If you ever go to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, you’ll see a fantastic exhibit of a United Airlines Boeing 727-100 suspended from the ceiling. Guests can enter the jet as part of the exhibit. They’ll walk throughout the cabin complete with a very-retro 1980s cabin and ‘steam’-gauged cockpit. There is typically a retired United captain who volunteers his or her time to answer questions.
While the jet is a fascinating exhibit, what is equally impressive is how the jet got there. United landed the jet at an airport too small for airliners. It was the only possible way to transport the donated aircraft.
The Museum is located near the former Meigs Field that was located just south of downtown Chicago. The airport wasn’t built for jet airliners. The runway was only 3,900 feet long. On September 28, 1992, Captain BC Thomas pounded the tri-holer into the pavement at the piano keys. (Piano Keys is aviation speak for the very start of the runway). It wasn’t the smoothest landing. You can set the jet blown by the winds on a flaps 40 approach. They jet seemed to touched down hard and bounced. Thomas recovered and applied full thrust reversers. He landed with plenty of runway to spare. In a post landing interview, Thomas said that the gusty winds and turbulence made it a challenging approach. We believe him.
Once the Boeing 727 taxied clear, it parked at the ramp in front of the assembled media. The Boeing was then loaded on to a barge. It traveled to Indiana for exhibit preparation and painting back to its original 1960s paint scheme. When the jet was ready for display, the jet then traveled back to Chicago where it was ‘taxied’ via tug through Chicago streets to the museum. The Boeing 727 received its own exhibit hall. It was lifted to the ceiling via crane and opened to the public in 1994.
Much has changed in the past 25 years. Meigs Field is now a park, much to the chagrin of avgeeks. The famous airport’s runway was torn up under the cover of night under orders from Mayor Daley in 2003. The shady tactic put an end to the business friendly airfield located less than 2 miles from downtown Chicago. The Boeing 727 is preserved though. It will inspire museum visitors for generations to come.