Delta marks 50 Years of Jet Service on September 18th this year! To celebrate, here’s a story about our most famous jet Boeing 767, Ship 102 The Spirit of Delta.
Former Director of Corporate Communications Bill Berry, recalls what happened after Delta employees, retirees and friends, successfully raised $30 million to purchase The Spirit of Delta as a gift to the company during difficult economic times in the early 1980s:
Wrapped in Red Ribbon
And I guess, if anyone looks at The Spirit of Delta on the day that it was presented to the company, probably the most memorable thing will be that monstrous red ribbon around the airplane. . . .It was in December, so we were coming up on the holidays and a big red ribbon was the way to do it. None of us had experience with how big that airplane was, and all of a sudden we go out there and there’s just no ribbon big enough to put on that airplane, nothing looked big enough.
We had a gentleman though, with a company here in Atlanta that was a specialist in doing trade shows. Ramone Garcia called and he says, “I’m reading about what you people are doing for your company, and we use Delta a lot and we would like to do something for you, what can we do?” And, you know, this was just a message from above, because here was a man that might be able to give me a ribbon and also had experts who did all of these trade shows that might be able to tie a bow around this airplane. He called his ribbon supplier in Newark, New Jersey, and asked him, can you produce, I think it was a 12 foot wide ribbon? The man was so excited that he shut down his machinery, adjusted his machinery and produced that red velvet ribbon that we put around the airplane. The Garcias then came out the night before the event, in fact they spent all day, and their experts tied the ribbon around the airplane.
We brought in Delta employees from every city to be involved in the unveiling of the airplane. We developed a big curtain that we hung down in front of the airplane so you would not see the ribbon. And, of course, we had Spirit of Delta painted on the nose.
Quiet Time before the Big Event
But then — about midnight, I went over to look at the airplane to see if it was ready and as I walk into that big hanger, which has been cleaned out of all other airplanes, expecting the tens — the thousands of Delta people the next day who would be there, we had the media platform set up. But, you know, I didn’t expect to see anyone there and as I walked into this big hanger and the airplane is there and that ribbon is there, the big banner is down in front of it.
But if you angled yourself right you could see the ribbon and the airplane. There was a man standing there with one of our mechanics and as I walked up to it, it was our senior vice president of technical operations, Don Hetterman, and Don was just standing there looking at it. And as he turned around, he had tears coming down, and he said, “Isn’t that beautiful, I just can’t get over how beautiful it is.” And Don and I stood there and we actually teared up together because it was such an emotional event.
And then the next day we have the thousands of Delta people who have showed up. . . . We had the news media there; CNN was just starting up. The BBC was broadcasting by satellite back to Europe. And as we raised the curtain on that airplane, there was just a sudden hush and then just a spontaneous outpouring of applause and yelling and shouting and whistling, it was probably the most wonderful time of my career.
Immediately after that ceremony, we taxied the airplane over to the gate getting ready for an actual flight to start making money with that airplane. And we left the ribbon on it as we taxied it over to the gate and then we took it off.
And then pieces of that ribbon were cut up and a piece of that ribbon with a picture of that ceremony was presented to every Delta employee at that time. Something that I greatly cherish.
Today, The Spirit of Delta is housed at the Delta Air Transport Heritage Museum. Come visit and tour the award-winning exhibit inside The Spirit of Delta (open twice a week).
Do you remember The Spirit of Delta? Please share your story with us.