Posted by: harrisonjones | July 22, 2011

Research and inspiration for an aviation novel

One advantage to being an author is you can justify many things as research. Occasionally I have to be inspired and this morning was just such an occasion. In other words, I wanted to go to the airport and hang around so I did. I’ve mentioned before that research is generally easy with the advantage of the internet, however inspiration is sometimes elusive. I suppose you could say that the photo below depicts the time and place that the research for my latest novel, Shadow Flight, began.

The photo was taken in 1953 at Delta’s hangar one and two in Atlanta. At the time I was nine years old and my family lived three blocks north of the hangars. Well, duh…where do you think a nine year old would spend his days? There was no fence around the airport and no security so I would park my bicycle at the bottom right corner of the photo and wait for someone to invite me in. I loved the smell of hydraulic fluid and hot oil dripping off the DC-3s and 6s and 7s. The mechanics would assign me meaningless errands in exchange for letting me hang out. Amazingly, the scene above is almost exactly the same today. The airplanes are gone, but the hangars  remain and house the Delta Heritage Museum. The doors of hangar two have been modified slightly to allow the accommodation of a Boeing 767.

Ship 102, named The Spirit of Delta was paid for by contributions from the employees (30 million dollars) when the company was experiencing financial problems. It was the first 767 that Delta placed in service in 1982 (101 was used by Boeing for FAA certification and was delivered after being re-configured). When ship 102 was retired in 2006, it was put on display in the museum. I flew the Spirit many times during my career and we lovingly called it the dump truck because the later stretched models flew so much smoother. Other aircraft on display in the museum include a Travel Air from the 1930s.

A Stinson Reliant.

Ship 41, the first Delta DC-3.

And the fuselage of the prototype Lockheed L-1011.

This airplane was used for testing and certification but never flown by an airline. It now houses the museum gift  shop but has been used for filming movies (Passenger 57 and Quick Change) and commercials. This is one of my favorite co-pilots and movie stars in the cockpit of the 1011. Her name is Madison.

Now back to my research and inspiration. The complex has grown up around the old hangars and now includes  the Delta general offices (the offices of Ed White and Harry Dade in the book), Delta employment (where I interviewed as a mechanic, and again as a pilot ground school instructor, and again on the day I was informed that I would be a Delta pilot). Flight Control and dispatch (another scene from the book), and the Ground Training classrooms and Flight Training simulators. Today, I stood at the door of the old hangar, just as I did as a nine year old, and absorbed all the inspiration I will ever need.

Visit the museum at


  1. Beautiful pictures! Did some research of my own this morning. I made my first visit up to the control tower this morning while I was at the airport getting some pattern practice in for passenger currency. Loved my visit with the controller. Jeanne

    • It’s always insightful to visit the controllers. The airport that I flight instructed at was only a mile from Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center in Hampton, Ga. and I taught several controllers to fly. You and your husband would love the airport because it’s part of the NASCAR race track complex. Lots of stories about race car drivers. Sometimes fists were still flying when they got to the airport after the race (usually involving the Allison brothers). Flew Lee Roy Yarbourgh’s Mooney for him when he was in town. Not as famous as Cale, but just as nuts. He didn’t like flying around Atlanta’s TCA so I chauffered him back and forth to PDK. Glad you’re getting some stick time. The museum website has lots of good photos, including the restoration of the DC-3. Thanks for visting.

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