Aviation Photojournal May - June 2016 - Page 42



While it's relatively common to see cars and trucks driving around on an airport, it's not so frequent that airplanes take to the streets. N661US, the 747-400 prototype, was deftly transferred from the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to the Delta Flight Museum roughly a quarter mile to the north Saturday.

The task began almost a year ago when the decision was made by Delta Air Lines to preserve the first copy, known internally as ship 6301, at the non-profit museum located on headquarters property upon her retirement in the fall of 2015. After her final flight in September from Honolulu, the "Queen" was repainted and internally stripped of most fixtures - seats, overhead bins, and wall paneling - in preparation for becoming a multi-purpose exhibit annex in mid-2017.

To move the 400,000 pound aircraft across two streets and a large Delta employee parking lot, everything from fences to light poles to a 20 foot high berm had to be taken down. Engine numbers 1 and 4 were taken off the airframe to lessen wing droop and improve ground clearance, but numbers 2 and 3 (as well as 30,000 pounds of fuel) were left on board to keep the center of gravity within the safety envelope for ground operations. The picking and placing of metal plates (to help the tires handle the curbs crossing the streets), sawing down countless fence posts, and adroit maneuvering of the Goldhofer AST-1by Ike Copper was actually much quicker than had been anticipated. The crowd of employees and aviation fans gathered were treated to what can only be described as "passing a camel through a needle's eye" as this historic airplane was brought to her forever home.