British Airways operates the only regular A380 service to DFW, its arrival each day is a highlight. The Dallas / Ft. Worth area has a great aviation scene, though commercial traffic at DFW is dominated by American Airlines.
I was fortunate to spend four days in the Dallas-Forth Worth metroplex this weekend attending Airliners International, checking out Southwest's pilot training center, and plane spotting at DFW, AFW, and NAS JRB Fort Worth. It was great running into so many friends, new and old, with common interest in commercial aviation.
For those not familiar, Airliners International is an annual convention and memorabilia show hosted by the World Airline Historical Society. It features a large hall with vendors selling ephemera, memorabilia, models, and the like. Die-cast airplane models, mostly 1:400 and 1:200 seem to dominate the offerings, but there were folks selling slides (as in photos), playing cards, safety cards, aircraft manuals, stickers, posters, china, signage, you name it. There were also tours offered to area museums and airline facilities, seminars (I particularly enjoyed Charles Kennedy's presentations on MEA and North Korea), and a pair of banquets to bookend the festivities.
I was happy to see a few fellow Minnesotans with tables there, including DG Pilot, and first time vendors Airline Time Machine. My favorite table there was from Chicago Vintage Posters, which had an amazing variety of beautifully restored posters for sale.
I counted three vendors who had JetTip key chains, which have been handed out at the last several conventions, for sale - a very surreal feeling.
Jorge Zajia has a deep dive on his blog if interested in learning a bit more about the memorabilia offerings, and JJ Skippy's curating a list of YouTube videos about the show.
Next year's convention will be held June 26-29, 2024 in Kansas City - I've already got it on my calendar. I'd encourage you to sign up for their email newsletter (at the bottom of this page) to get updates.
Plane Spotting at DFW
A trio of aircraft overhead at Founders' Plaza, DFW's official aircraft observation area, which has a pair of large parking lots, shaded seating, binoculars, speakers playing radio traffic, and an airport fire fighting fountain. With wind out of the south, as it usually is, it offers unobstructed views of arrivals on 18R.
DFW is the world's second busiest airport by passenger volume, and third busiest by aircraft movements. Covering 27 square miles, the amount of infrastructure serving the airport, in true Texas fashion, is mind-boggling.
Founders' Plaza is the official aircraft observation area at DFW, and it's very well done. Photographers and videographers will appreciate the clear view of operations, and it offers pretty good views of arrivals on 18R, though the over-the-shoulder-touchdown-shot (below) suffers pretty badly from heat haze during the summer. The A380s reliably land on this side of the airport, as do a good percentage of heavies, though there were certainly a few aircraft that disappointed me by arriving or departing on the "wrong" side.
A Singapore Airlines Cargo 747-400, 9V-SFM, arrives at DFW from Anchorage.
Being American Airline's largest hub, their specials make frequent appearances here. There are also a healthy number of international carriers with daily, or near-daily service to DFW, including Aeromexico Connect, Air France, Avianca, Emirates, Iberia, Korean, Lufthansa, Turkish, Qantas, Qatar, Viva, Volaris, Japan Airlines, and Air Canada. On the cargo side, there's Aerologic, Air Canada Cargo, Asiana Cargo, Cargolux, Cathay Pacific Cargo, China Airlines Cargo, Eva Air Cargo, Qatar Cargo, and Singapore Airlines Cargo. It might not have quite the variety or unique carriers that you'd get at JFK, LAX, MIA, or ORD, but there's certainly enough here to keep a spotter occupied. They also have one of the best Facebook communities with lots of people sharing news, photos, etc.
Southwest Airlines HQ at DAL
The Southwest full-motion simulators at their LEAD facility in Dallas. There are currently 28 of them, in order to get time as a "civilian," my tour began at 11:00 PM on Friday.
At the invitation of a generous SWA employee, I received a tour of the airline's headquarters at Dallas Love Field (DAL). It's a huge facility, and just about every inch of free space there is utilized to to enforce the company's branding and culture - blue, yellow, and red stripes abound, as do photos and artifacts commemorating military service, family, and the airline itself.
Preparing for a departure on MSP's 12R aboard one of Southwest's 737-8 MAX full-motion simulators.
My tour guide is a flight instructor, so I was able to get some time
in one of Southwest's sims; naturally I did a quick tour of MSP, my
home airport, arriving and departing on 12R, heading south to fly over
my home office in Burnsville, swinging around for a touch and go on 35,
and then making a harrowing landing on runway 4. At that point I was
getting a bit motion sick, so my host graciously arranged an auto
landing on LAX's 35L, and gave me a chance to taxi with the tiller.
Having spent my career working for and with small businesses, it was pretty impressive to take a peek under the hood at an organization that has more than 66,000 employees.
Plane Spotting at Alliance Airport (AFW)
Took six attempts over two trips, but eventually managed to catch an Amazon Air departing next to the unique control tower at Alliance Airport in Fort Worth. It's not quite a hub for Amazon, but it has a major presence here, and is currently served by 737, 767, and ATR freighters.
Alliance Airport (AFW) is a thirty minute drive to the west from DFW, is notable for lots of transient military traffic, as well as facilities for Amazon, ATAC, Gulfstream, Bell, Aspire MRO. Better yet, there's a grass area between the tower and the FBO ramp where spotting is tolerated, and is a great photo spot in the morning (there are some side-of-the-road spots for afternoon/evenings too, but they're only suitable for in-flight photos).
Fortune favors the persistent! Had heard these F-5Ns were in town, but wasn't sure when they'd be departing. Rolled the dice and drove to AFW on Sunday morning and lucked out when they departed around 10 am. Military aircraft like this are blocked from flight trackers like JetTip, making it all the more fun to catch them.
VMFT-401, the Snipers, do adversary training with these former Swiss Air Force F-5Ns, which are painted in a variety of liveries, making them an enthusiast favorite.
NAS JRB Fort Worth
A VMGR-234 KC-130J departing NAS JRB Fort Worth
Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth is also worth a visit if you're interested in military aviation. Lockheed Martin's US-built F-35s are produced here at Air Force Plant 4. Various groups based here operate the C-40, C-130H, C-130J, KC-130J, F/A-18, and F-16. Spotting is tolerated from grassy areas near the intersection of White Settlement Road and Grants Lane, which has good afternoon/evening light.
The DFW metroplex has a great aviation scene, and I only scratched the surface. The US headquarters for Airbus Helicopters is in Grand Prairie at GPM. The Commemorative Air Force at FTW has a B-29 and B-24. American Airlines is headquarted near DFW, and supports the CR Smith Museum. Airliners International also offered tours of the Frontiers of Flight Museum at DAL. Bell is headquartered in the area, and has their own test field, 0TE2, in Hurst, TX.
A few additional photos, including USMC F/A-18 Hornets, can be found on my Flickr album.
Everyone I met in Texas, from the organizers of the event, the locals who went out of their way to show me around, to the kids at Founders' who were as excited to see a 747 as I was, were friendly, amazing people. Thank you again, everyone!
Nick lives in Burnsville, Minnesota with his wife and three children. He grooves on railroad and aviation photography, politics, geography, weather, and LEGO. He started JetTip's smart flight alert service in 2017, and is now a full-time avgeek. He can frequently be found atop a step ladder at MSP's Aircraft Viewing Area.