Aviation history

KLM’s 97th miniature Delftware House


I had the great pleasure of being on-site in Rotterdam for the unveiling of KLM’s newest – and 97th – Delftware miniature house: a likeness of the Hotel New York.


The hotel occupies the former headquarters of the Holland American Line and for many years, beginning in 1872, the company’s ships sailed between Rotterdam and New York and several other U.S. cities.

You can read my story about the big “reveal” – and KLM’s tradition of gifting these gin-filled tiny houses to business class passengers, on USA TODAY, but in the meantime, here’s a photo of miniature house #95- a likeness of the Heineken Brewery in Amsterdam.


History of the airport moving walkway


“Mad Men” made use of the 1960s-era tile mosaics along a moving walkway at LAX  in the final season. Mosaic design: Pereira Luckman Associates. Courtesy LAX.


I had way too much fun researching the history of the moving walkway for my At the Airport column this month on USA Today.  Here’s an abbreviated version of the story.

We take them for granted, but moving sidewalks, flat escalators or Trav-O-Lator machines, as the Otis Elevator Company dubbed their patented version back in 1955, can be a godsend for tired travelers, for those who can’t walk long distances and anyone with a short connection on the other side of the airport.

But they’re neither complicated, nor that new.

“No matter what you choose to call it, a moving walkway is a simple variation of the conveyor belt,” said Steve Showers, corporate archivist for the Otis Elevator Company.

Courtesy Otis Elevator Co.

Courtesy Otis Elevator Co.


A machine to move people horizontally was first introduced in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Later, a “Moving Pavement” transported people through exhibit areas at varying speeds during the Paris Expo in 1900, “but moving walkways did not come into common use until air travel and airports expanded in the 1950s,” said Showers.

“The man whose ancestors trekked West beside a covered wagon doesn’t want to haul his luggage from an airport terminal to an airliner 300 feet away,” an article promoting the new Otis Trav-O-Lator explained in 1955.

The first moving walkways in airports

The first moving sidewalks in an airport were installed in the Dallas Love Field Terminal, which opened in January, 1958.

Courtesy Frontiers of Flights Museum, Dallas

Courtesy Frontiers of Flights Museum, Dallas

There were some problems with that first one, “including mechanical shutdowns and mishaps involving women’s clothing, high-heeled shoes, and minor injuries from the moving handrail,” writes  Bruce Bleakley, director of the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, in a forthcoming book about the history of Love Field, plus one death.

“A two-year-old girl was killed when her clothing became tangled in the area where the moving belt went beneath the metal step plate at the end,” writes Blakely, but that stop walkways from being adopted by other airports.

In 1960, American Airlines installed moving walkways it dubbed “Astroways” in its Terminal 4 satellite at Los Angeles International Airport. TV star Lucille Ball was on hand for the dedication.

Photo by Wen Roberts. Courtesy LAX Flight Path Museum and Learning Center

Photo by Wen Roberts. Courtesy LAX Flight Path Museum and Learning Center

“Just like jet bridges, moving walkways were a sign of the jet age,” said Raymond Kollau, founder of airlinetrends.com, “More people could afford to travel by air and this meant larger distances had to be covered by passengers to get from the central terminal to their gate or from their arrival to their departure gate when in transit.”

Today’s larger airports and longer concourses makes moving walkways almost essential.

“The reasons have not changed,” said Jonathan Massey, aviation sector leader at the Corgan, architecture and design firm, “We put in moving walkways to let people get to their gates with fewer steps and less effort.”

Art along the moving walkway

While moving walkways are designed to get passengers in airports from here to there, there’s no rule that says the journey must be boring.

Many airports have art along their moving walkways.



Sky’s the Limit – Courtesy O’Hare Airport

For example – moving sidewalks pass by – or through – the Sky’s the Limit sculpture at O’Hare Airport, the Light Tunnel installation at Detroit Metropolitan Airport and through ‘Connection’ in the pedestrian bridge at Indianapolis International Airport.


And moving walkways at Los Angeles International Airport have had cameo roles in films and on TV, including in the 1967 film “The Graduate,” starring Dustin Hoffman and in the final season of AMC’s period drama “Mad Men.”

Faster and more efficient walkways

While moving walkways are still essentially conveyor belts for people, the companies that make them, such as Otis Elevator, Kone, Schindler, and Thyssenkrupp have made design and safety improvements to the concept.

In 2010 Portland International Airport received a variance to install stop/start motion activated walkways and, soon, Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport will install a device to increase the energy savings on some walkways too.

March 9, 2010- Portland, OR- Opening ceremony for the new HQP2 Parking Garage at the Port of Portland's Portland International Airport (PDX). Interior photos of PDX, PDX concourses, Anti-idling signs, waste signage.

Anit-idling walkways at PDX airport. Courtesy Port of Portland

 Thyssenkrupp, has developed a high speed and high capacity moving walkway – called ACCEL – that uses maglev technology. The model has a belt that begins at normal walking speeds and then accelerates up to 7.5 mph at its top speed.

Thyssenkrupp’s high-speed ACCEL walkway isn’t operating in any airport yet, but three major airports ( none in the United States) are racing to be the first to have the new system.

In the meantime, passengers can ride an earlier, non-maglev version of the ACCEL, called Turbo Track. that was installed in 2010 in Pier F of Toronto Pierson International Airport.


Turbo Track at Toronto Pearson

Turbo Track at Toronto Pearson

Walk this way

Finally, a word about moving walkway etiquette and that key question: walk or stand?

“Either is fine,” said Daniel Post Senning of the Emily Post Institute, but the accepted convention is to stand on the right and pass on the left. And remember  a moving walkway is not a jungle gym, a playground or a toy.”



“Sully” the movie: a view and a review


Courtesy Warner Bros.

The Sully movie, from Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood, starring Oscar winner Tom Hanks as Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, of “Miracle on the Hudson” fame,  is out in theaters now.

And while I know it has a happy ending, I’m not sure yet if I can go see it.

But I did ask two smart folks with some insider knowledge to share some thoughts on the film.

Christine Negroni, whose book, The Crash Detectives: Investigating the World’s Most Mysterious Air Disasters,  is about to be published by Penguin, said:

“In the Times, Michael Wilson writes that no one will go to see “Sully” for the airport scenes.

About that, he is wrong. Aviation geeks will love the film for all the luscious shots of planes, airports, takeoffs, flybys. It’s gorgeous. And the pilots aren’t so bad looking either.

They got a lot right. They got some things wrong. And the tension between the pilots and the crash investigators has the feel of Hollywood heroes and cardboard villains, a created tension to serve a dramatic narrative.

It is interesting to me that the filmmakers took a man who has been hailed as a hero since the accident for what he did on the plane and lionized him even more. In “Sully” he is made into the wise one who had to set the NTSB investigators on the right path, as if they couldn’t figure it anything out without him. This is the element of the movie that has the tin-kickers so miffed.

The movie does a stellar job of taking us on a trip to the terrifying, not just in the passenger cabin, but in the evolving comprehension in the cockpit of what is happening and the silent communication between the captain and the first officer.

The scenes between Skiles and Sully are some of the best in the film.

I think much more should have been done to examine the post-traumatic-stress-disorder experienced by the crew, which is greatly underappreciated in aviation. In my book, I interview a dozen pilots who handled similar near disasters. To a person they were unprepared for the emotional complications that followed.”

And Patrick Smith, of Ask the Pilot, offered up these comments – and the answer to a question many people ask:

“It’s funny. Flying has become so safe. We’ve engineered away what used to be the most common causes of air disasters.

We’re left with things like… birds.

Bird strikes are common, and the damage tends to be minor, if there’s any at all. I’ve personally experienced many strikes, and the result was, at worst, a minor dent or crease. I should hardly have to mention, however, that strikes are occasionally dangerous. This is especially true when engines are involved, as we saw in 2009 when US Airways flight 1549 glided into the Hudson River after colliding with a flock of Canada geese. Modern turbofans are resilient, but they don’t take kindly to the ingestion of foreign objects, particularly those slamming into their rotating blades at high speeds.

Birds don’t clog an engine but can bend or fracture the internal blades, causing power loss. The heavier the bird, the greater the potential for harm. Flying at 250 knots—in the United States, that’s the maximum allowable speed below 10,000 feet, where most birds are found—hitting an average-sized goose will subject a plane to an impact force of over 50,000 pounds. Even small birds pose a threat if struck en masse. In 1960, an Eastern Airlines turboprop went down in Boston after an encounter with a flock of starlings.

Your next question, then, is why aren’t engines built with protective screens in front? Well, in addition to partially blocking the inflow of air, the screen would need to be large (presumably cone-shaped) and incredibly strong. Should it fail, now you’ve got a bird and pieces of metal going into the motor. The incidents above notwithstanding, the vast improbability of losing multiple engines to birds renders such a contraption impractical.”

Where to celebrate National Aviation Day

Sculpture at the Wright Brothers National Monument _courtesy National Park Service

Sculpture at the Wright Brothers National Monument _courtesy National Park Service


Friday, August 19, is not only Orville Wright’s birthday, its National Aviation Day, established in 1939 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to celebrate and commemorate the history and development of aviation in America.

NASA has some ideas on how you can mark the day, as do the people who will be gathering at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina, at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park in Ohio, and at the many other national parks around the country with aviation connections.

On Friday there will be also be activities honoring National Aviation Day in a number of airports around the country.

From 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Miami International Airport is inviting travelers to experience what it feels like to be a pilot instead of just a passenger by offering complimentary rides in two flights simulators on loan from Miami Dade College’s Eig-Watson School of Aviation.

The airport will also be offering a variety of fun and educational aviation-themed activities and handing out paper airplanes and other treats and hosting a photo competition for the best aviation photo.

Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is celebrating National Aviation Day with a Queen City classic:

Between 3 and 5 pm, 2,000 passengers arriving at CVG will receive a complimentary Cheese Coney – a hot dog in a steamed bun topped with mustard, chili, onions, and shredded cheddar cheese – courtesy of the Skyline Chili. Passengers will also be able to pick up aviation-themed giveaways such as pilot’s wings, toy airplanes and bag tags and take selfies with a variety of fun props.

Giant new aviation pavilion at Seattle’s Museum of Flight

Seattle’s sprawling Museum of Flight will double its gallery space with the official opening of a 3-acre Aviation Pavilion this Saturday.

aviation pavilion

The 9-story roofed outdoor gallery currently displays 15 commercial and military airplanes, including a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the first Boeng 747 prototype, the only Concorde on the west coast and a FedEx Air Cargo exhibit housed inside a 727 freighter.

Tucked under the wings of the 747 is a mini-airport for kids.

Also on display: a Douglas DC-2 airliner from the 1930s, three big bombers (World War Two’s B-17F Flying Fortress and B-29 Superfortress), and the Cold War’s B-47 Stratojet.

The Museum’s rare, flyable 1932 Boeing 247, Boeing 727 prototype, and the first jet Air Force One will be moved over from the Museum’s Airpark across the street to the Pavilion in the fall.

Aviation pavilion 2