It took a  while, but the time had finally come for me to do my first mileage run of 2010! I’d fly out of Austin on Saturday morning to Dallas/Fort Worth and then to Seattle. I’d spend all day in Seattle, then come home via Chicago, getting home Sunday morning. One of the special things about this trip was that I would not be traveling alone. A fellow Austinite and mileage runner had seen my posts on the Mileage Run area at FlyerTalk, thought my trip was a good deal, and also booked it.

I arrived at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport at 4:45 on Saturday morning. Shortly after that I met my new friend from FlyerTalk and we boarded the MD-80 for the short flight to DFW. After a short layover, we boarded another MD-80 for the flight to Seattle. Both flights were on time and otherwise uneventful, although I did enjoy some of the scenery on the second flight.

I always enjoy the dramatic views as we fly over the Rocky Mountains!

As we made our approach to SeaTac we flew over downtown Seattle and Safeco Field: I had a ticket for the Mariners game that night and was concerned that the game might be rained out: I was glad to see they had moved the roof over the field.

We left the terminal: the weather was cloudy, a light rain was falling, and the temperatures were in the mid 50s. Amazingly, that was the same weather as Austin was having! We made the short walk to International Boulevard were we took the first of two buses to the Museum of Flight.

The Museum is located at the south end of Boeing Field; it was home to the original Boeing plant, but is now used for 737 aircraft flight-test program, along with other Boeing operations.

The exhibits at the Museum tell the story of aviation, from the Wright Brothers first flight to the Apollo moon landings and new trends in aviation. Both civilian and military aircraft are on display.

While many aircraft are on display at the Museum, the one that immediately jumps out is the SR-71 Blackbird. At least I thought it was an SR-71, but it was not.

The SR-71 was designed in the early 1960s to replace the U-2 as a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft. The one thing the SR-71 had that the U-2 lacked was brute speed. While many aircraft can fly at the speed of sound, or even twice the speed of sound for a short period, the SR-71 could cruise at Mach 3, three times the speed of sound at an altitude of 85,000 feet. That enabled it to over-fly an area secure in the knowledge that nothing could shoot it down.

While its reconnaissance missions were classified and we may never know much about them, we do know of the numerous speed records it set. These include:

  • New York to London — 1 hr., 54 min., 56.4 sec.
  • London to Los Angeles — 3 hrs., 47 min., 35.8 sec.
  • Los Angeles to Washington D.C. — 1 hr., 4 min., 20 sec.
  • West Coast to East Coast U.S.A. — 1 hr., 7 min., 54 sec.
  • St. Louis to Cincinnati — 8 min.
  • Kansas City to Washington D.C. — 26 min

And those records were set with technology designed almost 50 years ago. Amazing!

And here I was, looking at an SR-71. But wait, there is a third engine above the fuselage at the rear of the plane; the SR-71 had two giant engines on the wing, but did not have a third. What am I looking at? Thankfully, the museum had an explanation.

The first aircraft of the Blackbird series was the A-12. The aircraft in front of me is the M-21, a variant of the A-12. It was designed to be used as a “mother ship” that would launch unmanned drones for intelligence gathering. Only two M-21s were ever built: the other one was destroyed in a crash that helped cause officials to cancel the program. See this page for more information about the M-21.

The SR-71 remains the fastest aircraft to ever fly, unless you believe in the Aurora.

M-21 Blackbird

A straight-on view of the M-21, showing the three engines.

A Soviet Soyuz manned spacecraft shows the affect of the searing heat of re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.

V-11BuzzBomb

The V-1 "Buzz Bomb" was the first "vengeance" weapon used by the Third Reich against the Allies during World War II. The rear section of an F-4 Phantom is visible in the background.

Nazi Germany used the V-1 “Buzz Bomb” against the Allies during WWII, launching it against Belgium, England, and France. It was later replaced by the V-2.

One of the nice things about the Museum is that it not only has indoor displays, it also has a Airpark across the street that features a Concorde, Air Force One, a 747, and a 727 in its collection.

British Airways was one of two airlines to fly the supersonic Concorde

Visitors are allowed aboard the Concorde. What struck me about it was how narrow the cabin was; two seats on each side of the aisle. The cabin was so narrow that it reminded me of a commuter plane that American Eagle would use. The big difference of course is that the Concorde flew at twice the speed of sound at an altitude of 60,000 feet.

British Airways and Air France were the only airlines to operate the Concorde. It was a fine aircraft for trans-oceanic flights, but its sonic boom made it impractical to use on flights over land.

The Concorde was in service from 1976 to 2000. It had a solic safety record until a crash in Paris killed all on board. The Concorde has been grounded since then.  However, British Airways is now trying to bring the Concorde out of retirement; this site provides an excellent history of the plane and the status of its return to service.

Air Force One is the name given to any Air Force aircraft that is carrying the President of the United States. The President has flown in a 747 since 1990, but before then, he flew in a 707.

Air Force One

This aircraft served as Air Force One for Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.

The interior of this aircraft seemed cramped when compared to today’s Presidential 747, but it did the job well for almost 20 years.

Air Force One interior

The President used this conference table when he had to meet with his staff.

After several enjoyable hours at the museum, we took the bus to Pike Place Market – it had already been a long day and we needed to eat! As the bus went by the north end of Boeing Field we saw dozens of aircraft waiting for delivery to the airlines. In the middle of the group were three 787 Dreamliners — I wish I could have gotten a photo of them, but we drove by too quickly. We continued on and went to the Pike Place Bar and Grill where we each ordered seafood. I had “fusion” crab cakes.  These were your standard Baltimore type crab cakes, but they were breaded with Japanese Panko breadcrumbs and served in a Wasabi sauce. It was delicious. As we ate we looked outside, saw that it was raining heavily, and decided to just stay where we were.

We spent the next two hours relaxing, sampling some of the beers from the bar’s micro-brewery, talking about mileage runs we had done, and solving all the problems of the world. We did that until 4:30 when I said I had to leave — I had tickets to the Seattle Mariners – Detroit Tigers game that night starting at 6:05, and I needed to get on my way to the stadium. My friend said he would stay downtown and check out the clubs and restaurants, and then meet me at SeaTac for our midnight flight to Chicago.

We said good-bye, and I headed to the light rail station to get the train to Safeco Field.

I’ll cover that and the rest of the trip in my next post.