At the kind invitation of Lufthansa, I spent a whirlwind weekend exploring the newest A380 to enter their fleet, as well as explore the Lufthansa base at Frankfurt Airport. Part of this unique experience was a guided tour through the Lufthansa Technik hangars.
Lufthansa Technik is one of the leading manufacturer-independent providers of maintenance, repair, overhaul and modification services in the civil aviation industry. It was originally part of Lufthansa, but was spun off in the 1990s as an independent company within the Lufthansa Group.
Our tour began at the security office, the same protocols used inside the airport are also found outside, and our guide led us to the first hangar on the tour.
Walking around the outside of the airport was a slightly surreal experience. I couldn’t get rid of the nagging feeling that I was where I should not be, in areas off limits to most members of the general public. Simultaneously, my head was tilted back as I stood there slack jawed, gaping at the tremendous scale of the buildings and planes all around me. The deafening noise of the aircraft was now just a constant hum in the background, aviation white noise. It was chilly and beginning to sprinkle, so we scurried into the nearest hangar.
My previous amazement at the planes on the Tarmac now seemed prosaic as we approached the mammoth Airbus A340-600 in front of us. Like kids on a giant jungle gym, we walked all around this tremendous aircraft, marveling at the engines, landing gear and learning about the complex series of gizmos built into the great underbelly of the beast.
I’m not a tech person, so most of the engineering details were lost on me, but I instantly perked up when our guide asked, “So you want to go in, yes?” I was already halfway up the staircase leading into the A340 before the words had left his mouth.
When I was a kid I read the book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and dreamt of a moment like that; the opportunity to have a museum all to myself. Yeah, I’m a dork. While I never hid out in the Met, clambering around the giant Airbus plane without crew or passengers on board was as close to that experience as I will ever get. It was amazing. We could go anywhere and do anything as long as we did not “turn anything,” according to our guide.
I took my time, trying not to look like an excited maniac, beginning with the crew areas of the aircraft before testing out the business and first class accommodations. As I sat there in First Class, feet propped on the ottoman, I looked through the doorway ahead and espied the sanctum sanctorum of the tour – the cockpit.
I sauntered up to the cockpit door, playing it cool, and lackadaisically climbed into the captain’s chair and stared ahead of me. Surrounding me was a complex array of blinking lights and doohickeys, not unlike a scene from War Games. I knew the system was undoubtedly complicated, but at the same time the levers, switches and buttons all looked oddly antiquated. After a few minutes of gaping at the panels, someone managed to pry me from the chair and I wobbled to the back of the plane.
After reluctantly leaving the Airbus, we repeated the shock and awe tour in the Boeing 747, another gargantuan flying machine parked nearby. By the end of the afternoon, my head was a jumble of thrust calculations, instrument panels and a million other gadgets, the functions of which escape me.
We retraced our steps, now obvious airline pros, barely giving the nearby 747 a second look, and reluctantly surrendered our credentials and passes. The experience at the hangar reminded me of the pure, childlike wonder and awe that is the heart of all travel. Somewhere along the way I had lost part of that fascination at the most basic of travel fundamentals, the joy that a new aircraft can bring. My walk through the Lufthansa hangars thankfully resurrected that lost and nearly forgotten feeling and this time, I promise to hang on tight and to never let go.