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Delta museum offers trip back in time

Visitors to the Delta Air Transport Heritage Museum may find themselves jumping back in time, thanks to an array of historical airplanes and a variety of exhibits.

Each exhibit and artifact tells a different part of the story of how world's largest airline began as a commercial, agricultural flying company.

The Delta museum is a place where visitors, and Delta Air Lines employees and retirees, can learn about the roots of the airline and reminisce about their own experiences. The museum is open to Delta Air Lines employees and retirees, Monday through Thursday, from 9 a.m., to 4 p.m. The Delta museum is also open to the general public, but visits must be set up a day in advance by calling the museum, at (404) 773-1219. Delta's museum is located at the airlines' headquarters, 1060 Delta Blvd., Building B, Department 914, Atlanta, Ga.

Tiffany Meng, director of the Delta Air Transport Heritage Museum, said the purpose of the museum is to "welcome new people into the Delta family, and to teach Delta people about Delta history, which dates back to 1926."

"We were founded in 1995, as a non-profit organization," said Meng of the museum. "We are dedicated to preserving the history and heritage of Delta Air Lines and all the airlines that merged with Delta in the past."

The Delta museum's facility is located in Historic Hangars One and Two, which were built for Delta Air Lines in the 1940s, around the time when the airline moved its headquarters from Monroe, La., to Atlanta, Meng said.

Visitors to the museum can view a replica of Delta's first headquarters, at the Monroe Cafe in Historical Hangar One, she said.

According to Meng, the newest exhibit on display at the Delta museum is entitled "Red Tail Flying: Voices and Images of Northwest Airlines," which opened in May of this year. It displays the history of Northwest Airlines, which began as a mail carrier in 1926. Visitors can walk through the exhibit and view pictures, old advertisements and uniforms, and hear stories from Donald Nyrop, a former CEO of Northwest Airlines who served from 1954 to 1976.

The Northwest exhibit is included in Delta's museum, because the carrier was acquired by Delta in 2008.

"I think it is important to save Delta's history, because you are not only saving the history of an airline, but the history of Atlanta," said Meng. "It is a piece of Atlanta history, business history and aviation history, and we kind of tell that story."

Another exhibit takes visitors through decades of Delta's history, as they walk through the "Delta Takes Off! From Crop Dusting to Jets" exhibit, in Historic Hangar One. Unique aviation memorabilia is sprinkled throughout the exhibit, including vintage dinner plates and rarely seen Delta photos and advertisements. The exhibit also includes a video of Delta's founder, C.E. Woolman, describing Delta's journey from its beginnings as a crop-dusting company, up to the mid-1950s.

"It's like stepping back in time," said Meng.

Throughout Historical Hangars One and Two, visitors can view various historical aircraft associated with Delta Air Lines, said Meng, each with its own significance in the airline's history.

"The Spirit of Delta," the airline's first Boeing 767 aircraft, was bought by Delta employees for $30 million, and is displayed in Historic Hangar Two, Meng said.

The aircraft represents the gratitude employees had for Delta, after none of the employees were laid off when the company was experiencing financial troubles in 1982, she said.

Employees raised the money through payroll deductions, and on Dec. 15, 1982, gathered in Delta's Technical Operations Center in Atlanta to present the aircraft to the airline, said Meng.

According to Meng, "The Spirit of Delta" retired from revenue service on Feb. 12, 2006. The airplane flew around the nation during its "farewell tour," and flew for the last time on March 3, 2006. It found a home at the museum on May 7, 2006.

The plane is open for visitors who would like to explore two exhibits, which include "The History of the Spirit of Delta," and "Jet Service: 50 Years of Delta Jet Service," she explained.

The exhibits include flight attendant uniforms from the 1980s, aviation equipment, photographs, and airplane models.

According to Meng, several coach seats, the business class section and the cockpit of the aircraft remain intact, so visitors can feel what it would've been like to travel in "The Spirit of Delta."

Meng said "The Spirit of Delta" is open Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 12 to 2 p.m., and is overseen by volunteers of the museum.

Joseph Liptak, who works in passenger sales for Delta Air Lines, said he volunteers at "The Spirit of Delta" because "I contributed to this airplane, and Delta is in my blood."

Liptak said that before he joined Delta, his father was a mechanic for the airline.

"I feel grateful that I was able to be part of it ['The Spirit of Delta'] and the company was a part of my life," he added.

The airplanes on display in Historical Hangar One include a 1931 Travel Air 6B Sedan, a 1940 DC-3 Ship 41 and a 1936 Stinson SR-8E Reliant, which was used by Northeast Airlines, which merged with Delta Air Lines in 1972, Meng said.

According to Meng, Delta Air Lines began providing passenger services in 1929. The carrier was then called Delta Air Service, Inc. One of Delta's earliest planes, the 1931 Travel Air 6B Sedan, had the capacity to transport five passengers and two pilots. The seats had no seat belts, and there was no lavatory or kitchen on board. The airplane was used for flights that would last a couple of hours.

"This is a fabric airplane," said Meng, as she felt the aircraft. "This was fabric over a metal skeleton. Typical in 1930s and '40s in all aircraft."

Delta retiree, James Hightower, who worked in Delta's overhaul department from 1959 to 1993, said he volunteered to help restore the 1940 DC-3 Ship 41 for the museum.

He said he enjoyed the process, but "it was a learning experience from the first day."

The museum also has a store filled with various Delta memorabilia, such as T-shirts, books, patches, ornaments and diner mugs, said Meng. The 800-square-foot store operates inside a redesigned section of a hull, from Delta's Lockheed L-1011 Tri-Star 1, the first aircraft of its kind ever built.

The L-1011 lets visitors sit inside the cockpit, and experience what it would be like to maneuver the aircraft, added Meng.

Daryl Saville, 22, recently sat in the pilot's seat and scanned the controls.

"My dad works for Delta," he said. "Hopefully, I'll be a pilot one day."