More Than Delta

July 17th, 2014

As Elvis week approaches, as the fan furor over the possible loss of the long-parked planes at Graceland takes off, it should be noted that the King is still flying.

And, as always, every time he lands everybody knows where he’s from.

As published in The Daily News, July 18, 2014, and in The Memphis News, July 19-25, 2014

TCB Winglet Copy


A while back – right after I wrote a column blasting Delta, the Airport Authority and Garage Gargantua – I was invited to tour the airport and learn a thing or two or fifty about where so much of what and where we are takes off and lands every day.

I was impressed.

Oh, Delta is still dead to me, but there’s new life in the people that run yours and my airport – a lot more of how do we make this better and a lot less of how do we get streets named after us ­– more jet fuel and less methane. Oh, our airport parking garage and China’s Great Wall are still the only things big enough to be seen from space, but it is what it is and there are bigger things parked out there that deserve our respect.

Like the 250-foot long, 65-foot tall, 222-foot wingspan, intercontinental transport Lockheed C-5 Galaxy aircraft, the largest plane in the Air Force fleet. Like the slightly smaller, more nimble C-17 – Captain Will Abernathy’s cool ride.

Captain Abernathy is with the 164th Airlift Wing of the Tennessee Air National Guard and how those planes landed here is a very Memphis story. The Guard’s move from their cramped, outdated base at the airport’s north end to 118 acres in the southeast corner was made possible by an historic land exchange between the Air National Guard, FedEx and the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority – yes, people – a successful agreement between federal government, state government, local government and private business. With its energy-efficient, sustainable design, the 550,000 square-foot facility is among the most advanced Air National Guard installations anywhere, incorporating the latest antiterrorism/force protection features, and representing one of the largest Air National Guard projects in history. Its 320,000 square feet of hanger space now house the versatile C-17.

I’ve said it before. If Memphis will do collectively what we do face-to-face – just sit down and talk and listen to each other instead of talking into microphones to make political points and listening for echoes, we have the collective creative ability to solve our problems for mutual gain.

And here’s my favorite part.

Amid the statistics of our tour – amid all the impressive numbers, the huge scale and daily logistical miracle of FedEx and the world’s second largest cargo airport – when Abernathy was talking about the Guard, his smile was broadest when he showed us a couple of things marking the huge plane:

On the winglet, the unmistakable lightning bolt and TCB of Elvis, taking care of business.

Just aft of the nose, the famous cheesecake illustration of the Memphis Belle, namesake for one of WWII’s most famous bombers.

I’ve also said this before. Memphis is better known and appreciated everywhere than it is right here. And that goes for every time that Abernathy and the 164th Airlift Wing land that C-17 in Afghanistan or anywhere they’re called around the world to deliver support – to deliver something from home.

I’m a Memphian, and that’s something to salute.


I'm a Memphian by Dan Conaway

The book is available all over town – columns, comments and character references for a city filled with it and often absolutely full of it. Take a look.



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