Thursday, October 31, 2002

Cactus Wings Live: Dallas October 2002

Jeremy told me a week ago that he had a meeting to attend in Dallas, at the American Airlines Conference Center. He invited me to tag along, and I would just spend the day at DFW while he went to the conference. Since my other late-fall “spotography” trips didn’t pan out, I decided to jump on this one – thinking I might not get another trip until spring 2003.

Tuesday 29Oct-2002

I picked Jeremy up at AWA’s Flight Ops center and we carpooled into the airport. HP Express had a CRJ to DFW at 1130, followed by a mainline 757 at 1300. Since I was flying with him, we planned to both go standby at his employee level. The CRJ was solid, and just minutes to spare the gate agent stated that one seat was available. We declined, and she called out another non-rev’s name. She gave the call 30 seconds, then tore up that boarding pass and said “now there’s 2 seats, go!” Sweet! The one thing I like about flying standby is that you don’t have to wait for the flight to depart. I somehow enjoy just getting on the plane, sitting down, and we’re off.

Seen at the airport before departing:

N163YV Be1900 ex-USAir Exp c/s, opf Mesa
N583HA B763 HA

N111JX 1-11
N43RP WW24 "Petty Air" on tail
N525DR Ce525
N863NA T-38 NASA
N867NA T-38 NASA
N977CC HS125 "Centex"
N991CX Ce750

ASH6245 (America West Express) PHX-DFW - CRJ-200

We pushed back at 1215. I sat in 11F, a window seat. My seatmate was Carmen, a computer IT technician for an oil company based in Dallas. She was friendly and we talked off and on the entire trip, mostly about where we were from and our travels. She gave me some tips about where to eat in Dallas, and some directions, which were greatly appreciated. The inflight service consisted of a beverage of choice and a package of peanuts, followed up by a bottle of water.

We flew over Newman (EWM) with El Paso off the right side, and then into the southwest cornerpost for the DFW approach. We flew downwind west of the airport, turned base-to-final over Lewisville Lake and landed on runway 18R. I noted while we were taxiing in the progress that was being made on the new International Terminal “D”. It has been framed in steel, with the outline of a ground-control tower visible on the southwest corner. The interesting thing about this terminal is that it has abandoned the semicircle design of the existing terminals – going for a more rectangular (and probably more functional) design. The new overhead people mover system is coming along as well, with most of the overhead track and support columns in place. This system is innovative in how the design worked around the existing terminal facilities – the system was constructed over the jetway area of each gate. We blocked in at gate B15 (America West’s gate, apparently) at 1510. At Dallas you board an airport-run shuttle bus to the rental car facility. This was very efficient, as it seemed the buses ran much more often than the rental company shuttles you see at Phoenix. We checked in at Budget and received our standard-issue white Ford Ranger pickup within 10 minutes.

DFW 29Oct-2002

Upon learning I would be spending 24 hours in Dallas, I began searching the Internet for tips on where to spot & photograph. After a few tries on Google, I came up with an entry on from the late 1990s. Too old for me. Photographs on did not have much in the way of descriptions about where they were taken. I then turned to my trusty resource – my saved e-mail. Searching through the messages under the “Airport Spotting” category revealed two trips in 2001 by separate British spotters. One of these reports had very detailed information, including some tips on photography! Overall I would say information is pretty scarce about spotography in Dallas on the web.

The Hype
I kept hearing about Founder’s Plaza, and what a good observation area it is. Sure, it may be good for “observation”, but does it offer good CLOSE views with good sunlight angles for photography? My personal impression was that DFW, being a huge, sprawling airport, would not offer any close-up views of active aircraft, and that the traffic would be very monotonous with a constant stream of AA or regional jets.

The Reality
DFW is indeed sprawling. Three separate north-south runway complexes exist, along with two separate northwest-southeast runway complexes. I wonder how many miles it is to drive completely around the perimeter …. I visited Founder’s Plaza and was impressed. It’s basically an elevated mound at the south end of the east (runway 34) complex. A paved parking area is elevated enough over the perimeter fence to allow photography without a means to gain height over the fence. In the morning, the sun is behind you, and traffic was using runway 34. Arrivals on the outboard runway, which was closest to me, made nice photographic subjects on short final. Departing flights, which used the inboard runway, were a bit far for good photos but some record shots at 200 to 300mm were made with ease. A bonus was a few flights taxiing directly in front of the plaza on their way to the far eastern runway. Founder’s Plaza was by far the best place to visit in the morning if runway 34 is in use.

I discovered a parking lot on the western perimeter of the airfield, in a cargo complex (Eva Air, Korean, and Lufthansa Cargo) just south of the American hangar. This area was accessed using W. Airfield Road. If you thread your way through the employee parking lots eastward, you end up at the perimeter fence along the western runway complex. Here, landing aircraft roll out within camera range (200mm for an MD80). The taxiway between me and the runway was not used much, only for cargo aircraft that accessed the western cargo complex, and for American aircraft taxiing to their hangar. I did not have any trouble with authorities here. Having a pickup truck was useful here – standing in the bed of the truck allowed us to gain height over the perimeter fence for photos.

The log of aircraft for DFW that day – I left out most of the domestic USA stuff even though I logged everything I saw.

N122UP* A300 UPS
N292SK E145 America West Exp
N443SW CRJ Skywest "30th Anniversary" c/s
N489UA A320 UA
N502TA* A300 Tradewinds
N868AS CRJ ASA "Texas Bluebonnets" c/s

The * means I photographed it.

Not more than 5 minutes passed at the “Lufthansa Cargo” spot before resident DFW slide shooter Brian Peters found us. We spent the rest of the afternoon & early evening chatting about DFW, TUS, PHX, and the hobby. The sun was long gone and the air turned chilly by the time we said goodbye to Brian and headed off in search of our hotel. Despite being dark out without any roadway lighting, we managed to find the Holiday Inn Select – DFW North without any trouble (Just off SR114 at Esters Blvd exit). The hotel seemed average for a business-class hotel, nothing fancy but not a dump, either.

After changing, catching up with CNN, and getting the mobile ACARS command center (er, laptop and handheld scanner) fired up, we headed off in search of some long-awaited food. Jeremy thought going to downtown Dallas was a good idea, so off we went. We detoured a little north of downtown and came in on US 75, which didn’t delay us too much and offered us a chance to see more the Metroplex. Right, it’s just another city, from what we saw. Blasting into downtown via some sharp turns, we ended up at the west end warehouse district, which has been turned into a nice restaurant & bar district. One of the warehouses was marked "Fairbanks Morse & Co." - IIRC, they made early-generation diesel locomotives, I didn't know that Dallas was where they were from! Parked at one of those self-pay places for $5 (did I need to pay???) and checked out the scene. Unfortunately, most of the places were chain-type restaurants with outlets in Phoenix, so we deferred dinner a little and had a beer and some Cajun-style wings instead at a place called Gator’s (Carmen – thanks for the tip). I can’t remember eating wings that good (maybe I was hallucinating due to hunger…). We left the downtown area and headed back towards the hotel, and found a decent looking steakhouse along the way called “Tenaya”. Actually what caught our attention was the label “Steaks :: Wild Game” !! Not that I’m a big fan of “game” but it was definitely something different than the places in Phoenix. After a huge portion of ribs and a few Shiner Bocks we were beat and headed back to the ………. No wait! We’re in Dallas Ft. Worth … so what the heck does Ft. Worth have to offer? Thinking we might not be back here for a long time, we fought off sleep and headed over to downtown Ft. Worth to check it out. Definitely not a scenic skyline arriving from the northeast – but once we entered the central business district, we were surprised. It appeared that several well-known stores and restaurants had outlets in the downtown area, sort of like a much larger city like Chicago. Cool! We drove around a few blocks and then left as quick as we came. At the hotel we watched CNN again and checked out what ACARS hits we had so far.

In the morning, Jeremy had to be at his conference at 0900, so that gave us plenty of time to fit in a little spotting & photography. Opened up the curtains – FOG. Hmm, that’s going to be interesting!

Didn’t see any places to stop for a quick coffee or breakfast so we skipped it and headed straight to Founder’s Plaza. The fog was so thick that you could not see the runways from there. It was interesting though, and a few aircraft did show up to make a digital photo worthwhile. After dropping Jeremy off, I returned back to the plaza since the fog had lifted and I didn’t know any other place to sit to watch movements on the south side. It wasn’t bad, but no good for slides – just digital shots.

As lunchtime neared I left the plaza and ventured up W. Airfield Avenue to check in on the cargo activity. Nothing present except for a few UPS A300s, which I needed to see. Picked up Jeremy and went to Wendy’s for lunch, near the AA Conference Center.

A log of the aircraft seen on Wednesday:

DFW 30Oct-2002

B-16481* B744F Eva Air Cargo
G-VIIH B777 BA (so much for hoping to make two this trip)
N124UP A300 UPS
N134UP A300 UPS
N7642U B72F Emery - parked all day
N805SY B738 Sun Country
N980AT B717 AirTran - no 'eyebrow' windows
9V-SFF B744F Singapore Cargo

After lunch, Jeremy and I agreed to meet at the CR Smith museum between 1400 and 1500 hrs. That was enough time for me to head down to Love Field and back. Seeing as I had not seen a Southwest B737-200 in the new colors yet, I figured DAL would be a good place to do so. I got to DAL in 20 minutes, and proceeded up Denton Avenue on the southwest side. I eventually did a full perimeter circuit, stopping in the various nooks and crannies to read off whatever bizjet/airliner I could see. I’m not a mad bizjet spotter by any means, but I will log whatever I can see (I won’t go “hunt” down a bizjet, though). The aircraft I logged:

DAL 30Oct-2002 - Seen in one hour:

N721WN B732 SWA
N722SK B72S a/w no titles
N893AA B72S Planet
N96SW* B732 SWA N/C

N120RV LJ31
N145DL CL604
N190GC LJ35
N200LJ LJ31
N240TJ Fa20
N300CV Fa20
N335H G3
N400TB CL604
N444GA G3
N45AJ LJ45
N55G HS125
N590CH G3
N622SV G200
N700RR HS125
N705QS G200 (ex N271GA)
N731RA LJ31
N740BA G5
N789TR G3
N85F Da50

After the perimeter circuit, I parked up along Denton Avenue and waited for N96SW to push back for a 1400 departure to HOU. After five minutes a nearby store owner approached and asked me to leave, after I told him what I was doing. I made the mistake of giving him my name (he asked for it, I should have just said “Terry.”)… more on that later. Anyway I moved about 200 yards down and parked again, only this time to find the perimeter fence was taller than I could see over from standing in the truck bed – rrrr. Had to resort to shooting through the fence, and when N96SW taxied by I managed 2 record shots. Oh well, better than nothing, I thought.

I met Jeremy back at the museum and we proceeded right into the museum store. For any lover of diecast airplane models, CR Smith is a must – not for their prices (although they were having a 40% off sale on selected models) but for their selection of rare & hard to find models. You’ll pay for them though, but when you gotta have them…. I didn’t buy any, opting for an American 777 cap instead, and some stickers to add to my airline-sticker filing cabinet. Jeremy decided on a chrome Northwest Orient 727-100 model which did look very sweet! We caught the “Spirit of American” flick in the theater – they really need to update that with some B777 footage – and then left to begin the journey home.

We dumped the truck and caught the efficient shuttle bus back to the terminal. What’s nice about the bus service is that each bus is terminal-specific, you don’t have to ride to each terminal before you get to yours. The TSA-run checkpoint didn’t give me any problems, but they held up Jeremy for a search. What I didn’t like about that was Jeremy’s laptop (which had been removed from its case and placed on a separate tray), briefcase, and duffel bag were all away from him at the bottom of the conveyor belt – and virtually unattended to. I had to remind an agent that the bags were Jeremy’s, because Jeremy had been asked to step aside for the search! Is there any way to avoid this?!?!

HP815 DFW-PHX N914AW B757

The flight was nearly full, and the chance of us getting on didn’t look too good initially. However after final boarding the agents called us up and issued us boarding passes without any delay – nice! I got 19C and pretty much slept the entire way home. Jeremy had 20F and shot some nice photos of the wing and sunset on the way home. We pushed back at 1730.

We landed at 1900 and taxied quickly to the gate. I was looking forward to getting home and eating, as this flight caused us to skip yet another meal. Luckily there was no delay getting Jeremy’s bag at the baggage claim or waiting for the crew bus. I dropped Jeremy off at his car and made it home by 2000.

Photos from the trip - click here

Sunday, October 27, 2002

PHOENIX (PHX) 10.27.02

N909AW, AMER. WEST 757
N37277, CONTINENTAL 737-800
N325TZ, ATA 737-800
N913AW, AMER. WEST 757
N786AS, ALASKA 737-400
N792AS, ALASKA 737-400
N554NW, NORTHWEST 757-200
N660DL, DELTA 757 (N/C)
N16701, CONTINENTAL 737-700
N171ZV, MESA B1900 (ex-USAIR C/S)
N943DL, DELTA MD88 (N/C)