I have been captivated by the mystery of space travel my whole life. I grew up reading every science fiction novel I could get my hands on. I remember Sputnik, Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and I remember watching the television the day Neil Armstrong took his famous steps. I was there with him in spirit if not in the flesh.
I watched every shuttle launch that fit into my schedule and cheered the triumphs and grieved the tragedies. I truly believed, as many of us did, that by now people would be living on the moon. I believed that each lift-off, each mission was a small step along the road to the stars,
Sadly, reality is not always what we expect. I never got to see a shuttle launch or homecoming in person no matter how much I wanted to. Family, work, finances, responsibilities, something was always more important. Then the shuttle program was over and I would never get the chance.
With the program shut down NASA began the task of allocating the shuttle fleet to worthwhile homes across America. I learned earlier this year that the Discovery was going to make its permanent home at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museumís Udvar-Hazy Center and that she would be shipped there aboard one of NASAís 747 transport platforms. I had to be there.
I awoke at 3am on April 17, 2012. I was as excited as a little kid. I had booked my flight on Porter Airlines on their second day of service to Dulles. In my excitement I arrived at the airport a full half hour before I needed to for my 7:00am flight. Porter flies out of tiny propeller only Toronto Island Airport CYTZ and the sun was rising through the departure lounge windows as they rolled our little Bombardier Q400 Dash 8 to the gate.
I was still a little concerned that either my flight would be delayed and/or the Discovery would be early and that by the time I had my rented car, Discovery would be on the ground. There was no need to worry. Even with the mass of people heading to watch the landing I had lots of time. A fellow plane enthusiast from the Washington area had prepped me on photo locations that offered good sightlines and lighting. It was unfortunate that there was limited sunshine but I made the best of what I had.
I was in the driveway to the Sully Historic Site which is located directly across Route 28 from the Air and Space Museum. I had planned on being in the parking lot but so too, apparently, had hundreds of others. We parked where we could and got out to watch. We had learned a few days earlier that Discovery would make a low level pass and circle back to land. As it turned out she made an additional pass and landed on her third approach giving everyone in the crowd a show they will never forget.
Each time Discovery passed, the crowd cheered and applauded but by the time she made her final approach the traffic on 28 was stopped and everyone was out of their vehicles. The roar that went up as she dropped behind the trees on her way to touchdown was amazing. I know I was a part of something very special.
As the crowds thinned I made my way back to the car rental agency and took their shuttle back to the airport. From there, I took the municipal transit to the museum. I only planned to slip in and grab a bottle of water to stave of dehydration but I couldnít resist circling the exhibits.
A Pan Am Stratoliner Clipper Flying Cloud, the B-29 Superfortress "Enola Gay", the first Boeing B707, a Curtiss P-40E Kittyhawk, a Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat, a North American P-51 Mustang, and an Air France Concorde make up only a tiny part of the aircraft on exhibit,
I hope I get a chance to return one day to the museum and give it the time it truly deserves but now that the Discovery was on the ground, I was there to shoot some planes that we donít usually see at Toronto Pearson International.
I spent the next three plus hours on the front lawn of the museum snapping United Saab 340ís, 757ís, 767ís, and 777ís, Avianca, Virgin Atlantic, Aer Lingus, SAS, a Lufthansa 747, and a Qatar 777. I was in my elements.
When the parking booths closed I was all alone at the end of the parking lot. I decided to play it safe and call it a day there and head back to the airport. Dulles is a beautifully laid out airport but doesnít seem to get a fraction of the traffic it was designed for.
I wandered all around the departure terminal snapping photos of anything that caught my fancy. Many of the flights I saw arriving were now at the gates and almost all of the gates can be seen from the Terminal.
Eventually darkness fell and I sat thinking about the great day I had experienced and awaited my flight. When the Q400 pulled up to the gate from Toronto, I took a couple of snaps of her in darkness. We boarded, only nine of us for the flight home, and I ran off a few shots of planes on the field.
I took some shots of Washington and again of Toronto as we were descending. I had an enjoyable chat about their careers with the flight attendants and before I knew it I was on the island taking one last snap of the CN Tower illuminated in the darkness.
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