We recently held our fourth SimAirline.net reunion in Washington, DC on 14-16 October. This was our first time not coinciding with the annual Airliners International Convention (New Orleans in July didn’t sound too appealing). Despite a few late cancellations, we still had a good group this year:
• Anna Aleksandrova, a business school student and intern at United (and our newest member!)
• Nick Anderson, a Delta pilot scheduler and soon-to-be dispatcher
• Dennis Negrón, a Boeing engineer on the P-8 program
• Aaron Robinson, part of United management in environmental strategy
Anna and Aaron reported on this year’s event. In addition to the photos shown below, you can view a photo album by Anna, Dennis, and Nick here.
AR: On Friday night, Nick, Dennis, and I met at a hotel in Alexandria for drinks and then progressed to dinner. Nick and Dennis made sure to resume their love for southern fried chicken (they enjoyed it last year in Atlanta as well). Brandon Jones was a late cancellation, but I did show a photo of the two of us taken just hours before at Chicago O’Hare—with Brandon now wearing a United first officer’s uniform. Congratulations!
We started the next morning by plane spotting at Reagan (having grown up here, it sounds very strange to refer to the airport as anything but “National”; Congress changed the name in 1998). Normally we would visit at Gravelly Point, just 1,000 feet from the north end of Runway 19, but with calm winds, Runway 1 was in use. As a result, we watched landings from Daingerfield Island to the south, about three-quarters of a mile away.
AA: When I joined the group Saturday morning, the weather was perfect for such an activity, and I encountered the three of them engaged in a game of guessing the origin city of each of the landing aircraft. Aaron had come prepared, to no one’s surprise, with a list of all flights destined for DCA that morning, so we had the ability to check the accuracy of each guess. Shortly after my arrival, we relocated to Gravelly Point to try to be closer to the actual landing action, although the wind directions were not to be—alas.
We left Gravelly Point and attempted to find convenient parking at the Pentagon in order to visit the Pentagon Memorial. Unfortunately, the only accessible spots were rather far away from the actual Memorial, so we decided instead to head straight to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center / National Air and Space Museum (NASM) at Dulles. The NASM is a large, cavernous building, housing a number of aircraft that represent the broad reaches of aviation and space history.
I had visited the museum once before, for a dinner with Mr. Udvar-Hazy in 2011, but seeing all the various aircraft and space vehicles never ceases to be exciting. This time, highlights for me included:
• The Boeing 367-80 Jet Transport,
• A Lufthansa Ford Tri-Motor (with rectangular windows!),
• A Pan Am Boeing 307 Stratoliner Clipper Flying Cloud,
• The Space Shuttle Discovery, and, last but certainly (never!) not least
• An Air France Concorde.
This particular aircraft was the first Air France Concorde to open service to Rio de Janeiro, Washington, DC, and New York, and had flown 17,824 hours. In addition to enjoying the museum exhibits, we also watched a 3D film at the Airbus IMAX theater titled “Journey to Space,” and learned about what NASA and the space community are working on, including the Orion project and the mission to land astronauts on Mars.
Post-museum, we grabbed a quick lunch at Chipotle, and headed to Dulles International Airport (IAD) for a backstage tour with Aaron’s colleagues in Environment Affairs at United Airlines, Chris Woods and Ron Spencer. Chris and his work was recently featured in United’s in-flight magazine.
After receiving our safety vests, we went out on the ramp with Chris and Ron, where the two of them drove us around, explaining the team’s latest initiatives and challenges. As with many other airports engaged in deicing, Dulles and its local authorities have stringent regulations in place related to glycol disposal and preventing fuel spills that may affect water quality in the area.
In addition to discussing the team’s work, Ron, who was driving Nick and me, was kind enough to stop near a few aircraft parked at the gates and explain some of the processes that take place to ensure an on-time departure of a flight. As expected, I was endlessly fascinated by the number of people and activities that have to be perfectly placed and timed in order to achieve the coveted D:00 (departure on-time within 0 minutes). In particular, it was very kind of Ron to stop by a Lufthansa 747-8I Hessen and let me take a few photos by the aircraft’s engines.
After touring the ramp, we made a stop at United’s System Operations Control Center, where a few of the employees explained to us their daily tasks and responsibilities. The supervisor on duty that day also showed us the red phone that the team would use to contact the airport and other authorities in case of an emergency. On the way back, we also made a stop by United’s new maintenance hangar, which was empty at the time, but had a 777 parked just outside. While at the hangar, Aaron and the team discussed potential ways to conserve electricity through more efficient lighting.
Upon the conclusion of our tour, Aaron presented Ron and Chris with a vintage, framed United advertisement and thanked them for taking their time to show us around and explain their work and the airport’s operations.
After leaving Dulles, the four of us headed back to Gravelly Point for some more plane spotting (this time with arrivals overhead), where I was jokingly shamed for not being quite up to the same level of knowledge at Aaron, Nick, and Dennis in identifying aircraft types. Something to work on for next time! We concluded our evening at The Warehouse Bar and Grill in Alexandria—a quaint restaurant, with reasonably-priced fare and great drinks. At dinner, we discussed both current aviation news as well as the pluses and minuses of certain types of education (e.g., liberal arts vs. STEM).
All in all, it was a great, stimulating, if at times heated, discussion that helped us get to know one another and appreciate each other’s views and differences. I was sincerely sad to leave the guys as they went off to wrap up the night with a drink at a nearby bar. Given that I was flying standby back to Boston early the next morning, I bid the three of them adieu and presented them with “Remove Before Flight” keychains from the Aerospace & Aviation Club that I run at Harvard Business School. Thank you, Aaron, for inviting me to join the SimAirline.net reunion this year! It was an unforgettable and wonderful experience.
AR: After Anna left on a Sunday morning flight, our group was reduced further to three for the day. We started with a tour of Washington Reagan from the airport management perspective; I worked in Airport Operations here ten years ago. Before our tour, we visited the original part of the terminal, which is under historic preservation but not used for flights. I made sure to point out the logo of the Civil Aeronautics Authority (the predecessor of the Federal Aviation Administration)—the inspiration for the SimAirline.net logo. In an adjacent hallway is a small museum about the airport’s history.
My former coworker and Northwest Airlines alumnus Rob Simko showed us through Airport Operations and their areas of oversight, which primarily involve coordination between all the users of and parties at an airport. Just a few examples include:
• Ensuring airfield and runway safety
• Monitoring traffic, parking demand, and security checkpoint lines
• Overseeing airport security using badging systems, video cameras, and electronic eye systems
• Coordinating airport construction
• Recording flight usage to bill landing fees to airlines
Next we visited the control tower. At 201 feet tall, it is one of the tallest buildings in the area, and offers a terrific view. We were fortunate to visit just as they were switching runway directions from northbound to southbound.
While I had visited before, I had never been on the catwalk on the outside of the tower. Recently my company (United) began flying 757-300s to the airport, the largest aircraft with regular service there. I asked one of the controllers about any unusual handling it requires—in fact, the aircraft can only take off southbound due to buildings to the north presenting a hazard for proper engine-out procedures on northbound departures.
Finally, we returned to Airport Operations to take an airfield tour. Highlights included:
• Driving past the future regional concourse for American. Today this area consists of the airport authority headquarters and two American hangars.
• Two boathouses for river rescue operations. There is no fence separating the airport and the river—just an electronic eye system.
• Driving on Runway 15/33 at 50 miles per hour to verify it was clear of any debris, and then contacting the tower to reopen it for active use.
• Learning about the risks of bird strikes and prevention measures—not a fun topic.
• Witnessing how little general aviation traffic there is (due to TSA restrictions), especially compared to pre-9/11.
After a quick stop for lunch, we closed the weekend by visiting the National Air and Space Museum downtown. A few of the highlights there were:
• The original Wright Flyer, Spirit of St. Louis, Bell X-1, Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia, and Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipOne
• Gene Kranz’s vest that he wore during the Apollo 13 mission (he was famous for having his wife sew him a new vest for each mission)
• Juan Trippe’s globe that he used with a piece of string to plot out Pan Am’s original transoceanic routes
• The nose of a Northwest 747-100, the first 747 to cross the Pacific
• A photo exhibition of control towers around the world—our aim on this was not very good
Thanks as always go to those who attended, with special thanks to Dennis for driving the entire time, and regrets for those who were unable to make it. No firm plans have been made for 2017, but the two leading options are Denver on 16-18 June with next year’s Convention, or a reprise of Seattle/Portland on dates to be determined. We hope you can make it next year!