2011, Trip 1: Tots and Turbines

A GE90 jet engine, the world's most powerful

On Tuesday, January 11, after being on the ground for a month, I took wing, flying up to Washington to help Robin. She had been ill, and with two small kids, another set of hands was welcome. Landed at Dulles and in no time was playing with Dylan and Carson in their toy-jammed living room. They had visited for a week after Christmas, but both tots were ill, and the visit was, well, hard. This time was more fun, and it felt great to be of service. Tuesday afternoon saw Dee and me at a neighborhood park for a long time. She couldn’t get enough of the swings – “push again, Pots,” was her constant refrain.

Wednesday morning we drove to the Steven Udvar-Hazy Center, the branch of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum adjacent to Dulles (and 10 minutes from home). Dylan loves the planes, and of course her grandfather does, too. Every time we visit, I marvel at the technological advances in powered flight that got us from the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk in 1903 to the Space Shuttle in 1981, and the SR71 Blackbird that made its last flight from L.A. to Dulles in under two hours (those two machines are 100 feet from each other). Dylan loved the little planes (“Awwww, babies, so cuuuute”). She is getting observant: pointing up at the spoked wheels on the landing gear of the cropduster that was the origin of Delta Airlines (in Monroe, Louisiana), she said “bike wheels.” A few minutes later, she spotted an exhibit showing just the massive main landing gear of an Airbus A330, and said, “Broken. Pots, it’s broken.” I explained that the gear would fit beneath a wing, “like on the yellow and brown airliner over there (pointing to the original 707, my fave). She had the last word: “they have to fix it!”

The first FedEx jet, a Falcon 20; it's hard to remember that this logistics giant started small; when I first learned about their concept in 1972, I predicted failure (I am smarter today!).

After ballet class the next morning and a quick lunch, Robin drove me to the Wiehle Road Park and Ride. I kissed those three girls, waved as they drove away, and hopped on the Fairfax Connector bus, then the Metro to Washington National Airport, and a flight to Chicago. American does not fly to Cincinnati, so the backtrack was necessary. A totally extroverted young woman from L.A. took the seat next to me for the short flight to Cincy, the kind of person who volunteers everything, but it was fun to hear her enthusiasm and her plans. She was probably lucky she landed the chair next to me and not some jaded or grumpy soul.

Picked up a Hertz car and motored north on I-75 across the Ohio River (the airport is actually in northern Kentucky), up to Sharonville on the northern edge. I was in Cincinnati to keep a years-old promise to a former GE Aviation exec. When Tony learned that I taught airline topics, he invited me up to their big plant. I had forgotten about it, but one of my former AA colleagues, Al Comeaux, now runs corporate communications and advertising for GE Aviation – their main business are a very successful line of jet engines, but they’re diversifying into related areas, including some cool information technology for airline operations – re-invited me. Just before exiting the freeway, I passed the GE facility, and it looked enormous. Along the way, I passed some other industry, and it felt good to be in a part of the United States that still manufactured products that the nation and the world wants to buy!

Checked into my hotel, changed clothes, and headed a few miles northeast to the New Krishna Indian Restaurant, which I found on the internet. The buffet was sensational (and the many Indians in the place was a good sign). Filled up, I headed back and clocked out.

Up early the next morning, over to GE’s fancy Learning Center, with an impressive collection of jet engines hanging from the ceiling in the reception area. Met Laurent Rouaud, one of Al’s colleagues, then delivered my “Why Is It So Hard for Airlines to Make Money?” talk to 20 or 25 attentive folks. Lots of engagement and good questions. It was a good session.

Said goodbye to Al and headed south on I-75, the Transport Geek detouring a mile to snap a few pictures of the 1937 Union (railway) Terminal, a wonderful Art Deco building that now houses a number of museums. We visited the station in the mid-1970s, and it was on a downhill slide, so it was great to see its ascent and renewed vitality. It was the sort of project that I associate with Cincinnati, a very can-do and civic-minded place.

Checking my watch and the iPhone mapping function, I determined that I had just enough time for an edible Cincinnati institution, a bowl of Skyline Chili. Exited the freeway at Buttermilk Pike (roads in Kentucky are still called pikes, which strikes me as nicely old time), rolled into one of 20 or more Skyline outlets in the metro area, and quickly caused a stir by announcing to the staff that I had come all the way from Texas for a bowl of Five Way (chili, beans, spaghetti, cheese, onions). Truth is, the chili is not as good as we make in the Lone Star State, but the plane that the Lambrinides family founded is genuine local tradition.

At the airport, I spotted two mosaics that were identical to those I saw an hour earlier in the train station, and sure enough an adjacent plaque provided the detail: in the mid-1930s, artist Winold Reiss created dozens of scenes of local industry, two of which were moved to the airport in the early 1970s.

I especially admired his interpretation of work at American Laundry Machinery, which back then was the world’s largest producer of equipment for commercial laundries. Flew home, a successful first trip in 2011.

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