The first time my husband landed a Boeing 737 at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, he crashed. On the next go-round, I held my breath as Roy guided the plane over the runway fairly easily, but he put it down with such force that the cockpit shook as if it were at the epicenter of an earthquake. I thought I would tumble out of the co-pilot's seat.
Roy didn't really crash a plane — he's not even a pilot — but I really did get jostled pretty badly. We were perched high off the ground in the Delta Flight Museum's very realistic flight simulator.
"It's the only full-motion flight simulator in the United States that's open to the public," says Mike Raftis, the extremely patient instructor.
The museum, along with the 737 simulator and a very cool collection of airplanes and Delta memorabilia, is minutes from the terminals at Hartsfield-Jackson. Although the museum has been around in some form since 1995, it has been open to the public for only a few years.
If you happen to find yourself in Atlanta, either by choice or on one of those long airport layovers for which Hartsfield-Jackson is infamous, the museum with more than 100 years of aviation history housed in two 1940s-era hangars can be worth a visit.
"You can't miss [it]," a young woman from the museum said over the phone. "Just turn in between the Boeing 747 and Boeing 757."
Inside, the first thing we notice is a long line to see the interior of a meticulously restored Douglas DC-3, its silver coat polished to a dazzling shine that reflects every light in the building. I'm amazed at the aircraft, which entered into service with Delta in December 1940. Its windows are larger than those of today's planes and are adorned with curtains instead of shades; the interior exudes elegance and richness, the way air travel used to be.
"Up until a few years ago, the museum was more for employees than anything else," said Tiffany Meng, director of operations. The museum was renovated between 2012 and 2014 and was opened to the public to mark Delta's 85th anniversary of service.
Meng said the expansive rows of artifacts hold items from the history of 40 airlines, not just Delta — including Northwest, going back to when it was Northwest Orient, as well as China Southern and Pan American. Here and there, she stops at her favorite objects, including a ticket from Aug. 14, 1929, for a flight from Monroe, La., where Delta was headquartered for a spell, to Jackson, Miss., about 120 miles away. The cost was $13.25.
Meng stops at an employee identification badge for Catherine Fitzgerald, the longtime assistant to Delta's first CEO. "Miss Fitz … was one of Delta's first employees. She came up with the name of Delta from the Mississippi Delta region."
Other Delta memorabilia include flight attendant uniforms throughout the years, including the "groovy" designs from the 1960s and a reproduction of a Huff-Daland crop duster to honor Delta's beginnings.
Later, we walk across the parking lot to the outdoor 747, arguably aviation's most iconic aircraft.
Shaun Crawley, a museum volunteer, tells a tour group that particular 747 is the first model 400 that Boeing built. He urges us to sit in one of the spiffy Delta One first-class seats while he explains that the aircraft has 171 miles of electrical wires and that 3.5 billion passengers have flown on a 747 at one time or another. Then he leads us out to walk on the wing of the 747, which is a pretty cool thing to do.
I should admit that I didn't do so well in the flight simulator, either.
I chose to take off and land from Honolulu's Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. I almost slammed into a mountain as I tried to watch the landscape and all those bright, shiny cockpit gizmos at the same time. And I landed in the grass, rather than the runway.
But at least I didn't crash.
Delta Flight Museum, 1060 Delta Blvd., Atlanta. The museum is a 10-minute drive from airport; you'll want three to four hours, so mind how long your layover is.
Admission: adults, $15; seniors (65), $12.50; children (5-17), $10; younger children, free. Hours: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., except closed Wednesdays and from noon on Sundays. For 747 Experience, noon to 4.
Flight simulator: $425 for up to four people, ages 16 and over. Not recommended for pregnant women or anyone with back issues or motion sickness. The hour includes a 10-minute preflight briefing, 45 minutes of flight time, and a 5-minute review. Reservations recommended.