2019- An air mail arrow outside Salt Lake City, UT points to SLC on the San Francisco-Salt Lake route.

Seen in 2019 – an air mail arrow outside Salt Lake City, Utah points to SLC on the San Francisco-Salt Lake route

We aren’t ready to fly. Which is a bummer because travel is a large part of our identity. What are sidelined AvGeeks to do to remain connected to our passion? We are all coping with this disaster

light for the night airmail

A 1920s advertisement bringing awareness to the TAS. – Image: Public Domain

in different ways. Looking to an aspirationally brighter future (and planning future travel) is certainly one method that holds promise. For my [formerly] frequently-traveled household we have been deep in research and planning for most of the year. As a result, our impossibly long #AvGeekToDoList has grown a great deal since our voluntary pandemic-grounding. One item of low-hanging socially-distanced fruit on our list is getting out and visiting more air mail arrows.

I have long been fascinated with the infancy of U.S. aviation. Keen AirlineReporter readers and AvHistorians alike will know that the modern aviation industry is what it is because of air mail. Indeed, all of the domestic legacies – except Delta – were formed or became successful because of income from air mail. These earliest routes were flown mostly during the day. In the evenings, mail would continue to travel, albeit via train. To further increase the speed of airmail it was determined night flying would be required. Thankfully congress stepped in to fund a vast array of large concrete arrows and beacons which formed the lighted Transcontinental Airway System (TAS.) At its peak the TAS had one concrete arrow roughly every 10 miles along the various routes. The TAS and its air mail arrows provided the infrastructure for the air mail boom which, in time, led to normalization of passenger service.

BONUS: How Delta got their non-airmail start

Join us for a discussion on how you can plan your own trip to visit these nearly forgotten 1920s-era relics of aviation’s past.

I want to fly, but I just wouldn't do it right now.

I want to fly, but I just wouldn’t do it right now

There are many people right now questioning if it is safe to fly. It is a valid question, but I do not have the answer. For me personally, I have decided not to fly and I probably won’t be in the air for quite some time. Let me share some of my thoughts about the current situation, explain why I am not ready, and provide some advice for those who end up flying.

Mount Rainier, after take off

I miss seeing Mount Rainier from the air!

I love the airline business and it has pained me to watch the industry suffer. Hearing about the financial losses and seeing aircraft lined up in the desert is one thing, but employees losing their jobs is devastating.

For the most part, I think airlines and their employees have done an amazing job tackling this unprecedented situation. They have kept passengers informed on new safety procedures and have promoted the quality of the cabin air. No question this builds trust.

I am less worried about the airlines, but more concerned about the uptick in COVID, the other aspects of traveling, and most importantly: other passengers.

A British Airways 747 under dark skies - Photo: Francois Van

A British Airways 747 under dark skies – Photo: Francois Van

Here is something that I wasn’t expecting: staying up from 1:30 am to 5:30 am on a Saturday morning to take an online class, from British Airways, that helps people overcome their fear of flying. However, when I learned about their Flying With Confidence program, I couldn’t help but be curious.

I have never really feared flying much. Sure, there might be some hairy moments, but I typically enjoy when the flight gets a little turbulent. However, I know this is not the case for many people.

A fear of flying has always been rational to me. Not only are you in a tube flying 35,000 feet in the air, but when an airline is involved in an incident, it becomes an international story. Sure, one can share data about the safety of flying and use the classic line “you are more likely to die driving to the airport,” but those sorts of things rarely have a major impact.

For many folks reading this story, this view is exciting, but for others it can be terrifying.

For many folks reading this story, this view is exciting, but for others it can be terrifying

Some passengers with flying phobias are able to painfully push through it, but others write off flying altogether. For those looking to overcome their fears, there are some legitimate ways to get help.

I was excited to see what the British Airways Flying with Confidence program had to offer, and I was interested to get more insight. I actually learned a few things that would not only help me with with future rough flights, but also some other phobias that I might or might not have (*cough* gnarly spiders *cough*).

ABOUT FLYING WITH CONFIDENCE

The introduction slide for the British Airways presentation

The introduction slide for the British Airways presentation – Image: British Airways

British Airways has been offering the Flying with Confidence course for about 35 years, and they have helped over 50,000 people. They claim to have a 98% success rate, and I can believe it. They offer a staff of over 40 people who assist from a number of different angles; from pilots to flight attendants, to air traffic controllers — all able to answer questions about the flying process.

Historically, they have only offered in-person courses at London Heathrow & Gatwick, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Dubai, and Johannesburg. However, due to COVID, they started providing an online option. I felt lucky enough to participate in the first online class.

There was still an in-person session that took place in London, which had about 40 attendees safely spread out among two rooms — they typically have over 100 participants. The course was completed over two days. The first day was a presentation that went over the different aspects of flight and the psychology of flying phobias. On the second day, people boarded a British Airways Airbus A319 and took a flight to nowhere. How cool is that?

The Northwest Boeing 747-200 taken at Kansai International Airport - Photo: Ken Fielding

Our Northwest Boeing 747-200 (reg: N642NW & name: Madison) taken at Kansai International Airport in 1999 – Photo: Ken Fielding

I have a soft place in my heart for Northwest Boeing 747-200s. My first time flying in a 747, my first time flying as an unaccompanied minor, and my first time being able to ride in the nose section was all on one of those birds. Even though that was at the age of five, it was very exciting and has stayed with me.

Anytime I see a photo of one of these aircraft, I wonder if it is the one that I flew on. I have no way of knowing, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to get to know more about the life of every Northwest 747-200 that I come across.

Taken in Aug 2004 - Photo: saku_y | FlickrCC

A photo taken of Madison in Aug 2004 – Photo: saku_y | FlickrCC

Not long ago, I documented the life of a Lockheed L1011 (which I named Martin). I have fun tracking down the lives (and often the deaths) of classic airliners and I enjoyed sharing Martin’s journey with you all (and many of you seemed to get a kick out of it as well). When I came across N642NW, a Northwest 747-200, I thought her history was pretty interesting and worth sharing.

I have decided to name this classic beauty Madison for two main reasons. During my trip (explained above), I flew from Seattle to Minneapolis to visit my uncles and we spent some time in Madison, WI. I might have also had a boyhood crush at the time on Madison from the movie Splash (played by Daryl Hannah). Either way, we can say that I like the name and I like the plane, so it works!

Now, let’s take a look at Madison’s birth, how she lived, and if she is still around today.