Geek of the Week

Geek of the Week: Matthew Burchette is flying excessive as Museum of Flight’s new senior curator

Matthew Burchette, the new senior curator at Seattle’s Museum of Flight. (Museum of Flight Photo)

Lots of interesting things have landed at The Museum of Flight over the years, Seattle’s home to a significant collection of artifacts related to the history of flight. Now, a new senior curator has touched down in Jet City, charged with championing and adding to that collection.

Matthew Burchette has been in the museum field for more than 30 years, and he spent the past 15 as curator at Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum in Denver. He’s also been the host of a YouTube series and PBS show called “Behind the Wings,” in which he gets to go to all sorts of places and do lots of fun stuff related to aviation.

“When I first got to Denver I had no idea how big aviation was there, but it cannot compare to Seattle!” Burchette said. “I love being in an aviation museum on an active airport. Heck, the British aerobatic team, the Red Arrows, flew into the museum on my very first day! How cool is that? The idea that there is so much aviation history here is a godsend. It’s kind of like shooting fish in a barrel to find a good story, artifact, oral history, etc. In fact, it makes it that much harder to choose which story you want to tell first.”

Burchette would love to see the museum grow its collection of both aviation and space artifacts, but he believes the space industry is at an odd time right now. Small “startup” space companies are focused on growing and promoting their products, and their history is being left behind. Burchette believes it is up to museums to remind them that what they are doing is important — and to that end he would love to see the Museum of Flight begin to collect more archival objects and artifacts before we realize that a part of our history has disappeared.

Burchette is particularly proud of an exhibit he opened before leaving Wings Over the Rockies, which is centered around a Huey helicopter that flew two tours in Vietnam. The helicopter was rescued from being a target drone by a former pilot who turned it into a traveling history exhibit. Burchette spent 10 years getting to know the man, who finally became comfortable enough to donate the Huey to the museum in 2017.

Check out the “Behind the Wings” episode on the Huey, below, and read on to learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Matthew Burchette:

What do you do, and why do you do it? As curator, I get to decide what things the museum will display and collect. While that is pretty cool in and of itself, I also get to decide on much bigger things like the aircraft and exhibits. Now THAT is cool! As the host of “Behind the Wings,” I get to do even more cool stuff. I have flown in WWII aircraft, Coast Guard helicopters, climbed through active duty B-52 bombers, and even been on the runway when US Navy EA-18s were taking off just a few yards from me. It’s an amazing gig, and I cannot imagine doing anything else. Why would I?! How much fun is this?

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? That museums and aviation are FUN and accessible to everyone. There is a misconception that museums (and the people that work in them) are stodgy and boring. Well, if you check out the Museum of Flight and “Behind the Wings,” I think you will find otherwise!

Where do you find your inspiration? I find my inspiration in the past and present endeavors and exploits of pilots, engineers, and other aviation-related people. I also really am inspired by all the kids that are so passionate about this great field. Aviation is so much fun, and it’s amazing to me to see young kids know exactly what they want to do at such a young age. I sure had no clue what I wanted to do at that age!

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? Alexa. I love her because she will play my favorite music, turn on and off my lights and TV, and let play games with her. If she could only go to the grocery store, I would be set!

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? BORING! I just moved into it yesterday (seriously), so none of my fun stuff is up yet. 🙁 I moved from Denver to Seattle for this job, and all my old stuff is still with the movers. So sad! I do like the office because it allows me to get work done without being interrupted. I’m kinda an introvert, so having my “own space” makes it easy to stay sane. 😉

Matthew Burchette has some decorating to do in his new office in Seattle. (Photo courtesy of Matthew Burchette)

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) Don’t take work home with you if you can help it. Separate work email from personal email, and don’t read work email once you leave the office. If your boss calls after hours, pretend that you were in a tunnel! It can probably wait anyway. 😉

Mac, Windows or Linux? Mac at home, Windows at work.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Picard.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Cloak of Invisibility.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … Create a STEM program for kids interested in the museum field.

I once waited in line for … “Empire Strikes Back,” “Aliens,” and “Return of the Jedi” (skipped school for that one!)

Your role models: Oddly, the TV character Hawkeye Pierce from “M*A*S*H.” I think I learned my sense of humor from him which has served me well over the years. I also very much admire Abraham Lincoln for his ability to lead the country in such a terrible time. I think other, lesser, men would have given up and let the country divide itself, but he knew that America was greatest as a whole and not shattered pieces.

Greatest game in history The Hunger Games. Oh, wait. No. “Squad Leader” by Avalon Hill. Its ease of play, detail, and historical accuracy are legendary!

Best gadget ever: The compass. Without the lowly compass, we would not have explored half of our amazing planet. Think of what that exploration ushered in. It’s the linch pin of nearly everything that has come after it.

First computer: Apple Quadra 610 with 512 of RAM. Soooo speedy for the time. 😉

Current phone: iPhone 7

Favorite app: Waze — Seattle traffic SUCKS!

Favorite cause: Greyhound adoption

Most important technology of 2019: The InstaPot. Come on, it’s only a pressure cooker with a great marketing team, but it really has revolutionized how a large portion of the population cooks. Hopefully, that means they are eating better now!

Most important technology of 2021: The low tack bar code tag. This will allow museum collections managers to place a bar code on each object in their collection without fear of the tag leaving residue when removed. Hey, a curator can dream, can’t they?

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Embrace that inner geek! Don’t let the world box you in. You be you. Being a geek is the new black. 🙂

Website: Behind the Wings

LinkedIn: Matthew Burchette

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