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The colossal proportions of Boeing’s Everett Production Facility, where Boeing 747, 777, and 787 Dreamliner jets are assembled, are the stuff of local legend. The largest manufacturing building in the world in terms of volume, it is also the only jumbo jetliner production facility open to the public in the United States, thanks to the Institute of Flight, which is the 501(c)(3) non-profit that operates the Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour in partnership with Snohomish County and Boeing.

Just two years ago, Executive Director Bonnie Hilory took the helm of the educational nonprofit, whose mission is to ignite passion for the future of aerospace. Just the person to lead such a challenge, Hilory brought to the role experience gained through decades of nonprofit leadership, including previous roles at Tukwila’s Museum of Flight, where she served as director of education and founding director of the Aviation Learning Center.

As the Institute of Flight’s executive director, she succeeded founder Barry Smith, who launched the organization in 2003 and opened the aviation center in 2005. In its ten-year history, millions of people have visited the center and participated in the Boeing tour, making it a premier tourism attraction in Snohomish County. It is also a popular field trip destination for local schoolchildren, where they can learn about the history of aviation, aerospace technology, and careers in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics). Art, by the way, is an important addition to the more commonly used STEM acronym. Hilory believes art and design are vital to the aerospace industry and advocated to add the “A” to the nonprofit’s educational programming. She spoke movingly about the aesthetic beauty of flight and said, “Embracing creativity and the creative process is so important to aircraft design.”

Early on Hilory organized a comprehensive design charrette, an imaginative, collaborative brainstorming session that helped identify areas for growth and improvement. More than 4,000 people were invited to visit the aviation center over the course of four days and offer feedback. They scrawled ideas, questions, and comments onto giant pads of poster paper set up throughout the facility.

Hilory said, “We heard wildly fun ideas, such as, we should have a slide going down the gallery! Or, let’s blow this wall out and put in a mezzanine! As well as insightful questions: can we have an exhibit about space?”

Hilory worked with the board to synthesize the feedback, refine several priorities, and commit to a strategic plan moving forward. A key priority was rebranding the nonprofit, which was formerly known as the Future of Flight Foundation, with a new name and logo. Rolled out in January, the result is a clearer mission and a name that helps individual and foundation donors connect with the nonprofit’s goals. Removing “foundation” from the name in favor of “institute” paves the way for private foundations to donate to the organization’s educational projects. The new name also clarifies the distinction between the Boeing Tour and the educational nonprofit that operates it.

The Institute of Flight’s new tagline is “where imagination soars.” As proof of concept, Hilory points to the Aerospace Makers Project at the Future of Flight’s Makerspace, where high school students can gain skills in 3D modeling and 3D printing. Just one of the nonprofit’s educational programs and exhibits to help area youngsters imagine exciting careers in STEAM fields and the aerospace industry.

"Embracing creativity and the creative process is so important to aircraft design."