Over the holidays we flew back to the United States to visit family. Comparing all the options, we chose All-Nippon Airways, a Japanese airline and member of the Star Alliance, because with their joint venture with United, it was easy to seamlessly book the entire trip through ANA’s website. Here is a look at the highlights of the flights.
The departure from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport is quite early – about 7:00 – but we arrived early enough beforehand so we could enjoy some time in the THAI Airways Royal Orchid Lounge. The lounge was decorated for the holidays in shades of their signature purple hue.
Now that United has exited the Bangkok to Tokyo route, leaving the flying to All-Nippon, ANA has up-gauged their equipment from a Boeing 767 to a Boeing 777.
The flight still departs too early for my tastes, but at least you begin the day with a pretty sunrise. As Tawn explained it, since he used to work for United and the flights out of Bangkok (to Tokyo and Hong Kong at the time) both departed very early, he still associated early flights with the excitement of working.
We were assigned a aisle and window seat but another traveler was assigned the middle seat, so we gave him the aisle so Tawn and I could sit together. There was a nice view as we climbed into the humid and hazy morning sky above Bangkok.
The flight began with a beverage and snack service, a selection of tasty rice crackers.
The flight attendants at ANA are very friendly. Sometimes their English isn’t perfect, but they are very sincere and quick to respond to requests.
I opted for a western-style breakfast, which if I recall was chicken croquettes served with mashed potatoes. When I say “breakfast”, I mean “meal”.
Tawn chose the Japanese style meal, which was a piece of mackerel served with a variety of pickles and other sides. Both meals were tasty and satisfying.
The planes used intra-Asia have an older interior, with narrower leg room and smaller, more difficult to view monitors. The entertainment system still offers dozens of movies and a hundred or more TV shows, all on-demand. However, the screens are not touchscreen and you have to use the remote controller.
The flight to Tokyo took about six hours and we arrived on a sunny and clear afternoon.
A nice view of an ANA Boeing 767 with the new drag-reducing wingtips. The 767 remains one of my favorite planes, mostly due to the 2-3-2 layout in economy class, where everyone is either on an aisle or no more than one seat away from an aisle.
Narita is an efficient, modern airport through which to connect. We spent some time at the All-Nippon Lounge, which has a good selection of food and beverage, shower facilities, and a nap area.
A meeting of Boeing 787 Dreamliners, the one in the foreground flown by All-Nippon and the one in the background flown by United Airlines. The two airlines have an immunized joint venture for trans-Pacific and connecting flights, meaning that they operate these flights as if they were a single carrier, sharing revenues and expenses.
The sun had already set when we boarded our Boeing 777-300 ER bound for Chicago O’Hare International Airport.
All-Nippon is one of the few carriers to do a 2-4-3 layout in economy class, which provides a range of options for different size groups traveling together. Unfortunately, we ended up with two of the seats in the middle four. However, the good thing is that these are actually two pairs of seats, so the people in the middle each have their own armrest and about two inches between them. That means the seats do not feel cramped.
Also, All-Nippon offers 34″ of pitch (the distance between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat in the next row) – this is 3″ more than most US carriers offer. On top of it, these planes us a “shell back” seat that never reclines into your space. Instead, as you recline your seat, your seat bottom slides forward, reducing your own leg room. I prefer this because I rarely sleep on planes, but dislike having someone recline into my space.
As you can see, the monitors are much larger and brighter, and they feature touch-screen technology. There is also a USB port in case you want to charge your electronic devices. There is also a standard power outlet in between the seats.
Tawn and I both chose the same meal, a Japanese style grilled pork dish with cold soba noodles, tofu, and rice. Very tasty. One of the things I like about Japanese meals is that they are served with many small side dishes. The variety of tastes and textures makes the meal very fulfilling.
After dinner, the crew dimmed the cabin lights and everyone was asked to close their window shades.
A view of the rear galley, where there was a bit of space that you could stand and stretch your legs.
Also in the galley was a basket of snacks and beverages with a sign inviting you to help yourself. Flight attendants were also available to take care of any requests, such as brewing a cup of tea for me.
With strong east-bound tail winds, our flight to Chicago was only 10:30 minutes. The return flight from San Jose to Tokyo, a much shorter route, was actually fifteen minutes longer!
Our second sunrise of the day, the first viewed while we were on the ground in Bangkok and the second viewed off the coast of Washington.
About 90 minutes before landing, a second meal was served. This is the minced chicken with noodles (I think!) that Tawn had.
And I had a chicken thigh served with pasta. These meals were a bit lighter than the first meals, but appropriate given that we had departed in the evening and were arriving just after lunchtime.
The cabin with the lights on. It is actually a comfortable enough cabin to fly in, even for the long haul flight. Sure, business class would be better, but for the price, All-Nippon economy class was fine.
About five seconds before landing, a view across the plane and out the window, where you can see planes at the international terminal where we would disembark.
This is the story of my first flight aboard the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, traveling on All-Nippon Airways (ANA) flight 1075 from San Jose, California to Narita airport in Tokyo, Japan. An 11-minute video version of this trip report is embedded here if you would prefer to watch instead of read.
The Dreamliner is a revolutionary wide-body aircraft. Made largely with composite materials, it is about 20% more fuel efficient than the older 767 aircraft it is designed to replace. Despite a four-month grounding earlier this year because of electrical problems, the aircraft has performed very well for its initial customers and is opening new “long and thin” routes like San Jose to Tokyo that could not previously have been served profitably.
I arrived at the airport plenty early to watch the inbound aircraft land, which arrived about twenty minutes late. Having grown up in the San Jose area and able to remember the days when the airport was a much smaller operation, it is exciting to see this cutting-edge plane regularly scheduled to fly here.
ANA operates from terminal A. Now nearly a quarter-century old, I still recall terminal A as the “new” terminal compared to the 1960s era terminal C that was only recently demolished. As a child, I relished the opportunity to walk across the tarmac and climb a set of stairs to board the airplane. To me, that made air travel much more exciting. These days, the two terminals at San Jose are modern and entirely enclosed. Certainly the facilities are nicer but the travel experience is also more sterile.
ANA has a small counter space but lots of employees working check-in. As a Star Alliance gold level member, there was no wait and I was efficiently checked in by a friendly agent. While the agent did not appear to be of Japanese heritage – several of the staff members were – she displayed all the appropriate cultural training such as receiving and handing documents with both hands. This was a nice touch and leads me to believe that instead of relying on contract employees, ANA is using its own staff.
Boarding pass in hand – a window seat in the second row of economy class – I headed up the escalator to the security screening area. The terminal has a single consolidated screening point and while there weren’t that many people in line, the process took a bit of time. In particular, the crew of Mexican budget airline Volaris seemed to be holding up the line, unfamiliar with the TSA’s screening procedures. It took several of the flight attendants multiple trips through the metal detector before they finally removed all of their metal items.
Today’s flight operated from gate 15, one of two gates connected to the International Arrivals Area. This section of the terminal is essentially the connector between terminals A and B. There are few amenities but the windows offer a good view of the tarmac. Unfortunately, the sterile corridor leading to the customs and immigration area means you look out through two sets of windows.
I spent plenty of time taking pictures of the Dreamliner. It is a unique-looking airplane, with an asymmetrical nose. The plane’s proportions make it looks smaller than it actually is, perhaps because it looks unusually low to the ground for so large an aircraft.
After taking plenty of pictures – something lots of other waiting passengers were also doing – I headed to The Club at SJC, a private lounge that ANA uses for its premium customers. The Club is the only lounge at SJC, where the only dominant airline is Southwest.
Located upstairs from the departure gate, the lounge offers limited views of the tarmac but has two large seating areas, workspaces, and a decent selection of food and beverage. They also have a single shower room, so I freshened up before the flight.
It was nearing time to board. ANA operates the San Jose service with a 787 in a very low density configuration, only 158 passengers in a plane that can easily seat more than 220. Because of this, the gate area was not crowded.
After the highest level members of ANA’s frequent flyer program were boarded, Star Alliance Gold members were invited. A single jetway is used at this gate but with so few passengers boarding, it isn’t a problem. I was welcomed aboard warmly and directed towards my seat.
Business class, divided into two cabins, seats 46 people in alternating rows of 1-1-1 and 1-2-1 seating. All seats have direct aisle access and a lot of privacy. The problem with this arrangement is that it isn’t very friendly for couples traveling together. I know that privacy is something that a lot of premium customers value highly, but I prefer arrangements that are a little less cubicle-like.
A small economy class cabin of just three rows sits behind business class and the mid-cabin lavatories. In another configuration, this area has premium economy seating with 38” legroom and only seven seats across. I can understand why they made that choice: there is nearly a foot of empty floor behind the last row in this cabin. Even without installing premium economy, they could have added a few more inches to each of these three rows.
The design of the overhead bins offers plenty of room to store roll-aboard bags placed on their side. The bins also pivot into the ceiling, making for a very open cabin when they are closed. This being a low-density seating configuration, lots of storage space remained even after everyone had boarded.
ANA uses fixed-shell seats in economy, where instead of reclining back into the row behind you, your seat slides forward. I like this arrangement because my personal space remains fixed. With 33 to 34 inches of seat pitch, ANA’s Dreamliner offers several more inches of legroom than most competitors including joint-venture partner United Airlines. My one complaint with these seats is that the headrest doesn’t move up and down and, perhaps because it is designed for Japanese customers, it manages to fall at my neck rather than the back of my head.
The inflight entertainment system is an “on-demand” system with touch screen controls. The selection of movies, TV shows, games, and music is extensive – plenty to keep you occupied on your flight. The system was also one of the more responsive that I have used. When you touch the screen, it reacts promptly. The overhead passenger service unit features a new design and it was nice to be on a wide-body airplane with personal air vents.
Boarding was complete in about fifteen minutes and soon enough we had pushed back and the safety demo was finished. As the engines spooled up – a higher pitch whine than I’ve heard before – the ANA ground staff lined up to send us off with a wave. Being a small airport, we reached the departure end of runway 30 R in just a few minutes. Number one for takeoff, we pulled onto the runway and launched into our roll without a stop.
Our departure followed an interesting path, indicated in green on the map. We leveled off at 5,000 feet and maintained that altitude across the south end of the bay, towards Woodside.
Meanwhile, aircraft were circling wide on our left (yellow on the map), cutting behind us to line up for arrival on runways 28 L and R at San Francisco. While I am confident the air traffic controllers were keeping a close watch on us, the other aircraft came a lot closer than you usually see from your window. It was nice to have such a good view! As we approached Half Moon Bay, we resumed our climb, joining the westbound route across the Pacific.
About forty minutes after departure, inflight service began with hot towels – real cloth towels – followed by a beverage service with snacks.
The snacks were simple – rice crackers – and the selection of beverages included complimentary wine, beer, and spirits. The crew was friendly and helpful and there were no difficulties in communicating with them in English.
An in-seat menu card described the general service while the specific meal choices for today’s flight could be read on the inflight entertainment system and also on laminated cards the flight attendants had on their carts.
For dinner, I chose the Japanese option – a chicken teriyaki dish served with cold soba – buckwheat noodles. The portion was generous and the food was tasty. The dinner also included miso soup served from a pitcher.
Afterwards, flight attendants distributed Häagen-Dazs ice cream – a simple and satisfying dessert. Since the meal was served with metal cutlery, I could use an actual spoon to scoop the rock-hard ice cream instead of the flimsy plastic one contained inside the ice cream container’s lid.
After lunch, I walked around the mostly-full cabin. You can see the windows, which are about thirty percent larger than conventional airplane windows. Truthfully, this didn’t make as big an impression on me as I thought they would. Sure, the windows were large, but the biggest effect was that it made the cabin look narrower. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but because I am used to a standard-size window, as I looked across the width of the cabin and mentally estimated the width, the wall looked closer to me than it really was. Instead of shades, the windows use LCD controls for different levels of shading. Above, you can see two of the windows at the maximum-dark setting.
The rear cabin has eleven additional rows of economy class seats. As you can see, the cabin has a spacious feel and the 2-4-2 arrangement is quite pleasant. Unfortunately, ANA is moving towards a 3-3-3 arrangement like most operators so the comfortably wide seats will be a thing of the past. I can understand the economics but will say that as a customer, I will go out of my way to fly an 8-abreast 787 instead of a 9-abreast configuration.
The other thing I noticed is that the screens on the entertainment system are coated in such a way that they are not visible unless viewed almost straight-on. For example, I couldn’t tell if the person seated next to me had his screen on until I leaned over to look. This would seem to be a good thing, minimizing extraneous light and also giving greater (although not complete) privacy in what you are viewing.
The galley and entrance to the crew rest area are at the rear of the cabin. This arrangement is nice because it gives the crew plenty of space to work and minimizes the number of passengers congregating in this area. Instead, the congregate mid-cabin by the lavatories.
Three lavatories are in the middle of the economy class cabin, located by doors 3 left and 3 right. I didn’t get a picture or video of them, but the doors are hinged in an interesting way. Instead of pivoting on a hinge at one side of the door or folding in half, the door slides and pivots into the toilet, lying flat against the side wall. This improves the accessibility of the lavatory although isn’t intuitive. I noticed several people pushing and pulling the door before they figured out how it moved.
The lavatories are high-tech on ANA featuring lots of buttons, including for the automated bidet, in case you need to wash your bum afterwards. When you press the flush button, the toilet seat cover is automatically lowered. Oddly, though, the flush happens while the cover is still lowering. Lavatories were kept clean with flight attendants tidying them throughout the flight.
The LCD shading for the windows is interesting. Instead of having physical shades that you pull shut, there are two buttons that allow you to increase the tinting along five settings from nearly transparent to nearly opaque. It seems that the most transparent setting still seems to have a light tint to it, or at least that was my impression.
At its darkest, you can still see through the window although little light passes through. That may not make sense when I write it, but when you look at the windows from the side, they appear to be completely opaque. When you look at the windows straight-on, you can see through them as if they were very dark sunglasses. Mid-flight, which was still full daylight outside, the cabin was dark although not as dark as with physical window shades. If I’m not mistaken, I think the flight attendants were able to master set the windows to the darkest setting although individual passengers could modify the settings for their own windows, making them more transparent as they wished.
Snacks and beverages were available in the galley throughout the flight. The selection was basic – some crisps and crackers along with bananas.
About two and a half hours before landing – just a little early, in my estimation – a second meal service was offered. Unlike lunch/dinner, which had clear “Japanese” and “Western” options, the choices for the breakfast were less distinct.
I had the chicken cacciatore, which was pretty tasty. The portion size was smaller than the previous meal, but considering that we had eaten just five hours ago, that was okay.
One feature of the Dreamliner is that its cabin is pressurized to the equivalent of a 6000 foot elevation instead of at 8000 feet, as found in most airliners. Also, humidity levels are slightly higher, about 15% versus less than 5% normally. My impression was that the cabin was a bit more comfortable than normal. I travel frequently across the Pacific and find I get very dried out. The effect could just be psychological but on this flight, I felt less dehydrated.
The rest of the flight was smooth as we descended into an overcast northern Japan and landed on-time in Narita. As we approached the airport, there was a lot of other traffic and on our turns there was always a good view of other planes. The rice paddies were also vibrant green and just starting to turn golden yellow.
Again, thanks to the low-density configuration, it took just a few minutes to deplane. My nine hour, forty-five minute flight aboard the ANA Dreamliner left me with a positive impression of both the airplane and the airline.
All things considered, I would go out of my way to fly ANA in general and the Dreamliner in particular on future trips. Additionally, flying out of San Jose was a very convenient option so I will keep that in mind for future trips to and from the Bay Area.
Even though the trip was several weeks ago, I’m only now getting to posting my video trip report on YouTube for the trip to Kuala Lumpur. The flight was on Lufthansa, the German airline. They fly it as a tag-on segment to the Frankfurt-Bangkok flight and it is currently the only Boeing 747 being flow between Bangkok and KL.
Here is the nine-minute video trip report for your viewing pleasure. Pictures and brief highlights of the flight are provided below.
Since I had a mid-afternoon departure and was traveling light, I decided to take the Airport Link train to the airport. Since it opened in the second half of 2010 (blog entry about it here), the service has been a money-loser. Ultimately, it isn’t very convenient and the main in-city terminal is located near a subway station but is not connected to it. (In fairness, they are a month or two away from finally opening an elevated walkway to connect the two.) The system has a notable lack of down-direction escalators, making for a lot of heavy lifting or waiting for the single elevator at each station is you have heavy bags. The State Railways promises to add escalators at key stations but no timetable has been provided.
The airport itself is a wonder of glass, steel, and concrete. In many ways, it is hard to distinguish from any other major international airport, although as you can see, some Thai touches have been snuck in. This is a Buddha image that ostensibly contains a relic from the Lord Buddha. It was set up with a large display of flowers right in the middle of the departures hall as a temporary display sponsored by some company.
Hidden upstairs, high above the ticketing counters, is an observation deck. The view is largely obstructed by roof and wall support structures and a scale model of the airport, which has seen better day, is displayed there. Looking closely, I noticed that it had suffered much damage while being moved. It seems a jumbo jet has crash landed on the entrance road to the airport connecting from the expressway!
Before the flight, I visited the Singapore Airlines Silver Kris lounge. One of the luxuries I allow myself is a Star Alliance Gold tier membership, which provides me with lounge access when flying Star Alliance carriers. Having a quiet space away from the bustle of the airport makes air travel a lot more enjoyable. This lounge, in particular, is very nice with views of a large garden area.
The beverage and food selection surprised me with its breadth. In addition to a variety of cold cuts, cheeses, and desserts, there were several different types of proper food including soups, a salad bar, Chinese steamed dumplings, and a few main courses.
I was especially impressed that they had set up a make-your-own “khao chae” bar. Khao Chae (I wrote about it here last year) is a Thai hot season treat, rice served in cool, fragrant jasmine water with a selection of condiments. Not the type of thing you would expect to find in an airline lounge and something that was not on offer over at the THAI Airways lounge! Kudos to Singapore Airlines for their attention to detail.
A small selection of desserts, including a traditional Thai dessert cooked in a pandan leaf box, served with a cappuccino. While the desserts were not breathtaking, they were tasty and a wide variety was offered.
Our bird as seen through the dirty windows of Suvarnabhumi International Airport. This Boeing 747-400 is nicknamed Duisburg after the famous steel-making city in Germany. It entered the Lufthansa fleet on June 5, 1991 but the interior was in remarkably good shape for a plane quickly approaching its 22nd birthday.
Quick review of the safety demonstration card before departure. You can never be too careful, right?
If I had to sit in these tight economy class seats for ten or twelve hours, I would not be happy, but for the short flight to KL, it was fine. The seats have large touch-screen monitors playing an extensive selection of films and TV shows. One thing I like about these seats is that the magazines are moved to a pouch behind the tray table, freeing up a little more room for your knees. Still, seat pitch was just 31 or 32″, comparable to economy class on most US carriers.
Our “meal service” was a snack box with a sandwich that contained the thinnest slice of chicken and the saddest looking leaf of lettuce I have ever seen. A muffin and a KitKat candy bar rounded out the meal. Beverage service was the small bottled water. I think you could go to the galley and request a juice or soft drink but no beverage cart was rolled through the aisles. While it is a short flight, this seems a pretty sad offering for an airline that claims to be full-service.
Beginning our descent into Kuala Lumpur on a beautiful late afternoon with high clouds. Closer to the ground, though, the skies were hazy and visibility was limited. Overall, the flight was smooth and reasonably comfortable. The crew, while being pretty senior, was friendly, professional, and seemed to genuinely enjoy working the flight.
While in Seattle, I spent a few days with my friend Jack. He’s a fellow aviation enthusiast so we made the requisite “pilgrimage” to two Seattle-area aviation hotspots: the Boeing widebody factory in Everett and the Museum of Flight at the original Boeing site at King County Airport.
Boeing Factory Tour
The city of Everett lies about 35 miles north of Seattle. Since the late 1960s, Boeing has produced and delivered well over 3,000 widebody aircraft from this factory, which features the largest building in the world, measured by volume. The building is so large that 911 regulation NBA basketball courts would fit inside.
Currently, the factory produces Boeing’s 747, 767, 777, and new 787 aircraft. Viewed above is the delivery flight line, where final systems checks are conducted before the test flights. The near row of aircraft are the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, with some Boeing 747-8 freighters in the back.
The factory tour allows up-close views of the different production hangars, where you can see the jets assembled in what can only be described as an example of how manufacturing technology has evolved over the years. Unfortunately, video and still photography (along with all electronic devices) is not allowed on the tour, so I’ve had to borrow some pictures from the internet to illustrate. I’ve noted all borrowed images.
The first stop in the tour is the production facility for the oldest of the aircraft, the Boeing 747. The first flight of the original version of the 747 was in February 1969. The design has continued to be advanced over the decades and the current version, the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental is larger, longer, faster, and much more fuel efficient than the original version.
The manufacturing process has in many ways remained the same. Almost all components of the aircraft are actually built by Boeing there at the Everett factory. Sheets of aluminum are attached to spars and stringers and each section of the plane – nose cone, tail, wings, fuselage barrels – are rivetted together, piece by piece. It takes four month from start to finish for each part to be made and eventually married together.
With the introduction of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Boeing revolutionized the production process. The Everett factory is now the final assembly point for the airplane, with all of the component pieces being produced at other facilities (by bother Boeing and contractors) around the globe.
These component pieces are large – lengthy sections of the fuselage, entire wings, etc. In order to transport them from factories in Italy, Japan, and Wichita to the final assembly facilities in Everett, WA and North Charleston, SC, Boeing commissioned four modified B747-400 aircraft, known as Dreamlifters. These ungainly looking aircraft significantly reduce shipping time.
We were fortunate to see a Dreamlifter arrive a few minutes after parking at the tour center. I captured the landing on video, above.
To remove the components from the Dreamlifter, the tail section swings open. A giant tractor with a head-sized ball bearing is placed under the tail to hold the weight of the tail, preventing damage to the door hinges. It is an impressive feat of engineering!
Once all the components are delivered, they are fastened together in a process that currently takes about seven days. That rate will increase as Boeing become more familiar with the assembly process, but is quite an improvement over the four months it takes to build a B747-8 from scratch.
Needless to say, the factory tour was impressive. Even though it was Sunday, a relatively slow production day, I could have easily spent much more than the allotted 90 minutes standing there, watching the assembly process.
Future of Flight Aviation Center
The tour begins and ends on the other side of Paine Field at the Future of Flight Aviation Center. Compared to the Museum of Flight in Seattle, which we visited later in the day, the Future of Flight is relatively modest. Still, it provides several displays to help you learn more about aerodynamics and the airplane production process.
Posing in front of the nose section of a former Eastern Airlines Boeing 727 with a cockpit section of a Boeing 737 in the background.
Boeing Field and Museum of Flight
Finishing with the factory tour just about lunchtime, Jack and I decided to drive back to Seattle and visit the Museum of Flight. Located at Boeing Field, officially known as King County International Airport, the Museum of Flight has an extensive display of restored aircraft and many interactive exhibits. It also features the original Boeing factory, a red wooden barn dating from 1909.
A view of the main display gallery, which features a restored Douglas DC-3 in Alaska Airlines colors, a Lear Fan 2100 with its unique Y-shaped tail and push-propeller, and a Lockheed M-21 Blackbird spy plane.
A reproduction Boeing Model 40B, the aircraft that enabled Boeing to win the transcontinental US Mail contract. The plane was able to carry twice the load of its competitors.
A Douglas A-4F Skyhawk II, a combat aircraft from the mid-1950s that was so light and nimble, it continued to be used for 35 years. This particular aircraft flew with the Blue Angels, the US Navy’s aerobatic team. This plane made a special impression on me because in my childhood, I had the opportunity to see the Blue Angels perform several times and this was the type of airplane they used at the time.
A restored Stearman C-3B, a rugged biplane from the 1920s that was used to grow America’s commercial air mail network. This one is painted in Western Air Express colors.
The Museum of Flight also features an outdoor display area across the street from the main museum galleries. There, you can walk around (and in some cases, through) many of the most successful commercial aircraft.
Immediately at the entrance to the outdoor gallery is the Concorde, a limited-edition commercial supersonic jet that shuttled the rich and famous across the Atlantic Ocean for almost three decades at twice the speed of sound. This particular jet is on loan from British Airways and it flew the final commercial Concorde flight.
The plane is on static display and you can walk through its cabin and peer into the cockpit. Here is a view from the front passenger door, looking to the needle-like nose, which was dropped about 10 degrees when the plane of was on the ground, so the pilots could see the taxiway in front of them.
Inside, you get a sense of how cramped the Concorde was. The interior height was only 6 feet, 5 inches and the two-by-two seating was no more spacious than current premium economy seats. That said, flight time across the Atlantic was only three-and-a-half hours, so you arrived at your destination much more quickly than on a conventional airplane.
The museum also has the first “Air Force One” – a Boeing VC-135B, the military variant of the Boeing 707. This particular aircraft was delivered when Eisenhower was president and was replaced just three years later by a more advanced version.
The aircraft is also open for walk-through tours, giving you a sense of how the presidents and other VIPs traveled when conducting government business.
Compared with the current fleet used to fly the president, variants of the widebody B747, this older Air Force One looks very small. Above, you can see staff seating with the presidential conference room in the background.
Behind the cockpit and front galley is a communication station which enabled the president to communicate securely from his airborne White House.
The cockpit of the Boeing VC-137B, which looks primitive with all its dials and gauges, when compared to today’s “glass” cockpits with their screens and video monitors.
The museum also has the first flight-worthy Boeing 747. Named the City of Everett in honor of its birthplace, this Boeing 747-121 served as a testbed for Boeing over the years and is sometimes open for display. Unfortunately, the day of our visit, it was closed.
The final item of interest was a Lockheed 1049G Super Constellation. This piston-engined aircraft was one of the most graceful airplanes ever designed and the “G” version first flew in 1954. By that time, it was clear that airlines were moving in the direction of jet planes and the Constellation was one of the last piston-engine planes. This particular plane was delivered to Trans-Canada Air Lines.
View of Mount Rainier in the hazy distance from a control tower exhibit in the museum. You can listen to the radio broadcast from the Boeing Field control tower and watch airplanes (mostly general aviation) land and take off.
It was a full day of aviation geekiness, probably more than most people could handle but, in my view, a day well spent.
Came across this photo that shows Boeing’s newest jumbo jet, the B-747-8, with its emergency slides deployed. What caught my eye is that the upper deck slides now have a built-in structural support in the form of an arch. Considering how far above the ground the upper deck is, I guess the arch provides support against gusting winds. Talk about a fun-house slide!
On a related note, here’s a short video showing the deployment of the upper deck slide on an Air New Zealand Boeing 747-400, the previous generation of the plane. The slide’s support structure is less elaborate, but it is still interesting to see how it deploys. Let’s hope I never have to see one of these deploy in person.
Sorry that my posting (and reading and responding to others’ entries) has been slower than usual as of late. Many of my recent entries have required a lot more leg work. Here’s the latest:
Two Saturdays ago, as Tawn and I were driving along Ramkhamhaeng Road on an errand to the northeastern outskirts of Bangkok, we were taken by surprise when we saw the front third of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet propped up alongside the street.
This is neither an industrial area nor anywhere particularly close to the airport, so for there to be a pair of airplanes being disassembled in this neighborhood is downright strange. While there is a fence along the front of the property, there is no proper gate along the entrance.
Curious, we headed back early the next morning, arriving just after 7:30. A street sweeper sat in her small rest shack, more of an open-air stand, and Tawn chatted with her while I wandered around taking pictures and video. “Sure, go on in,” she said. “The workers won’t be up and working for a while still.”
The result of the exploring is a five-minute video. I think you’ll find it very interesting. I’m happy with the results. For those of you without five minutes to spare, here are some of the pictures:
The entire site is probably four acres (16,000 sq meters), adjacent to a school, temple, and canal. Condo towers and office buildings are visible in the distance and it is really a strange place to be disassembling airplanes.
The monk’s dormitory (robes hanging to dry) is visible next door. I guess this view reminds them of the fundamental Buddhist teaching about all things being impermanent.
There are two planes here, both from Orient Thai Airways, a local carrier that operates limited scheduled service and also does charters. I like how the top of this plane looks like a whale surfacing from the waves.
You could be mistaken for thinking this was the set of an airplane disaster movie. Every area that has been cut by a welding torch is scorched black and there also looks to have been a few small fires set. Pieces are still very identifiable, though, provided you know your airplane parts.
The vertical stabilizer (tail) of the plane, being cut into smaller segments for disposal. The red and blue color scheme, which was meant to represent the Thai flag blowing in the wind, has been deconstructed.
There were hundreds of oxygen masks on the property, most still stowed in the overhead compartments that had ben removed and stacked.
Near the front of the property, galleys and lavatories, which are modular units, were standing about, stripped of carts and other supplies, although with the ovens still intact. Recalling his days working as a regional flight attendant for United, Tawn pretended to be setting the ovens to warm a meal.
Orient Thai had a fleet of about a half-dozen older model 747s. Their only scheduled international service was to Hong Kong and Seoul, and they used their larger planes mainly for charters, especially during the Haj. Note the lavatory signage in Arabic as well as in Japanese. This plane’s original operator was Japan Air Lines.
A two-door segment of one of the planes – basically, the front third of it – was intact and propped upright. The street cleaner explained that it was destined to be sent somewhere to become an airplane-themed coffee shop. “You can climb up!” she said. The homemade ladder had very narrow and widely-spaced rungs!
Inside, the ceiling, carpet, and seats had been removed but wall panels were still intact. This picture is taken from the nose section, the front of what would have been first class, looking back. The opening in the floor is the access hatch to the avionics bay. Looking at the wallpaper, I noticed it is identical to that which was on the Orient Thai 747 that I flew as part of an inaugural test flight from the Don Meuang Airport to the new Suvarnabhumi Airport in July 2006, about two months before the new airport opened. I wonder if this was the same plane?
I climbed the stairs to the upper deck. Used as business class for most airlines, both Japan Air Lines and Orient Thai had put additional economy seats up here.
The avionics had been stripped from the cockpit but it was still relatively intact. The flight engineer’s station on the right-hand side is a clue to the airplane’s age: at least 21. The last 747 with a three-person cockpit crew was a 747-300 built in September 1990. Since then, they have been flown by just two people, with computers handling the functions that the flight engineer used to.
After working up a sweat and shooting some 250 pictures and 30 video segments, I finally decided it was time to wrap up and head home. I felt a bit of nostalgia and melancholy, sorry to see planes that had been so technically sophisticated, and that had flown hundreds of thousands of people around the world, reach the point where their only value was for their scrap.
Edit: Found this link listing the history of all of Orient Thai’s former 747s. Looks like the plane that is completely scrapped was originally delivered in March 1979 to Japan Airlines and the one with the intact front third was delivered in December 1986, also to Japan Airlines. From that website I was also able to confirm that, as of this past December at least, the plane I flew on the test flight to Suvarnabhumi is still in operation.