Well, it’s about time!
Written by Charlie Dolan
It took me only 47 years from the time I first saw a Boeing 747 in real time until I had my first flight on “The queen of the skies”.
My first flight was on my tenth birthday in 1954, I first soloed in 1965 in a Piper J-3 Cub and I have been hanging around airports for at least forty-five years as both an Army officer and a civilian. I’ve ridden in allsorts of flying machines, single engine, twin engine, push – pull Cessnas, tri-motors, military helicopters and a wide variety of two, three and four engine airliners. The one aircraft which eluded me was the Boeing 747. It seemed that no matter where I traveled, the 747 was going in the same direction at the same time as I.
I first saw a 747 in 1972 when a Pan American charter flight passed through Niagara Falls (NY) International Airport (KIAG). That same year, while at Fort Dix, NJ for a two week Army reserve active duty period, two other officers and I went up to JFKIA and got to go on board a Pan Am 747 which was at the gate for an evening departure. My Customs ID and badge made that tour possible.
I had been ON many 747s during my thirty-six year career with the U.S. Customs Service, but never when their main engines were running and the aircraft was not firmly planted on the ground. I have searched the 747 in many configurations, in passenger service, cargo operations and VIP transport versions. I knew its interior, exterior and all the areas below decks. But, I had never been off the ground in one.
That depressing situation changed on December first of this year. My wife and I had booked a river cruise on the Danube to visit the German and Austrian Christmas markets. We have been on many deep water cruises, but this was our first river cruise. Once I saw that we had been booked on a Lufthansa Boeing 747-400. I had to jump into action. I wanted Karen to see why that plane fascinated me so much that I wrote to Lufthansa’s Orlando station manager to see if it could be arranged for us to board a tad early so I could show her around the aircraft.
At check-in we were greeted by the assistant station manager and we were allowed us to board with the families with children. I was able to stow our hand luggage quickly and give Karen a quick tour of the upper deck. I asked about a peek into the cockpit, but the purser indicated that the crew was occupied with pre-flight duties. Just after we returned to the lower level, the purser called us back and said that the captain would allow us to visit the “front office”. We had an enjoyable conversation with the two experienced pilots and thanked them for their time. Karen was allowed to take a photo of them – “as long as it wasn’t going to be on facebook”.
The flight to Frankfurt was comfortable and the landing was as smooth as any I have ever experienced. It was a tribute to both the aircraft and the crew. It was one more item checked off my “bucket list.
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