• Virginia Tolles

Living on a Flight Path


We're on the flight path to the local airport. I like hearing the planes fly over. It brings back memories of Virginia, when we lived on the flight path to Dulles. When the Concorde took off (or landed, for that matter), the noise was thunderous! And, yet, it was fascinating to look out the window and see it flying past before it launched into supersonic mode after passing over the ocean. And, then, all fell silent with the closure of the National Airspace System following the attacks of 9/11. It was too quiet for about three weeks, until, finally, an airplane came over once again, coming in from the west and turning onto final approach.

The local air traffic doesn't compete with that of Dulles, but it is fun to differentiate between the DC-9-88s and the A-320s and B-737s that think they can replace Donald Douglas' brainchild. The JT8D engines on the DCs have a sound all their own, a growl, a personality, really, that newer engines lack. As of this week (June 1-5, 2020), the last of the DC-9-88s are being retired from Delta's fleet. It's a sad week for those of us who have flown Douglas planes, from the DC-3 forward. I flew aboard the DC-3, DC-4, and DC-9. I had great fun learning to differentiate between the DC-8 and the Boeing 707 (The DC-8 has a smile on its face) and between the McDonnell-Douglas (MD)-10 and the Lockheed L-1011 (The MD-10's third engine sits high atop the rear fuselage).

When I was growing up, we lived on the flight path to the local airport. The planes that came over were propeller driven. Most were smaller planes, the DC-3, Convair 440, and DC-6. But, then, the jets began to fly over. They were DC-9s, which were flown by Delta, first, and, later, Southern. I remember noticing the change. Still, at times, I wish I could once again listen to the propeller planes flying overhead.

About twenty years ago, I was working in my study when I heard the unmistakable engines of a DC-3. They, too, have a sound all their own. I told my husband I heard a DC-3. He was doubtful, but we got into the car and drove to the airport. What did we find parked on the tarmac but a DC-3 in its C-47 military livery. The pilot let us walk through the plane. It was stripped of all civilian accoutrements, like comfortable seats, and really showed its age. But it still flew, and it still sounded good – like a Donald Douglas brainchild should sound.

And, then, last year, I had the honor of flying aboard "That's All, Brother," the DC-3/C-47 that led the Allied air invasion to Normandy on June 6, 1944. She was making her way to England for the 75th anniversary of the invasion and stopped off along the way to share her history and give rides to the public. This plane, like the earlier one, was in its military configuration, but it had been restored to perfection, inside and out. It's a heavy bird, but it has the broad wings that enable it to fly through just about anything. That's why it's still flying as it approaches its 85th birthday!

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