to watch some of the airplanes in the collection being flown.
To learn more about the other aviation attractions in Snohomish County, go to www.snohomish.org.