correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the museum’s collection includes items charting the history of China Southern Airlines. While the collection does include China Southern items, they do not chart the airline’s history. The story has been updated.
The first time my husband landed a Boeing 737-200 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, he crashed. On the next go-round, I held my breath as Roy glided the plane over the runway fairly easily, but put it down with such force that the entire cockpit shook as if it were at the epicenter of an earthquake. I thought I would tumble out of the co-pilot’s seat.
Roy didn’t really crash a plane, and he’s not even a pilot, but I really did get jostled pretty badly. We were perched high off the ground in the Delta Flight Museum’s very realistic flight simulator.
“It’s the only full-motion flight simulator in the United States that’s open to the public,” says Mike Raftis, our extremely patient instructor.
The museum, along with the 737-200 simulator and a very cool collection of airplanes and Delta memorabilia, is minutes from the terminals at Hartsfield-Jackson. Although it’s been around in some form since 1995, it has only been open to the public for a few years.
My husband and I set out from our home in central Georgia to visit the museum. When I called to confirm the address, a young lady said, “You can’t miss the museum. Just turn in between the Boeing 747 and Boeing 757.” Soon enough, the behemoth planes were before us, standing sentry to more than 100 years of aviation history housed in two 1940s-era hangars.
We meet Tiffany Meng, director of operations, as she is showing tours around one of the hangars. The first thing we notice is a long line to see the interior of a meticulously restored Douglas DC-3, its silver coat polished to a dazzling shine that reflects every light in the building.
When the crowds around the DC-3 subside, I ask Meng what had prompted Delta to open the museum to the public. “Up until a few years ago, the museum was more for employees than anything else,” she said. “In celebration of Delta’s 85th anniversary of service in 2014, the decision was made to update the museum and share the company’s history to a wider audience.” From 2012 to 2014, it underwent a renovation that cost more than $12 million before opening almost full time in June 2014.
As Meng, Roy and I walk through the expansive rows of artifacts, she tells us that the museum collection includes items from the history of 40 airlines — including Northwest, going back to when it was Northwest Orient, as well as Pan Am. Here and there, she stops to show us her favorite objects, including a ticket from Aug. 14, 1929, for a flight from Monroe, La., where Delta was headquartered for a spell, to Jackson, the capital of Mississippi. The cost was $13.25.
She directs our attention to an employee identification badge. “Delta was named by Catherine FitzGerald, called Miss Fitz, and she was one of Delta’s first employees,” Meng says, referring to the longtime assistant to C.E. Woolman, Delta’s first CEO. “She came up with the name of Delta from the Mississippi Delta region.”
Other Delta memorabilia includes a reproduction of the first Huff-Daland crop duster, and flight attendant uniforms throughout the years, including the “groovy” designs from the 1960s. Even the hangar is historical. “The hangar is one of the oldest buildings on Atlanta airport property,” Meng says as she sweeps her arm toward the crop duster suspended from the ceiling. (Two original Huff-Daland Dusters still exist. One is at the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Northern Virginia; the other at the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham, Ala.) “As far as I know, we are the only airline that started from killing bugs, the boll weevil,” Meng says. “Most airlines start out as a cargo carrier or from airmail.”
In an adjacent hangar is a monstrous Boeing 767-200, and emblazoned on its side is “The Spirit of Delta.” Meng says that in 1982, when the economy was weak and Delta was posting its first net loss, Delta employees raised $30 million among themselves and others to purchase the plane, the first 767 that Delta owned. “It is the only one in the entire fleet named ‘The Spirit of Delta,’ ” Meng says. Special events are often held underneath its giant wings in the hangar.
From the hangar, we walk across the parking lot to the outdoor 747 exhibit. The 747 is arguably aviation’s most iconic aircraft, and Meng says that the plane is the showstopper for most visitors. As we climb the stairs into the plane, Roy and I join a small group and listen to Shaun Crawley, a museum volunteer whose “day job” is as a financial adviser at Delta Community Credit Union.
As Crawley shows us around the 747-400, the first one Boeing built, he urges us to sit in one of the spiffy Delta One first-class seats while he explains that particular aircraft has 171 miles of electrical wires. Crawley also says that an astounding 3.5 billion passengers have flown on a 747 at one time or another. “That’s about half of the world’s population,” he says before leading us out to walk on the wing of the 747, which, I must say, is a pretty cool thing to do.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should admit that I didn’t do so well in the flight simulator, either. I chose to take off and land from Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. I almost slammed into a mountain as I tried to watch the landscape and all those bright, shiny cockpit gizmos at the same time. And I landed in the grass, rather than the runway.
But at least I didn’t crash.
Anderson is a travel writer based in Hazelhurst, Ga.
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1060 Delta Blvd., Building B
at Delta’s Atlanta Headquarters
If you plan to visit the museum from the airport, Tiffany Meng,the director of operations, recommends you allow at least three or four hours between flights. If you have an overnighter in Atlanta, Meng adds, some airport hotels will offer you shuttle service to the museum.
The flight simulator costs $425 for up to four people, ages 16 and over. It is not recommended for pregnant women or those with back issues or motion sickness. Guests will receive a 10-minute preflight briefing, 45 minutes of flight time and a five-minute review at the end of the experience. Reservations are highly encouraged, although walk-ups can be accommodated.
Adults ages 18 to 64, $15; seniors $12.50; ages 5 to 17, $10; children 4 and younger, free. Special rates for Delta employees, retirees and their guests, as well as members of the military and other airlines’ employees. Open 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday ; noon to 4:30 p.m. Sunday; closed Wednesdays. The 747 Experience is open noon to 4 p.m. The last ticket each day is issued one hour before closing.