Those of you who aren’t aviation geeks will be happy to know that, pretty soon, I’ll run out of blog entries about airplanes and airports and aviation. I’ll get back to normal things like food and travel and… more food.
Saturday morning I work early. Alex headed back up to the Bay Area and Bill and I headed on a secret behind-the-scenes tour of Long Beach Airport. Bill’s one of those affable people who makes friends with everyone and, as such, always seems to know just the person to help out with any need.
When I mentioned that I’d love to get a peek behind the scenes at LGB, he started putting those connections together and the result was this early morning tour.
To protect the integrity of those connections, I won’t give a any details about how we got onto the other side of the fence. Suffice it to say that we were escorted at all times and were well within the bounds of the law.
Long Beach Airport has a long history and despite having very low levels of commercial traffic (caused by some of the strictest noise control ordinances in the nation) it is also one of the busiest general aviation fields in the United States. The airport is probably most famous as the home of the Douglas Aircraft Company. During World War II, more than 4,200 C-47 aircraft – the military version of the workhorse DC-3 – were manufactured at this airport. Additionally, more than 3,000 B-17 Flying Fortresses were produced here, too.
The entire tour took place within the secured grounds of the airport, mostly following a service road that runs alongside and around the end of the runways. We started on the righthand side of the map, near the passenger terminal, and continued clockwise around the airport.
I’ll group these pictures in as logical a sequence as I can and try to make the explanations as interesting for you as possible.
The road took us down to the arrivals end of the main, 10,000-foot runway, in the lower right of the map. The road actually ran right alongside the taxiway and we stopped so I could get out and shoot some footage and take pictures. I’ll include the video footage when I write my trip report at airliners.net, but here are a few pictures. As I mentioned, LGB has very low levels of commercial passenger traffic, so there aren’t that many flights.
A jetBlue Airbus A320
Delta Connection (operated by SkyWest) CRJ-700
We stopped by the different facilities operated by Gulfstream, the manufacturer of corporate jets. Gulfstream operates a completion facility here, where planes that have been constructed are flown in, unpainted and unfinished, and then are completed here. They are pretty secretive about their customers so I had to snap pictures on the go.
Below, a new, unpainted Gulfstream sits on the ramp. I believe this is a Gulfstream G550.
On the other side of the airport, one of the Gulfstream jets is masked and partly painted.
Next door to that is a shiny new Gulfstream, just out of the paint hangar. Note the weights that are on the nose gear. Note sure why that is. My theory is that the interior is still empty so there the center of gravity is behind the main landing gears, making the plane at risk of tipping back onto its tail.
Military jets. Long Beach is still the production facility for the Boeing C-17. Boeing purchased Douglas several years ago but the heavy lift C-17 is still manufactured here and ones that have been damaged are returned here for extensive repair. There is one at the airport that suffered a lot of damage in Iraq and had to be flown back at 10,000 the whole way (compared with 30,000 – 40,000 feet normally) so that the cabin would remain unpressurized.
Below, a new C-17 is finished at the Boeing hangar on the northeast corner of the airport.
The B-1 bomber shown here is undergoing some sort of testing or modification, although of it isn’t clear for what purpose.
The legacy of Douglas Aircraft is shown by this decades-old sign that Boeing has kept on the facility where the Boeing 717 (a derivative of the MD-80, which was a derivative of the DC-9). Sadly, it won’t be around forever as I understand that this facility is to be torn down.
We saw some classic older jets, including this Grumman HU-16A Albatross. This flying boat was dates from the 1950s and its unique fuselage design allows it to land in the open ocean, handling waves better than most of its counterparts.
The following planes are two DC-3s (or Douglas C-47, as it was originally manufactured as part of the war effort) operated by Catalina Flying Boats, an on-demand operator who flies mostly cargo flights to Catalina Island. They have contracts with all the carriers like FedEx and UPS along with the Los Angeles Times to deliver copies of the daily paper to the island.
About thirty minutes after I took this picture, we were on the other side of the field and I was able to take video of this plane taking off for a trip to Catalina Island. One of these days, I’m going to fly on a DC-3. There is one that does excursion flights in Melbourne, Australia and I have my eyes set on it for a future trip.
Other cargo operators have a presence at LGB, including UPS and DHL (formerly Airborne Express). Here are some shots of a converted DHL B767-200 freighter. It started out as a passenger jet for All Nippon Airways (ANA), a Japanese company, before being converted in September 2000 to freighter duty.
Private jets abound at LGB. As mentioned, it is one of the busiest general aviation airports in the country. It is kind of funny that local residents who complain about noise and don’t want any increase in commercial operations, fail to realize that these private jets – especially the Learjets and Gulfstream corporate jets – make much more noise than the commercial passenger planes that are flown these days.
Here is a small corporate jet ready for its passengers on the ramp outside AirFlite services, a fixed base operator owned by the Toyota Corporation. Toyota’s North American operations are headquartered just up the 405 freeway in Torrance, so it makes sense that they would operate a service for corporate jets at the closest airport.
A few minutes later a valet brought the luggage out of the lounge using the same type of cart you would find at a fine hotel. What service!
Some very rich people have converted former commercial aircraft to be their own private jets. Here is an MD-87 (again, a derivative of the DC-9) that is now privately owned. Compare that to the tiny prop jet next to it!
For those with truly vintage taste, may I suggest a Boeing B727-21? Dating back to 1966, this air frame first flew for Pan Am before being sold to Alaska Airlines. It now is operated by Valeant Pharmaceuticals, previously known as ICN Pharmaceuticals, manufacturer of exciting drugs like the synthetic cannabinoid Cesamet. Yes, fake marijuana fuels this plane. I’ll skip the obvious jokes about getting high.
From the northwest end of the field I had the privilege of sitting at the end of the runway and watching a plane land. Here’s a jetBlue A320 in the distance with the pyramid-shaped gymnasium at Cal State University Long Beach on the horizon.
Standing near the arrivals end of the runway (close to two miles from where the picture above was taken) I get a good view of an Alaska Airlines MD-90 on short final approach as a SkyWest CRJ700 waits to enter the runway.
As one of the busiest airports, LGB is equipped with a state of the art emergency services department. Here is one of their newest crash trucks, always on the ready in the event of a crash landing.
Finally, for those of you who live in the Southland, the aircraft that brings you news and traffic, Sky Fox 11. It also brings you badly biased political views, but that’s probably not the fault of the pilot.
After the tour ended and the morning overcast started to burn off, I took this last picture from the top of the car park, looking past the overcrowded little terminal at LGB and you can see the B-1 bomber and DHL 767 that are pictured above. Based on this, you can get an idea of where I was on the field.
Many thanks to Bill and his connections for making this once-in-a-lifetime tour happen.