USA - West Coast & More!
Monday 06 August 2018 - The Day Before
We wake up early to make the final preparations. Cameras are fully charged, suitcases are properly packed and weighed, the itinerary is handed out to the family. This is my first intercontinental trip and we are excited to the max. After a last breakfast at home, we close the doors and walk towards the train station. We have quite the luggage with us, so it is a bit of a hustle to board the train. The closer to Schiphol we get the more excited we get.
The train enters the tunnel and we arrive at Schiphol Airport. We leave the station and walk on to our hotel. Yep, today is not the day we fly, we stay at airport hotel Citizen M first for the night. This way we could travel to the airport while avoiding the rush hour. This was just way more relaxed and the Citizen M hotel is great fun! The rest of the day we spend playing with all the features in our room and of course with spotting planes. Our room overlooks the low cost pier (H-pier) and we have a great panoramic view. Even the Polderbaan can be seen.
This hotel is at walking distance from the terminal, so we leave our stuff and go have some dinner at one of our favorite restaurants at Schiphol. We visit the panorama terrace and after watching the new Corendon Boeing 737 Max 8 and an Air Mauritius A340 we head back towards our room. The sun sets behind a beautiful plane parked at the P-buffer. It is a majestic sight. The plane’s four engines and characteristic hump tell this is a Boeing 747. The blue queen is being cleaned and prepared for her next flight. Her registration is PH-BFB and she carries the name “City of Bangkok”. Tomorrow, she will fly KL601 to Los Angeles. We will be on board. The realization is surreal...
Tuesday 07 August 2018 - AMS-LAX
It is still early as we pack our suitcases one last time. We weigh our bags and luggage and head to the terminal. Bag drop off was quick and easy, and before we know it we are airside. We buy some breakfast (muffin) at Starbucks and enjoy the morning rush movements at the D and E pier. Then, it is time for boarding and we head to our gate. Boarding had already commenced and we join the queue. Out of the window we see our PH-BFB proudly waiting for departure. She looks amazing and we are stoked to get on board. Boarding an airplane is always great, but boarding a 747 is just magical. Our seats are at row 10, in Economy Comfort class. This means, turning left after boarding! We enter the magnificent aircraft and we are welcomed by the purser. Behind her are the stairs towards the upper deck and the cockpit. PH-BFB is named after the City of Bangkok and was even baptized by monks. An official placard next to the stairs reminds of that ceremony.
We find our seats and fasten our seatbelts. The captain welcomes us and gives the boarding completed signal. The doors are closed and the jet bridges are retracted. With the retracted bridge we finally get our view for the first time: we have a great view of the wing with two big engines. Then, it is time for departure.
The plane gets pushed back and our engines start. The sound gets better and better as the engines spool up. A quick taxi towards runway 24 (Kaagbaan) and we line up for departure. All checks are completed, the cabin is prepared and the engines spool up as only the 747 can do. The brakes are released and we accelerate down the Kaagbaan. As a real queen, the machine slowly rotates and lifts off the ground. The smiles on our faces could not be greater. The great journey had begun!
The flight is really great. A small bump of turbulence over the Shetland isles caused my cup of tea to spill over my legs, but it does not matter at all. The views are amazing as we continue towards Iceland and Greenland. Over Greenland we see the extremely rough mountainous landscape and even some icebergs. The sheer roughness of the frozen waters and the great glaciers make me feel humble towards our planet and mother nature. At some places it is hard to see where the land ends and water starts.
We fly over the stretched Canadian forests and billions of lakes. We try to take some rest as it gets a bit cloudy as well and therefore the views get blocked. After a while the American prairies show themselves. Countless meadows and perpendicular roads mark the landscape. Then there was Colorado. The sheer beauty of the mountains is mesmerizing. We even see some wildfires from above, the smoke is massive.
The green turns into brown as we fly into Arizona and Nevada. Slowly our descent is commenced as well. We see some great canyons and spot even the Grand Canyon! On the other side of the aircraft Lake Mead is clearly visible. After a bit the big city of Las Vegas can be seen as well. We see McCarran Airport as well as the Strip and the Stratosphere Tower.
After a few minutes we fly over San Bernardino. The mountains fade into an endless city. We fly over San Bernardino Airport, where we even spot a KLM MD-11 at the storage area. We see March Air Reserve Base and in the distance Chino and Long Beach Airport with the iconic C-17 hangars. Slowly but surely we come closer to the ground and we even see the area where we will be sleeping tonight. Not long after LAX Airport comes in sight. The approach was stunning and the landing was smooth. After landing the crew invites us to the flight deck where we spend some time with the flight crew. This was one of the most beautiful flights we’ve ever had and this legendary trip just had started!
We take an Uber to our AirBNB. The room we booked is located in Inglewood, right underneath the approach path for LAX. Our host Pam welcomes us and we settle down in the cool room. Outside it is hot, even for LA standards, she says. Our room is nice and clean and we even have a patio. The patio has a small pond with fish and three cute little turtles. We are allowed to feed and play with them. We take some rest and only go outside for catching some nice airplanes! This day was great with some amazing new impressions.
Wednesday 08 August 2018 - Los Angeles, a Big City
The greater Los Angeles agglomeration is notorious for the not-that-good public transport system. Nevertheless, we decided to give it a try. Pam suggested that we should not walk to the station, so she insisted that she takes us there. The metro system is decent, but in some areas as a tourist we did not feel that comfortable. We get off at the California Science Center. This is a museum with a lot of sciences covered, even aerospace. Several unique aircraft are preserved here like an A-12 Blackbird, a United DC-8 and an F-20 Tigershark. However, the highlight of the museum is Space Shuttle Endeavour.
We enter the museum and we explore all expositions about the Californian geography, the marine flora and fauna and the desert. We learn about the importance and the feebleness of the giant kelp forest at the seashore and about the dangers of the desert like flash floods. Then, we continue to the aerospace exhibition where one is allowed to touch real Space Shuttle tires. The exhibition houses several space artifacts like satellites and even the Apollo Soyuz Command Module. Visiting Endeavour requires a special ticket, so after a quick lunch we get the tickets and make our way to our first ever Space Shuttle.
As we enter the hall and are amazed by the size of the shuttle, we get approached by a museum volunteer who would like to tell us more about the shuttle. She turned out to be one of the shuttle designers as material specialist and shows us some examples of the materials used. She got excited when she learned we were aeronautical students, so we get an entire private tour around the shuttle and she explains every detail of it. This was our first encounter with the shuttle, and it was awesome. Great thanks to the California Science Center!
We head back to the metro and continue our journey towards Santa Monica. The metro ride takes forever, but we get our first glimpse of the Hollywood sign and the metro is equipped with airco, which is nice. Santa Monica is the final stop for the metro, and it takes a relatively short walk to the shore and the famous Santa Monica pier. To be honest, we had higher expectations about this pier. It is not as big as people make it look like, but we may be spoiled with the pier at Scheveningen. However, it is the end of the Route 66, so that is nice. We spot a USMC AH-1 Cobra and some more helicopters, and then we go back to the metro. That night we explore downtown Los Angeles where we have dinner. Back at the AirBNB we immediately go to bed.
Thursday 09 August 2018 - Hollywut?
Today we are heading for Hollywood. It was a 30-minute walk to the nearest bus stop. When we almost arrive at the bus stop a car stops next to us. The driver asks our destination. We say that we are heading to the bus stop on the other side of the road. The driver replies that we have to take care, as this turned out to be an extremely dangerous neighborhood. He sincerely advices us not to walk any further than that bus stop as then our lives could be at risk.
A little overwhelmed by this confrontation, we continue our walk and board the bus. The ride takes almost two hours and is surprisingly only one road northwards. This city is ginormous! We see some famous buildings like the Capitol Records tower and stroll along the Walk of Fame before we take an Uber back to our room.
That afternoon, we need to be at Long Beach, and Pam is so kind to drive us up there! She is the nicest. We get dropped of at the RV (Recreational Vehicle) rental. The next days we will be driving a truck camper! After all formalities have been completed, we take our camper, based on the Ford F-150 truck for a test run. It is a great ride and we decide to explore the local airport: Long Beach. Here once was the McDonnell Douglas factory. We drive by the old Boeing buildings where the C-17 was built. The façade still shows the remnants of the big "Home of the C-17 Globemaster III" titles. There is not much flying activity, so we drive back to Pam's place.
Friday 10 August 2018 – Desert Driving
The big day is there, today we start our trip to the desert! We say goodbye to Pam and her amazing family and hit the road! It is 5.30am, so the LA traffic had not yet started. We drove for two hours straight up north, through the mountain range and make our first stop in Palmdale at Walmart. We buy the necessary groceries for the upcoming days as well as a comfy twin pillow. We have some breakfast and when we’re done we make our way to Palmdale Airport. Here we visit Joe Davies Airpark and Blackbird airpark. This museum is home to one of the two Space Shuttle Carrier aircraft, a modified Boeing 747-100, as well as many more special planes. Next to the museum is Palmdale Airport, USAF Plant 42.
After a few hours in the airpark, we leave for some spotting at BJ’s Corner, the spotting place at Palmdale. Here we see some pattern work by a USMC KC-130 and a USAF KC-135 from Edwards. We continue our trip northwards via the town of Lancaster, where an F-4 Phantom is mounted on a pole near the railway station. A quick photoshoot later we take a small 30-minute drive to Edwards Air Force Base west gate, where a small museum is as well. The star of the show here is the McDonnell Douglas YC-15, which is the prototype for what later would become the C-17. We take some photos and leave again. The sheer emptiness of the desert planes is breathtaking.
Our next stop is Mojave Air and Space Port. At the main entrance three aircraft, a Convair 990, F-4 Phantom and Saab Draken, are preserved and can be photographed well. We take a look around and continue our route via some viewpoints at the airport. On their official website one can find a complete DIY spotter tour guide over the airfields viewpoints. However, it turns out to be only for digital use only, as we get pulled over by the security guards and it appears that are not that happy with our presence. They tell us that we only could use the café for taking photos and that we were not allowed to take photos elsewhere. So, it is what it is and we park the camper and order a drink. Looking over the immense storage area we come up with a plan.
Our truck camper has a tiny window next to our beds, above the driver cab. Marieke will slowly drive the truck while I hide behind the small curtain and peek my lens through the open window. This way we were able to shoot some great pics of the storage area and even the Lockheed L1011 Tristar “Stargazer”. It did not take long before we got spotted again by the security officers, and we directly drove off the airport property, followed by a white security van. Back on the main road we park at a small dirt road and I get out of the camper. We sigh and reflect on this quite stressful experience. But, everything is compensated well with our current view: we are looking directly at the world’s new biggest airplane: Stratolaunch.
We take our pics and continue our trip towards our next stop: Edwards AFB North gate. Here a B-52 is preserved. This B-52 is one of the two so called “Motherships” and was used to launch test aircraft like the X-15 from cruising altitude. I walk around the converted bomber and take some nice detailed photos. Suddenly, I hear a rattlesnake in the bushes next to me, and I quickly get back to the truck. Let's continue to our final destination for today: Southern California Logistics Airport at Victorville.
We know that at Victorville we have a chance to spot the General Electric Boeing 747-400 flying testbed. As we approach the airport, we do not see the plane where we expected it to be, so that was initially a bummer. It seems like the Devil's work, but as we drive down the road we see the 747 flying overhead and coming in for landing. We park the camper and proceed to the fence. Hundreds of airplanes are resting here. We see an Allegiant MD-83, it looks like it just flew in. On our left is a China Airlines 747 covered up in tape. Right in front of us is a Virgin Atlantic 747, called "Cosmic Girl". She will be used as launching platform, just like the B-52 Mothership. The General Electric testbed is finishing her landing roll and taxies back to her normal stand. Funny thing, she carries one CFM Leap 1B engine that is used for the Boeing 737 Max series. It is an interesting and special sight.
We drive around the airport and take a look at all the special aircraft. An old Southwest Arizona One special 737, two L1011 who once belonged to the King of Saudi Arabia and even a proper DC-8 that looks airworthy. On a roundabout an F-4 Phantom is preserved and reminds of the past function of Southern California Logistics Airport: George Air Force Base. We also spot two brand new white Boeing 747-8i aircraft, they will eventually be converted to VC-25B, the new Air Force One.
When we have seen it al, we drive a few minutes to the neighboring village of Adelanto and park at the RV park for the night. What a day it was, but it was all worth it. We turn on our airco unit and go for a cool evening swim. Goodnight!
Saturday 11 August 2018 – Driving, Driving, Driving
We start the day with a beautiful sunrise over the desert hills. We fire up the mighty V8 of our truck and head for the highway southwards. It is a short 75 minute drive to our next stop: San Bernardino International Airport (SBD). The road leads us through the Cajon Pass and the scenery is breathtaking. The morning sun gives a golden shine over the rocks. It is such a fun drive, time is flying by. In no time we arrive at SBD. The airport itself has all the services for passengers, however it has not been opened for passenger operation yet. However, several maintenance and recycling companies are located at the airport. We see how a Delta MD-88 gets prepared for long term storage and eventually scrapping.
Then, we move on to the north side of the field, to the tanker base. SBD Air Tanker Base hosts several fire fighting companies with their fire bombers. Today there is a great variety of air tankers. Two Canadair CL-415 Scoopers, a C-130 Hercules, two RJ100s from Neptune Aviation and Aero-Flite an Ericksson Aero Tanker MD-87 and two 10 Tanker Air Carrier DC-10s. We meet up with the station manager of SBD Air Tanker Base. She welcomes us in the operations control center and we get a tour through the building, the retardant station and get as close as we can safely get to the aircraft. Unfortunately for us, the crews are too busy for distractions so we cannot get too close.
There is a lot of movement indeed. The aircraft return after 30 minutes more or less, and need a retardant refill as they need to be back in the air again as soon as possible. We learn that the retardant powder arrives in more than 12 trucks a day and needs to be mixed with water. A sample of the retardant mixture needs to be send to a laboratory for testing and approval, however the need is so high that when the test results are back, the retardant itself is likely to be already dropped over the fire. The area that is on fire at the moment has not been on fire for almost 8 years, so the firefighters struggle to extinguish it. After almost one and a half hour we say goodbye to our guides of SBD and after receiving some cool shirts , stickers, patches and caps we leave for our next destination today: March Field Air Museum.
We take a break at a local restaurant to reflect on this great adventure and we even see some fire bombers flying overhead from and to SBD. After our McChickens we hit the road again for Riverside, March Field Air Museum. This museum has a large collection of historic USAF aircraft with some specials like the YF-14 Tomcat prototype and an SR-71 Blackbird. The museum provides a nice view over March Air Reserve Base as well, however as it is weekend there is not a lot of activity. We only see a Southwest 737 landing . The museum itself is kept nice and tidy. It really is a blast and we spend a great time here. Then, it is time for us to hit the road for the first long leg: four hours of driving towards Buckeye, Arizona.
As we head for Palm Springs, we leave the urban jungle of the Greater Los Angeles agglomeration into the mountainous desert. The landscape is gorgeous and our airconditioning is great. It is almost 40 degrees Celsius outside , and older campers and trucks are recommended to turn off their airco as that would destroy their engines. Fortunately, our F-150 truck is just one year old and is perfectly capable for handling these harsh conditions. Soon, the thousands of windmills around Palm Springs start to appear in front of us. We are used to Flevoland in The Netherlands, but we have never seen this many of them.
We leave Palm Springs behind and the road is just an endless straight road ahead. We set cruise control and sit back and relax. The rock formations, mountains and desert plains seem going on forever . The landscape is just stunning. After a couple of hours we decide to take a short break. We park the camper at one of the few service stations in the middle of nowhere and we get out to soak up some fresh desert air. The intense heat outside makes us immediately regret that decision and we rush for the shop to buy us some refreshments. The service station is located next to a military vehicle museum. We take a short look before we continue our journey.
After a while we enter a desert oasis as the Colorado river crosses the country here. When entering the state of Arizona, the road quality improves significantly and the landscape changed slightly as well with the most significant change being the half-leaf-half-cactus like Joshua trees making place for real Saguaro cacti. The sun starts to set as we enter Buckeye. We pay a short visit to Buckeye airport with a Flying Boxcar, Catalina, Dakota and several other museum aircraft being restored by a private owner. After sunset it is just a short drive to our RV park. We hook up the camper and after a short cooldown in the pool it is time for bed.
Sunday 12 August - Tires and Cacti
Today our first destination is Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport with a short stop at Goodyear Airport. At least, that is the planning, because when we start the engine we discover that our front-right tire had gone flat over the night. That is a bummer, especially as it is Sunday today and most shops are closed. Thankfully the customer care service from CruiseAmerica lets us know that the only open service station in the Phoenix area is -thank God! - just three minutes away! So we drive up there, but the air pump is broken. Thankfully the service station has a truck stop adjacent, and the truck stop guy is nice enough to fix our tire. We are almost two hours behind our schedule, but we are on the road again!
We decide to skip Goodyear and drive directly to Mesa Gateway. Here we see some nice planes, but not the military jets we were hoping for. The local spotters tell we should have come here yesterday, as there were 12 Harriers present, but Sundays are mostly quiet here. Bit of a bummer, however there is still a US Navy T-34 Mentor, a USAF C-17 and a Xtra Airways Boeing 737-400 departing today, so we are still happy.
After the departure of the C-17 a loooong drive commences. We drive southwards through the flat plains between the mountain ranges towards Marana. The straight roads seem endless as we make our way through the agricultural landscape. There is hardly anybody out today, as there is almost no other traffic. It starts to get a bit busier as we get closer to the highway near Marana.
After a couple of miles on the highway we exit and get back in the countryside. We drive by Marana Regional Airport and head to our first National Park: Saguaro National Park . This drive is just magical. The Saguaro cacti are so big! Some of them are over 20 meters tall! Luckily, there are lots of spots for parking and sightseeing here. There are billions and billions of cacti and hundreds of species around. They say that a desert is deserted, but nothing is further from the truth here.
After a brief visit to the visitor center we continue our drive through this magical , un-earthy landscape. In the afternoon we arrive in Tucson. Our first stop is the southwest side of Tucson International Airport . Here we see some MD-80, 727s an some other stored planes. We also have a view of the military area with some Dutch and Iraqi F-16s. After we've taken our shots we drive on to the north eastern side of the airfield. Here is the Rolls Royce testbed, a Boeing 747-200 stationed. We can get pretty close to this old machine and we see an active Boeing 737-200 from Sierra Pacific as well. With all our photos taken we call it a day and head for our next RV park near Pima Air & Space Museum. We hook up our camper and enjoy a nice afternoon swim, which did not take long as a big monsoon thunderstorm appeared in the area.
Monday 13 August - Wrecks, Relics and a Loooong Drive
Today we head for Pima Air & Space Museum. The sun is out early and it is really hot today as well. The museum is the best museum we've had so far. It is so big and the staff is eager to tell all their stories about the aircraft on display. at 11am we take the Boneyard tour over Davis Monthan AFB AMARG, which appears to be originally called the "Air Power Reservoir". Most people however know it as The Boneyard. Hundreds of retired military airframes are resting here, waiting to be cut up or to be taken back into service some day. The tour is quite a highlight for us. When we get back to the museum, we continue our route through the immense museum property.
After lunchtime we hit the road again back to Phoenix. We make a quick stop at Pinal Airpark at Marana, where several heavy airliners are stored. Our goal today is Kingman, so we have at least four hours of driving ahead. If traffic cooperates, of course. Which it didn't . Phoenix was jammed heavily, so it took us almost an hour to get through the city. Leaving Phoenix behind, we continue heading north towards Kingman. The road is amazing, and it is clear why Arizona is called the Canyon State. The landscapes are stunning as we drive through the mountain ranges covered in cacti and Joshua trees.
Sun starts to set as we still have one hour of driving to go. There are several thunderstorms in the area and with no road lights it is dark as hell. The only times we see the road is when a lightning bolt lights up the skies, or when a freight truck overtakes us, so we can track it's rear lights. It feels like forever, but then a sea of lights appears on the horizon: Kingman. We leave the highway and enter the RV park. We were lucky that we made a reservation in advance, as we came in 30 minutes after they officially closed for the night, but they waited for us. Tight planning is a pain in the butt sometimes, but proper planning saves it sometimes too ;-) .
Tuesday 14 August - Route 66 & Sin City
This morning we first pay a visit to Kingman Airport. This airport is in use as a storage facility for smaller jet aircraft which are mostly owned by banks and could be return to service if needed. We arranged an airside tour so we got to get close to all the airliners. Several historical jets are stored or scrapped here as well. We see a couple of Boeing 727s as well as some DC-8's which appear to be still airworthy, our guide says. Also an airworthy Fairchild C-123 Provider and a L100 Hercules of Lynden Air Cargo are present.
After a short visit to the fire brigade we say goodbye and drive towards Kingman Center via the Historic Route 66. Here we visit the powerhouse museum and some local stores and restaurants. The powerhouse museum is located in the old powerhouse that provided electricity for the construction of Hoover Dam. Adjacent to the building is Locomotive Park where a large steam engine is preserved for the public.
After lunchtime we commence our final leg with our beloved Ford F-150 truck camper. She has done so well. We make a quick stop at a viewpoint of the Colorado river near Hoover Dam. We enjoy the view mostly from the car, as temperatures outride rise to a stunning 44 degrees Celsius. Via Boulder City we drive into Las Vegas. Here we return our camper to the company and take an Uber to our hotel, located on the Las Vegas strip. We stay at Harrah's tonight. Our Uber takes us via the famous "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas"-sign. The atmosphere in this city is exceptionally overwhelming. Luxury cars, neon lights and bright colors are literally everywhere. After having stored our luggage in our room we spend the evening on the Strip absorbing all the Vegas Magic. After sunset we visit the Stratosphere Tower which provides a great panorama over the area.
Wednesday 15 August - Flying the Madpup
After a remarkable room-service breakfast in the hotel we pack our bags and make way to the lobby where the next Uber was waiting on us. Today we leave the southwest of the US and fly north to Seattle. In the terminal we enjoy the apron views with a chill Starbucks frappucino caramel. Life can be so good sometimes. Sun is out nicely and the light for photos is good. We spot some nice local planes as well as some European heavies. Then, we see our Delta Airlines Boeing 717 N975AT on final and she touches down nicely. We head to the gate and wait for her to arrive. Let's fly!
Boarding is completed and the doors are closed. All signs are cleared for an on-time departure. We get pushed back and the engines are started. However, after a very short taxi we come to a stop. The captain informs us that there are lots of severe thunderstorms in the area and the flight planners are now calculating our new route. He says that we will add around 40 minutes to the flight time as we get rerouted over the Los Angeles area. After a long 20 minutes of waiting we continue taxiing towards the runway. The departure is really beautiful as we take off towards the Las Vegas Strip, exactly the type of takeoff we were hoping for. We see the Sands 747SP's standing and have one last look at the ever busy Strip before we turn left over the immense city. The air is really turbulent and we shake and bump heavily as we make our way between the stormy clouds.
As we climb we fly into the cloud base and continue heading south. After a couple of minutes the flight deck informs us that we are finally starting to turn northwards as we are now flying over Palm Springs. We look at each other and we agree that is sucks that we are still in the clouds with no visibility whatsoever. But then, the clouds disappear and the Californian desert appears underneath us. Just in time, as we try to figure out where we are flying, because soon we spot a big airfield. This field is Edwards Air Force Base! That means, knowing the topography of the area by heart, that Mojave must be close as well. Palmdale would be directly underneath us, so that is not visible. Soon we spot Mojave Air & Space Port as well. The L1011 Stargazer is recognizable as well as several ex-KLM and Martinair aircraft. We did not expect to see these airfields anymore so it is a big surprise and nice addition to this epic trip. The flight continues fairly calm over the Sierra Nevada mountain range and various National Parks. After some nice flight hours we spot Mount Rainier, which means that we approach the Seattle area. Well, spot Mount Rainier? We get a slight glimpse of it as the area is covered in smoke from the Californian wildfires.. Anyway, we touch down gently and after disembarking our Boeing 717 and some plane spotting from the terminal we collect our bags and take an Uber to our next Airbnb.
Thursday 16 August - If it's not Boeing, I'm not Going
The day starts with a quick Uber drive to the car rental terminal. Here we pick up our vehicle for today. First stop is Renton Municipal Airport. Here Boeing produces the 737NG and Max series. We park at the official spotting place where the brand new Boeings are parked right at your feet. It’s quite foggy this morning, but the panorama still is impressive. There is a nice visitor as well: a Douglas A-26 Invader was being prepared for departure. We see one of the Max demonstrators being converted for passenger use by Southwest and an American Max gets its engines started for the first time (at lease, we think as there’s a lot of smoke with the start). After soaking up all the action we leave Renton for Everett Paine Field.
At Paine Field we visit the Future of Flight museum. The museum itself is not that mentionable, but they offer tours in the Boeing assembly hall, the largest building on earth. During the tour it is not allowed to bring any electronic devices, so we do not have photos of that place. But, we learn every detail about this monstrous building and see the assembly of several Dreamliners, 777s and even some 747-8Fs! Besides, we get a glimpse of the fuselages of the two new Boeing 777X prototypes. The tour is a real highlight for anyone who has some interest in the aviation industry. We return to the museum, hoping to see some Dreamlifters. However, our tour guide tells me that because of a private event on the ramp, the Dreamlifters can not be parked at the moment. A little bit disappointed we visit the overly crowded souvenir shop and buy some heavily overpriced goodies.
Then, we make our way to outside to the spotting place (the famous terrace was closed due to the same private event), as we spot a plane on its delivery flight. It is Boeing 787-9 PH-BHP for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. Her name is Tulip. She starts her engines and the tow truck disconnects. All is clear and she turns onto the runway. Gracefully she rolls down the tarmac and rotates with the beautiful Dreamliner wing flex. Nice to see the Dutch plane heading for AMS before any other Dutchman had seen it. Feels like quite the privilege. After her departure we see a FedEx 767 test flight and even a Yak-52 coming back into Paine Field. We also take some photos on the other side of the field before heading back to Renton where the fog has lifted and the sun is out now. After enjoying the action here we return to our AirBNB via a local restaurant with two beautiful golden arches in its logo. This was awesome today!
Friday 17 August - Sight Seeing Seattle
After breakfast we return our car to the rental facility and take the bus to Boeing Field. We get out directly in front of the Boeing Museum of Flight. What a place this is! Incredible! The museum has even a lookout tower which offers a nice panoramic view over the runway. Unfortunately it is not that busy today, the museum staff says. Nevertheless we spot a green bare metal 737 coming in, a new KC-46 Pegasus and one of Boeings T-38 Talons. The museum itself is really great. One can take place in a cockpit segment of a real A-12 Backbird and there are several other highlights. Literally the biggest highlight is RA-001, the first 747 ever built!
Time flies by as we wonder around this beautiful museum. In the afternoon we wanted to see more of Seattle, so we took the bus towards downtown. We got a nice view of the suburbs, the industrial area and the big stadium. In the stadium it appears that a match is about to begin as sport fans are all over the place. As we disembark the bus we see a beautiful plane flying overhead: Icelandair Hekla Aurora! What a surprise! We make our way to the Columbia Center, which houses the Sky View Observatory. This is the tallest building in Seattle and provides the most beautiful panorama. We look directly at all beautiful buildings surrounding us, we can also take a look directly into the stadium. In the distance we see Boeing Field and the golden sun reflects magically in Elliot Bay. All of a sudden, there’s fireworks from the stadium and two EA-18 Growlers fly directly towards us! We’re almost eye to eye with the pilots as the soar in front of the Observatory. “Usually they don’t come that close!” says one of the guards. We feel lucky. The sun is setting as we make our way down and looked for a place to eat.
We visit the famous “gum-wall” and see some great looking architecture as we approach the shoreline. In a niche we found a cute little restaurant which appears to house the Blue Angels demo team pilots where they are around. This place is very cosy and we have a great romantic dinner. After dinner we walk down the piers with all the lights, the aquarium and a big Ferris wheel. It is starting to get late and we decide to get back to the AirBNB via bus and tram to SEATAC airport and take an Uber from there.
All went well, but just as we try to book an Uber, both our phones die. We may use a stranger’s phone to call an Uber, but the Uber never shows up.. We are tired and have to use a taxi. The driver is not the most friendly man we’ve ever met. He does not know the area at all as he does not believe that we do not want to go to one of the hotels. When we provide the address, he does not know where it is, and does not want to use his navigation either. So, we guide him to our place as good as we can (as we just arrived here two days ago…) and he still did not believe we wanted to be where we wanted to be. After some scary moments with the payment and me even being locked up inside the taxi he finally is happy with our payments and leaves. This was scary and we solemnly swear we never use a taxi again.
Saturday 18 August - Start Spreading the News, We're Leaving Today!
The morning is rather hectic, as our Uber driver is not that quick and does not know the area that well. Going through security also takes ages, which means that we have to hurry to our aircraft. Boarding had already started, but we make it on time. We quickly take a photo of our aircraft, a beautiful Delta Airlines Boeing 757-200. The best feature about this economy cabin is that at row X, the seats are slightly misaligned due to the proximity of the lavatories. This results in having really spacious legroom! We fasten our seatbelts, spot some nice planes out of our window before the pushback begins.
Seattle appears to be quite busy this morning, but we have a quick taxi to the runway. We get a great view of the longer Boeing 757-300 in front of us as it turns onto the runway and starts its takeoff roll. The -300 has not even rotated yet as we roll onto the runway as well. It does not take long before the engines spool op and our plane accelerates down the runway. As a true Boeing 757 she rockets into the sky as if it’s nothing. We see some cool planes down on the cargo ramp. A FedEx DC-10 and MD-11, Korean Cargo Boeing 747-8F and Icelandair Hekla Aurora. We make a right turn and fly directly overhead Boeing Field where we can just see the Museum of Flight and all the lakes. As we climb above the clouds/smoke we can even see Mount Rainier again! She proudly peaks over clouds and as if the pilot knew it’s quite the sight, we make a beautiful pass around Mount Rainier. Then we make a left turn and continue our flight to the Big Apple.
The traffic around JFK is busy and the weather conditions are far from sunny. We have to hold for almost 20 minutes before we can make our approach into the with rain covered airport. The sun already sets and it gets darker rapidly. When we finally land it appears that our gate is still occupied so we are placed on a buffer for another 30 minutes. Unfortunately due to the heavy rain and the darkness we are unable to spot any of the JFK movements around us. Then, the plane parks, we get out and collect our luggage, and we take on the journey to our AirBNB in Jersey City all the way by metro. We definitely would not do that a next time... #poorlifechoices
Sunday 19 August - New York, New York
Our AirBNB (which in fact is basically a just a bad hotel) is awful. The beds are dirty, there is dirt, gunk and damp spots. There are hairs laying around everywhere and it smells like fungus. Not the best place, but, we're on a budget and New York is just dramatically expensive. So we have to deal with it. All in all we slept great as yesterday was a heavy travel day. Today we explore the city and take a boat tour. One positive thing about our AirBNB is that is is just two minutes walking to the nearest metro station. This means that in no time we are in the World Trade Center. First stop today are the docks where we take a boat tour in the harbor. Then, after the tour it is a short walk to a real aircraft carrier: USS Intrepid with the Intrepid Air & Space Museum. This is pretty neat as here is the second Space Shuttle we've seen so far. This is Enterprise, and actually she's never been to space. Enterprise was used for flight tests from the 747 Space Shuttle Carrier we saw earlier this trip in Palmdale. Other highlights are the F-14, the A-12 Blackbird and even Concorde!
We walk on to lower Manhattan and take a panoramic view at the Rockefeller Center / Top of the Rock. Here we have a great view over Manhattan. USS Intrepid can be seen as well as LaGuardia Airport (with Trump's 757!) The rest of the day we spend exploring Lower Manhattan until the sun sets and we get back to our room.
Monday 20 August - New York, New York Part 2
After a terrible night we wake up and rush to the WTC for breakfast. Today we will visit the top of the new One World Trade Center and be even more Typical Tourist than yesterday as we jump on a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus. We know, pretty cheesy, but it's a relaxed way to see a lot of this big pile of stones called New York. We see several highlights and after the tour we get back to our room to prepare for tomorrow: flight day!
Tuesday 21 August - EWR-ORD
We are all packed and bagged as we take the PATH train in the other direction. With one transfer to a NJ Transit train we get quite quickly to Newark Airport, where we board the slowest monorail train in the world. It's fine though, as we have a great panoramic view over the airport with the beautiful skyline backdrop. Security in the New York airports are told to be pretty strict since 9/11, however these guys are a joke. One pal is sleeping while the other two men are eating doughnuts (how stereotypical). Nevertheless we make it through pretty quickly and soon we find a great spot near the window. Wifi is good (not great) but works fine for FlightRadar24 to tell us which planes were arriving and departing. Planes to have to be popped up though, as we get surprised by the take off of an old Boeing 727 Freighter from Cargo Jet!
Our initial plan for this flight was for it to be on the legendary American Airlines McDonnell Douglas MD-80 Maddog. However, back in December, we received an email that on this route the aircraft type had changed to a CRJ-900. Yikes! But, we had no other choice than to deal with it. So here we are, waiting for our "thing" to arrive.
Not long after, the little grey monster shows up at our gate and we board the plane. Darn, these windows are so dull, it's almost impossible to see through. This is a shame as in-flight photos are impossible. The flight itself is okay, not really spectacular. The crew does not seem to care much about the fact that there are passengers on board, but we don't like this plane either so that's even.
After the flight we take the free shuttle to our the Hyatt Place airport hotel and enjoy a good afternoon doing some plane/train/truck spotting and enjoying a (slightly too cold) indoor pool. This hotel is great as our room faces the runway and the hotel staff is really friendly and helpful. This makes up for a great day and we finish tonight with a big plate of Panda Express (yummm!)
Wednesday 22 August - ORD-YYZ
The next morning we wake up with the sunny view of landing planes flying overhead. We are excited as we see some cool specials heading for O'Hare today. First, we get spoiled by the United retro "friendship" livery, even before we take the shuttle to the terminal.
Security is okayish, not the best but not the worst as well and we're through pretty easily. We learn that our flight is delayed so we take our time to spot some great planes. It's a big airport, so eventually we even have to rush to our gate when the announcement is made that the delay had been shortened. This also meant that we just missed our goal, the American MD-83 by just ten minutes. A little grumpy about that we board our plane: another American Eagle CRJ-700 operated by SkyWest. Luckily, the windows are a lot cleaner than yesterday so we enjoy the view when we take off and make a right turn over ORD. During the flight we spot several small airports, and even Detroit Metro Airport (DTW).
Then, we descend and the amazing skyline of Toronto comes into view. The CN tower is easily recognizable and overlooks the city with great pride. The landing is good and we park next to a Delta Boeing 717. Wait a minute, this registration... It is N975AT, exactly the same plane that flew us from Las Vegas to Seattle earlier this trip! What a coincidence!
We stay the night at the Sheraton Gateway hotel. We booked a room with airport view, however, we got a room on the fourth floor. This means that the view is directly onto the airport train. Even worse: the train drives by so closely that we could look in the passenger's eyes. As this is not how we want to spend our last night in Canada before heading back home. Luckily, the gentleman behind the counter totally understands and for a small extra fee we buy an upgrade to an executive suite. The view is worth every euro (dollar) and we even have access to the breakfast lounge now! The hotel even has a pool that is open 24 hours a day. So when the sun is set, we take a nice midnight swim (and there are even toys for in the pool!!!) It is after midnight as we leave the pool and go to sleep. Tomorrow is a big day..
Thursday 23 August - Totally Toronto
The sun rises quite early and with the first light of day we wake up. Today we head to downtown Toronto to do some shopping and visiting the CN tower. This tower is the tallest building in the western hemisphere. The view is really great, especially with the small regional Billy Bishop City Airport directly down below. This airport hosts a lot of props such as the DHC-8 and even the rare DHC-7. Several were present/stored. The approach must be stunning, maybe for a next time.
As it is really crowded at the observatory, we don't stay that long and soon we head back down and take a look at the railway museum adjacent to the CN tower and walk on to a big shopping mall. Around noon it is time to head back to our hotel.
Back at the hotel we drop our stuff and check out. The hotel staff is kind to store our luggage so we can do some plane spotting outside of the terminal without our suitcases. We are lucky as we spot the WestJet Frozen livery, an MD-88 and Boeing 717 from Delta and our highlight: the silver American MD-82. Behind the perimeter fences we see a white Dreamliner tail with the famous KLM logo. This tail belongs to PH-BHP "Tulip". We saw her being delivered from Paine Field, and now she's here, on her first revenue flight. What a coincidence!
That night we have a last dinner at the poutine food truck in the terminal and we pass through security. The gate area is pretty crowded and with not many windows at the gates, there is not much more to do than just wait. There are tablets available for entertainment so we both confiscate one and start to play some games to kill the time. Finally at around 23.00 (11pm) we are allowed to board the plane. Today's flight is on another KLM Boeing 747-400, this time being a combi aircraft: PH-BFW "City of Shanghai". We are booked seats again in premium economy, this time one row ahead: row 9. These are the first rows after main deck business class. We see the jetbridge being disconnected and immediately our Queen gets pushed back. We taxi out in the pitch dark and take off via runway 23. As a real Queen behaves, she climbs out slowly and the clear night sky provides a beautiful view over Mississauga and Toronto as we make a low right turn. Soon we find some clouds which means that the view is not that interesting anymore so we try to get some sleep.
As we wake up a few hours later the sun already starts to rise over the clouds. The flight is really calm and we enjoy every second of it. The crew is amazing and the wing views are absolutely stunning. The entire Atlantic ocean is covered with clouds, but when Ireland comes in sight, the clouds break open and we see the green pearl passing by underneath us. We The descent had initiated and we get back to our seats. Today we land onto runway 18R, the notorious Polderbaan. We have a great chat with the purser as well as she is seated directly in front of us. We tell all our stories of this amazing trip and all we've seen.
Though it was quite a long flight we still were pretty fast, so our gate was not yet cleared. After landing we take the "touristic route" via taxiway Q at the south of Schiphol to be placed on a waiting buffer. "The pilots won't like this at all, they are some big speedfreaks" the purser tells us. After some more 15 minutes the gate was clear and we finally could dock in. After all passengers disembarked the Jumbo, we are cleared to head upstairs again for one last visit to the flight deck and a photo shoot. We thank the crew for the great flight an together with them we leave City of Shanghai behind and enter the E-pier. The crew continues their way to the crew center as we turn around one more time to say goodbye to our ride. She proudly looks back at us as if she wants to say "thank you, it was a pleasure". We walk on through the terminal and collect our luggage. We are tired, but this was a journey we will never forget.