Project 767: The Spirit of Delta
Airline preservation is a tricky business even when the airframes are not widebody types. There are few areas where aircraft can be stored in the open for long periods without constant preservation activity (even fewer that people can easily visit) whilst the size of the aircraft make it difficult for even huge museums like Duxford to cater for larger aircraft types. Plus the initial transportation of the aircraft to the museum site typically requires co-operation with the previous owner and a runway to land it on! It is unsurprising therefore that there will be few examples of most of the more recent jet types. Though extremely capable aircraft they rarely match older pioneering types for their glamour so I doubt we'll see lots of 737s, 757s, 767s, 777s, A300s, A320s etc preserved in the year 2050.
The Boeing 767 fits into this category of aircraft. It has been a successful programme for Boeing and a productive money maker for the airlines operating it yet most people would struggle to pick it out from a lineup of other twinjets and I doubt many people have gone out of their way to book a flight on one specifically for it to be a 767. Even relatively famous 767s like the Gimli Glider have failed to achieve preservation so it must be pretty special for Delta to have chosen one of their 767-200s as an aircraft worthy of something 99.99% of aircraft don't get - a life beyond flight service.
Delta Air Lines received its first Boeing 767-232 N102DA (MSN 22214 / LN 12) on October 25, 1982 though it wasn't until December 15 that it was officially presented to Delta. This was because ship 102 was special - the product of an employee initiative called Project 767. Following 35 consistent years of profitability Delta had posted a loss of $18.4 million in the first quarter of 1982. Despite this in early August Delta staff were not made redundant (indeed Delta had never made anyone redundant) but instead got an average 8.5% pay raise. This at a time when other US carriers were haemorrhaging money and staff.
To show their appreciation for the loyalty the airline had shown to its staff over the years three flight attendants: Ginny Whitfield, Jean Owens and Diane Carvelli came up with a unique scheme to buy Delta and airplane! The trio managed ot present the plan to Delta's management and organise for a percentage pay-reduction plan to enable employees to contribute in a voluntary manner. They were provided with office space and a phone number and together the three women started the project off. Amazingly they achieved their aim and the airline's first 767 was paid for entirely by donations from employees, retirees, the public, school children and even other airline staff.
The presentation ceremony was witnessed by over 7000 people and the aircraft was christened the 'Spirit of Delta'. Straight after the dedication ceremony the aircraft flew its first service of a 23 year career, between Atlanta and Tampa. She was twice painted in a special livery, once for the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and then in 2004 a retro scheme to celebrate 75 years of the airline. She was finally retired on February 12, 2006 after flying 70,697 hours and 34,389 cycles. Following the end of normal service she was repainted into her first livery and undertook a 12 stop tour of the Delta network which ended on May 7 with the transit between Delta's Technical Operations Center and the Museum not far away.
The 'Spirit of Delta' was an impressive and unlikely success story and as Delta's Snr Vice President of Finance Robert Oppenlander said: "The plane brought people together. During a difficult time in the airline industry, it united us again as a family." For that N102DA is very much worthy of preservation.
Delta Museum - Spirit of Delta
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I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: