A to Z, The US Version, Flying, Travel

A is for Aviation

A Note From Judy: In 2002 I started my 26 year plan to see “The World A to Z.” This year I made it to “S” — only breaking my “outside the 48 states” rule once (due to COVID). Since moving out west, we find we find we are spending more time inside the 48 states. So, with an epic birthday to kick it off, Greg is starting his own “A to Z” adventure. 

Somewhere over the Midwest at 37,000 feet…

The sun sets behind us as we jet eastward.

The 737 whisks us eastward, the sun setting quickly behind us.  Even within the pandemic confines of our masks and limited service, sitting in first class doesn’t suck. I’m celebrating my 60th birthday by flying to New York’s JFK airport, simply to stay at the TWA hotel.

The family was all dressed up and ready to go to Paris in 1962.

From my front row seat, I reflect on how far we’ve come in 60 years. I was born into the Jet Age. My first airline flight was to France when I was just two, probably in a Boeing 707 or Douglas DC-8. The first flight I can remember was on an Eastern Airlines hop from Atlanta to Orlando in a Lockheed Electra turbo-prop. I remember flying pretty near a thunderstorm, with turbulence shaking the plane and lightning surrounding us. What a ride! I didn’t know enough to be scared! 

Cockpits are full of glass displays now. Photo by Marina Hinic on Pexels.com

Like many from my generation, as a kid I loved airplanes and everything about them. I was fortunate in that my family traveled often. We were expected to wear our Sunday best and behave. I grew up looking out the window, and getting invited to the cockpit by the captain to look at all the dials. Even today, I peer into the open door of the flight deck as we board, marveling at the glass instruments; even commenting to Judy about the captain’s Heads-Up Display that allows the mighty airliner to land in nearly “zero/zero” weather … a pilot’s term for zero visibility and zero ceiling.

A postcard of a PSA 727.

I think about all the changes I’ve seen in commercial aviation from a passenger’s point of view. I remember boarding planes by climbing stairs; as a teenager, I boarded a PSA 727 through the tail stair for a flight from LAX to San Diego that only cost $24! I remember when deregulation removed much of the exclusivity of air travel, making it more accessible and less costly, but also making it more of a commodity. I remember the shift from point-to-point service to the hub & spoke system. Unlike most passengers, I lament how turbo-props gave way to regional jets on shorter flights … there was something about the surge of power you felt at the beginning of the takeoff roll as the propeller blades bit into the air. I remember the horror of 9-11 and the additional security measures it brought, and now the restrictions on service due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I have seen airlines come and go; and innovative airplanes like the 727, DC-9 and SST (which I never flew) relegated to bone yards.

A mustachioed me flying over southern Maryland.

As a lifelong aviation nut, I became a private pilot in 1992. Since then, I’ve witnessed the shift to glass cockpits, GPS, and electronic flight bags, but missed the “glory days’ of personal air transportation in the 70s and early 80s. It’s much safer now, but incredibly expensive.

The Connie stands just outside the TWA Hotel windows.

Today’s trip is like a wrinkle in time. Ensconced in our modern airliner, we’re simply flying to take us back to those days of my youth … a time when the gorgeous Lockheed Constellation gave way to the faster, more comfortable turbojets. A time when the air terminals of the 1950s gave way to the soaring Eero Saarinen design of JFK’s TWA terminal, now turned into a hotel with all the “modern” amenities disguised amid all the style of an earlier age.

I reflect on the aspirations and dreams of our country as we looked toward a new age of freedom and social revolution; a decade that put the first man on the moon. I also reflect on the horrors of war brought to my television set (thankfully not in person), economic upheaval and prosperity, cataclysmic natural and man-made disasters, joy and despair; love and pain.

Judy gazed out the window as we crossed the country.

I realize that despite all the ups and downs, we have somehow survived. Despite the  pandemic, social strife, and divisiveness of the past year, I am still filled with hope and optimism for our future. I have only to look at my seatmate on this journey of life– the one who makes me smile and thankful to be alive every day — as she gazes peacefully at the world passing by our window, to know that the future is bright!

I am a child of the Jet Age, thankful for the world into which I was born and committed to keeping it a place where we can all marvel as we look toward the sky and say, “let’s go.”

There’s a whole world — and NATION — out there, waiting to be explored.  Marvel at every wonder … that’s our plan as we hit the road A to Z.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020 — Unless otherwise indicated, no compensation was received for this blog.

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