Gear Up: Aviation Sights

There are a lot of things in aviation that hold a special visual sentiment, and airports themselves have some glorious sights. Dick Karl

I just like the way it looks. When that big Boeing turns onto the ramp and switches off its taxi lights, the lights do not snap off like a table lamp. No, they extinguish with a languid, gradual disappearance, signaling disappointment at the notion of being no longer needed. I just like how it looks.

Come to think of it, there are a lot of things in aviation that hold a special visual sentiment. Our own Cheyenne has its good side and its not-so-good side. There are more windows on the right side of the airplane, so it looks longer and more sleek than the left side, where the door, without a window, makes it look stubbier. That door, though, when open at night, lights up with the most elegant stair lights, making for a sense of a real magic carpet.

When viewed head-on from about 4 feet up, our airplane looks like a giant — all nose and props and power. What’s more is the natural beauty of the PT6 turboprop, with its sturdy bulk and shiny prop spinner. These engines look alluring when viewed from outside the airplane on the ground, and muscular and immense when viewed from the cockpit. As John King said when he sat in our Cheyenne, “These are some honking engines.”

The panel in our airplane is a glass wonder. Between the Garmin G600 and the Avidyne EX500, we’re loaded up with weather, heading, metars, winds and radar. I love looking at the panel when traveling northeast. The waning sun over my left shoulder casts late-afternoon light on the modern avionics. The usual tailwinds don’t hurt either. They add to the satisfactions.

Airports themselves have some glorious sights. Driving by a rural field at night, with both runway-white and taxiway-blue lights lit, a slight mist of fog starting to form, would make Monet grab his oils. At bigger fields it is fun to drive near the approach lights, watching the rabbit, marveling at the many patterns of lights to which I usually just give cursory attention when briefing the approach charts in the air.

When my kids were little, I’d take them for a drive by the airport in Tampa, Florida (KTPA). After I’d had a long day in the operating room, we’d load up the car, get ice-cream cones, roll the windows down and drive around and around a loop at the field. I got to smell some jet-A and see some airplanes, and the kids got pistachio and rocky road — a good bargain all around.

It is not just our airplane that gets my visual appetite started. I like looking at Cessna Citation Xs head-on. There appear to be three cylinders, like soup cans, each huge and imposing. The middle one is slightly larger in diameter and slightly lower in position. Two of those round structures are engines; the other is the fuselage. Little wonder that airplane is fast.

I have always loved the Commander 690 and the de Havilland Dash 8 for their appearance in full landing configuration. All dirtied up, with those two long legs extending from the high wing, these airplanes remind me of eagles on the hunt, with their talons reaching for hapless fish. The gear appears to be feeling for the runway.

Boeing 757s are the prettiest airplanes I see regularly from my backyard in Tampa. The elegant, sleek fuselage and wing proportions scream beauty. They are fun to fly too, people who should know tell me. FedEx’s DC-10(½)s and DC-11s make majestic sights and sounds. I sometimes imagine those planes full of envelopes. They look regal in their size and shape, and the paint scheme does the airplane fitting justice.

Speaking of paint schemes on big airplanes, I’ve got my favorites. The new American Airlines tail colors look great — all red, white and blue — even on the stubby little Airbus. I like Southwest Airlines’ new livery too. When a string of its Boeing 737-700s and -800s arrives here in the early morning, the rising sun pops the color up just so.

Though I’m an admirer of Delta Air Lines, I can’t say it’s the paint scheme that holds my fidelity. The white paint on the fuselage can look dirty, and the delta on the tail looks out of proportion on the MD-88s and -90s. The colors look better on the bigger airplanes.

United Airlines has the least attractive scheme. The vestigial Continental Airlines globe on the tail was, I’m guessing, part of the merger agreement, but it would be scant solace to me if I had worked for Continental for 30 years. It looks like someone just over-painted “United” on the side of the fuselage in the world’s least interesting font. It looks like a shoe store repurposed as a delicatessen.

I don’t know what to make of Spirit Airlines’ bright-yellow airplanes. I’ve got friends who fly for Spirit and like it, so I guess I’ll give the paint a thumbs-up, garish as it may be. And it is better than the previous gray gloom.

Private airplanes have all manner of sporty paint jobs. I can’t say I’m a big fan of the swooping, swirling color stripes on some repainted airplanes, but many others have a really nice appearance. I love our Cheyenne’s traditional styling and colors. Good paint on a well-proportioned airplane is one of aviation’s great pleasures.

The coolest paint scheme I know is the red stripe on JetSuite airplanes, just right in size and shade. No doubt the fact that the company hired me to fly their Cessna CJ3s has something to do with this affinity, but there is more to it than that. That red line down the center of the airplane is the brand. The fleet is immediately recognizable when spotted on the ramp. Our callsign is “red stripe.” How cool is that?

Dick Karl
Dick KarlAuthor
Dick Karl is a cancer surgeon who appreciates the beauty and science involved in both surgery and flying. Dick’s monthly Gear Up celebrates the human side of flying. He writes about his enthusiasm for both the machines and the people who fly and maintain them.

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