Delta’s Queen of the Skies (N674US) took a victory lap across the country on Dec. 18
With Delta Air Lines’ last 747 now in the boneyard at Pinal Airpark in Arizona, we thought it would be a good time to look back at the next-to-last farewell tour in late December when it visited both the Boeing plant of its birth and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
N674US taxiing at Paine Field in Everett – Photo: Jordan Arens
This particular bird (N674US – LN: 1232) first flew on September 30, 1999 and was delivered to Northwest in October of that year. It was transferred to Delta’s fleet in June of 2009 and flew with the airline until being put out to pasture. With the retirement of these iconic planes from Delta’s fleet, no U.S.-based passenger airline flies them any longer (unless you count Atlas and their charters).
A Delta 757 in the Sky Team livery on approach to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
The recent announcement by Delta Air Lines that it will be ordering 100 new Airbus A321neo jets could put a nail, or perhaps rivet, into the coffin of a 757 replacement.
I knew this Delta announcement was coming years ago when I was working for Boeing and had an insightful chat with a very high-ranking Boeing executive. The chat was not in a public forum, so I will not say who it was, but trust me – this person knew what he was talking about. He told me that he felt Delta may never buy from Boeing again. He went on to talk about how Delta’s former CEO, Richard Anderson, and its current leadership, was pretty much married to the French conglomerate.
Prior to Delta, Anderson made a couple of big Airbus purchases while heading Northwest Airlines. Delta’s entire A319, A320 and A330 fleet comes from Northwest. So what’s this have to do with the flirtation of a new 757? Delta is far and above the biggest 757 user with 128 757s, a total that was boosted after the 2008 merger with Northwest Airlines. United’s the next-largest passenger carrier at 77 and American is third with 52. The aircraft is still popular in the US, but not as much overseas.
Spotting from the hotel at ATL.
Being an AvGeek since I could walk, and currently a private pilot, I have always wondered if I could fly a real airliner. I always felt confident that I could, but that little part of me wondered if there truly was anything special I lacked; could I safely land one if I had to? I’m sure many of you have thought about needing to take the controls of an airliner to save the day and I wanted to put my skills to the test. Of course, not in a way that would actually put people in harm’s way.
I recently decided to make the journey from Boston (BOS) to Atlanta (ATL), where I thought I could test out my skills. The quick flight of two-and-a-half hours (depending on winds and approach) from BOS into ATL passed very quickly. My son and I arrived in Atlanta just as dusk approached. Our first stop was checking into the Renaissance Hotel. We booked the “Aviator’s Package” — yes, an AvGeek’s dream hotel. They handed us a cool bag with a bunch of airplane goodies as well as passes to the Delta Flight Museum. They then directed us to our room on the 10th floor corner, which overlooked the approach end of 26R and the Delta maintenance parking area.
A Delta Air Lines Boeing 737-200 – Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC
Eating dinner, courtesy of room service, out on the balcony listening to the hum of jet engines, jumping up to snap pictures of the next beautiful airplane either landing or departing, and just overall enjoying the ATL evening activity, dusk turned into night and the bustle continued. The tower was lit in a really cool blue/green color and the sea of airplane navigation lights was like staring into the night sky looking at stars.
“Ah, I’m sorry, you’re gonna have to get out of the car,” the Delta Air Lines security guard said as he peered farther into the window of the Uber I had taken to the northern edge of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Distracted, as I had been staring at a 757–200 beautifully adorned in Delta’s classic widget livery until about five seconds prior, I could only muster a perplexed, “uh, okay.” There really was no sense in arguing with the guy. I acquiesced, slightly annoyed, thanked my driver, and hopped out of the car.
Classic Widget Delta 757 – Photo: Jake Grant
I stayed mad for, oh, five seconds at the most. You see, at the Delta Flight Museum, the exhibits begin in the parking lot, a stone’s throw from both arrivals on the northern runway 8L/26R into Delta’s biggest fortress hub and Delta’s brick castle of a headquarters down the street. Due to the preservation efforts of Delta’s 80,000-strong workforce, the museum’s outdoor exhibit highlights a trio of classic airliners; the 757, a Douglas DC-9, the short-haul workhorse for the better part of four decades, and the first Boeing 747–400 built, with a display plaza being pieced together around the Queen of the Skies.
DC-9! Woo – Photo: Jake Grant
A note on the plaza: I ended up taking my tour before it opened at the end of March. It’ll definitely be worth a visit by any Atlantians or folks with long layovers. The 747 and the plaza taking shape around it were primarily funded by Delta employees. This is a recurring theme of the Delta Flight Museum. The inside of the 747 is an extension of the two hangars full of Delta relics across the parking lot. This writer certainly intends to check out the finished project when he gets the opportunity.