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San Francisco: The past and future, and Buzz Aldrin too, land at Terminal 2

April 11, 2011|By Terry Gardner | Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Virgin Galactic's spaceflight vehicles, SpaceShipTwo and the mother ship WhiteKnightTwo, on the way to San Francisco International Airport.
Virgin Galactic's spaceflight vehicles, SpaceShipTwo and the mother… (Terry Gardner )

I was aboard last week when American Airlines and Virgin America celebrated aviation’s past and future by landing a vintage aircraft and a spaceship at the airlines' new home in Terminal 2 at the San Francisco International Airport. And so were former astronaut Buzz Aldrin and his wife, Lois.

The Aldrins and other guests flew in a Virgin America A320 that looped around San Francisco Bay along with the specialty craft.

As I was boarding, I overheard Lois telling another passenger: "I always feel safe with Buzz on board in case something happens to the pilot — but he might go straight up." She later told me that they’ve known Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, and followed his adventures for 25 years.

Also on the A320 were students from Los Angeles and other locations who participate in programs supported by Virgin Unite, Virgin Group’s nonprofit foundation. 

American Airlines, meanwhile, circled the bay in Flagship Detroit, a vintage DC-3, with the pilot and flight attendants dressed in replica 1940s clothing.  American was a tenant when Terminal 2 opened in 1954 as the international terminal, long before Virgin America was a twinkle in anyone’s eye.

But it was Virgin Group's Virgin Galactic that stole the show last week.

After our trip around the bay, our A320 was met by Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo mother ship, carrying SpaceShipTwo, to fly in formation. Our captain, Rob Bendall, allowed passengers to move about the cabin. At one point, two-thirds of us must have been on the left side of the plane, at times even climbing over each other to snap photos of the spaceship outside the window.

When we boarded, our ages ranged from about 14 to 80, but by the time we landed, I think most of us felt closer to 15 -- or at least I did.

The new terminal, which opens Thursday for regular flights, is pretty forward-looking too.

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