By MARTY STEINER
Airline museums range from boring glass cases filled with a hodgepodge of miscellaneous stuff to a flight line of vintage airliners in varying states of outdoor exposure and decay.
Some have brought an aircraft or two indoors, restored it and may have some limited viewing or even a walk-through tour or display.
Faced with the dilemma of where to place the first built Boeing 747-400 upon its retirement, the Delta Flight Museum decided to put the displays inside the aircraft and to expose portions of the 747 never seen, even by many seasoned airline employees.
Ship 6301 is located outside and across the ramp from the main museum, which is housed in a pair of 1940s original Delta hangars, overlooking the air cargo terminals and adjacent to Atlanta’s massive Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, “the world’s busiest.”
The 747 was moved there April 30, 2016, prior to the installation of the displays and various modifications to ready it for viewing. This was 30 years, almost to the day, of its first flight.
Access structures and an “over the wing” viewing platform were built and “see-through” floor panels installed to enable visitors to see the myriads of wires and other systems that are the guts of a modern jet air transport.
Highlights include streaming historic videos, timelines of the 747 design, and more. It’s like walking through a full size cutaway.Ship 6301, the first Boeing 747-400 built, originally took flight on April 29, 1988. The “747 Experience” featuring this historic aircraft took flight at the Delta Flight Museum on March 28, 2017.
With special opening day ticket prices of $7.47, visitors went airborne the 30 feet to the aircraft main deck.
This historic aircraft came to Delta through its merger with Northwest Airlines in 2008. Delta had previously operated 747s from 1970 to 1977. This came about after Delta had already decided that the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar was to be their standard, and only, wide-body aircraft. Lockheed and the Rolls-Royce jet engines fell on hard times and, with market demands, Delta needed a wide body airliner before any Tristars could be delivered. It also operated a few leased DC-10s in the interim.
While the “747 Experience” is the latest addition to the museum, it is only one creative presentation of Delta’s 88-year history. That story is housed in the two nearby hangars.
The first presents the propeller age of Delta and many of its predecessor airlines. Perhaps to put the “747 Experience” in perspective, visitors might begin their museum visit in these main hangar buildings.
Delta began as a crop dusting operation in the Louisiana delta region, giving it its name. The Huff-Daland fabric-covered aircraft was the first to bear the Delta Air Service logo. A replica of a Huff Daland “Puffer,” which originally distributed powder insecticide to eradicate the boll weevil from cotton fields, is suspended in “flight” over a display of that cotton dusting history.
This replica was built from original aircraft plans by a team of retired Delta employees. A restored original Huff Daland aircraft was previously donated to the National Air and Space Museum by Delta in 1968.
Nearby a Travel Air 6B Sedan poses in front of a mockup façade of the original Delta terminal in Monroe, Louisiana, its birthplace.
A mannequin pilot is assisting a lady passenger aboard, both in vintage clothing.
Nearby Delta’s first DC-3, ship 41, stands proudly. Both of these aircraft are airworthy and previously had been flown to airshows and other special events until permanently moved into the museum.
Ship 41 was one of five Douglas DC-3s ordered by Delta in 1940 and was the first to see passenger service on Christmas Eve 1940. Later sold to North Central, then becoming Northwest and eventually used for air cargo in Puerto Rico, she was purchased for restoration and a home in the Delta Flight Museum.
Glass cases line the walls with specific exhibits. Some focus on a specific airline and others on various operational aspects, such as navigation.
Younger visitors have opportunities in this museum as well. A scale replica of a Western Air Express Boeing biplane flown in the 1920s and 1930s offers a good backdrop for a selfie, while a variety of youth-focused activities are available.
Visitors then traverse a jetway tunnel lined with blue runway lights into Hangar 2 for the jet age exhibits. Both of these hangars were in daily use well into the 1960s before the massive Delta Tech-Ops complex was completed simultaneously with the “new” Atlanta International Airport Terminal, which opened in May 1961.
Displayed on the centerline of Hangar 2 is “the Spirit of Delta,” the Boeing 767 that was purchased for Delta by its employees as a show of faith after Delta suffered its first annual loss in its history.
Under the 767 are two baggage cart trains with each baggage cart creatively converted into exhibits, each side with a different subject. Many of these exhibits contain uniforms, china and flatware, schedule folders, tote bags, and other items from the various airlines that have become part of Delta.
Other aircraft types are also represented, including the forward fuselage of the prototype Lockheed L-1011 Tristar and the cockpit of a Convair 880.
One display contains a tribute to CE Woolman, one of four founders of Delta, who led the company from it beginnings as a crop dusting company to one of the world’s largest airlines. It contains a bronze bust, his original picture ID badge — number 1 of course — various magazine covers that featured Woolman, as well as some of the honors awarded to Delta during his long tenure. Many of his encouraging quotes may be seen throughout the museum.
One particularly interesting interactive display shows the “family tree” of Delta and provides details on each of these colorful ancestors of Delta. Among these are some 40 individual airlines.
The Delta Flight Museum is open Thursday through Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except Sunday, when it is open noon to 4:30 p.m.
With the main museum and the “747 Experience” available for special events, visitors should check in advance for possible closures.
Admission is $10 for kids 5-17, $15 for adults, and $12.50 for seniors 65+.
Guided tours of the museum are available on the first, third and fifth Tuesdays at 1 p.m., while DC-3 tours are available on the second Tuesdays at no additional cost.
Boeing 737-200 flight simulator time may also be scheduled for an additional fee. This may be the only commercial airline full motion simulator available to the general public.
Whether your travels include Atlanta or you live in the area, the Delta Flight Museum is a world-class museum right next to the world’s busiest airport.