Tim Nelson’s “Jet City Rewind” is a fascinating catalog of photographs that document key events of Seattle aviation history, and when and where they happened.
‘Jet City Rewind: Aviation History of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest’
by Tim Nelson
Schiffer, 144 pp., $29.99
The photo on the cover of “Jet City Rewind” is subtly deceptive, yet a clever illustration of what this book of aviation history offers.
It shows a Boeing Clipper flying boat, surely one of the most beautiful and romantic passenger airplanes ever built, taking off from Elliott Bay with Seattle’s familiar skyline in the background.
Yet something’s not right.
It’s a composite photo. The flying boat was photographed in Elliott Bay in 1941; the skyscrapers behind were snapped in 2013 and replace the much less imposing original Seattle backdrop.
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It’s clever because this is a book of historical photos — the images inside are undoctored — that’s organized by geography. Author Tim Nelson sets out to connect for readers a fascinating catalog of bygone aviation events with their precise location in the modern city and beyond.
A full-time Boeing engineer who compiled the book as a labor of love, Nelson invites readers to follow his wandering along the roads of Seattle and Washington state and to find the spots where the book’s fascinating historical photos were taken.
Some of the locations — Boeing Field, the Museum of Flight, Paine Field in Everett — are familiar to every airplane enthusiast. Others are more obscure, because little outward sign remains of a remarkable past: For example, the site of the Meadows racetrack where, on March 11, 1910, the first airplane flight in state history took off, is now occupied by Raisbeck Aviation High School.
Nelson says he was motivated to pull the book together in part when Boeing’s historic Plant 2 — where during peak production in 1944, Boeing cranked out 16 B-17 bombers on a single April day — was demolished in 2010.
“The realization hit me that a lot of these sites of very significant local history were not permanent,” said Nelson in an interview.
And so he cataloged the state’s aviation firsts and their locations, and dug up photos of both then and now.
Stand at the little pier that’s the northernmost tip of West Seattle and close your eyes to re-create Nelson’s photos of the old Luna Park, an early 20th-century Coney Island-style amusement park, and of the day in June 1908 when a huge football-shaped dirigible took the first semi-controlled human flight in the state, ending with a splash into Elliott Bay.
He pinpoints the row of attractive residential houseboats on the edge of Lake Union that’s the location of the hangar where Bill Boeing built the first Boeing airplanes 100 years ago.
The Gorst Air Transport terminal at one of Seattle’s downtown piers — from where in the 1930s passengers flew in six-seater amphibious biplanes across Puget Sound to Bremerton — is now the site of an Ivar’s restaurant.
And the decidedly prosaic A-1 Pallets company in the Kent Valley stands where Herb Munter in the 1920s established an airfield on a Green River cow pasture for charter and photography flights, including the first flight over Mount Rainier.
Here, as in some other places listed in the book, Nelson is unfortunately forced to write that “no aviation traces remain.”
Yet that serves to highlight the book’s contribution to local history. Its fabulous photos vividly render the ghost of this Jet City’s vanished past.