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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedThe Douglas DC-7B flies into past
By James Wynbrandt
 

Historic DC-7B 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 cabin.

"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 following morning.

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."

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