heads back in time with FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt,
"Sully" Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles aboard.
If this were a scheduled airline flight,
the manifest would read "Golden Era of Air Travel" as its
destination. The dozen or so passengers aboard N836D on Thursday morning
roamed the spacious cabin of the Douglas DC-7B, done up in Eastern Air
Lines livery, reveling in the details of the restoration work on the
sole remaining example of what was in its time the fastest piston
airliner in the world. A cabin partition was decorated on the starboard
side with an Eastern Air Lines route map and on the port side with the
Eastern Air Lines logo.
"I think they called that a duck
hawk falcon," said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt, pointing to the
stylized bird on the logo. "That's the fastest bird flying."
Babbitt had good reason to admire the
restoration work. His father had flown this airplane during his career
as an Eastern Air Lines pilot.
Passengers took their seats, and pilot
Frank Moss, copilot Glen Moss (Frank's son), and flight engineer Carlos
Gomez brought the four Wright R-3350 engines up. Roger Jarman, president
of the Historical Flight Foundation Inc., which operates the aircraft,
delivered a passenger briefing to the other time travelers, who included
Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and Jeff Skiles, co-chairmen of
the Young Eagles, and pilot and first officer respectively of
"Miracle on the Hudson" US Airways Flight 1549.
"This is the best seat in the
house," said Mark Wolf, owner of the DC-7B, in a window seat over
the wing as the airplane rumbled down Runway 36 at Wittman Field. But in
truth, every seat in the 90-passenger aircraft is the best.
The runway finally fell away with no
feeling of being airborne, and passengers were free to move about the
"I like the polished chrome
propeller hubs," Sully said peering out the window, and he and
Skiles talked about their own affinity for old piston transports. Sully
noted that while in the Air Force, he had gotten stick time in the
military versions of the DC-4 (C-54), DC-6 (C-118), and Lockheed
Constellation (C-121). Skiles recalled his time flying Convair 340s and
440s for a freight hauler early in this career. Both also mentioned they
were scheduled to give Young Eagles flights in a Cessna 210 the
A lounge at the back of the cabin offered
cosseted semicircular seating, with large ashtrays that could
accommodate the cigars passengers of the past might have puffed in the
back. Upfront, the cockpit door had been opened, and Babbitt had taken
the right seat, a huge grin plastered across his face. The altimeters
read 3,000 feet and airspeed a lazy 200 knots.
This aircraft entered service in 1958, as
jets were revolutionizing the airline industry, and these aircraft were
operated at full throttle to try to compete with the jets.
"They'd fly these at 340
knots," Wolf, the aircraft owner, said.
Back on the ground, passengers seemed
reluctant to leave the aircraft. Sully went up to the empty cockpit and
sat in the left seat. Babbitt still had the grin on his face.
"That was awesome," Babbitt
said. "I'm going to need at least a quart of smile remover."