ATLANTA — With a newly renovated museum at its Atlanta headquarters, Delta Air Lines hopes to lure tourists to the company's original aircraft maintenance hangars on the north edge of the world's busiest airport.
The 68,000-square-foot museum, housed in hangers that date to the 1940s, traces Delta's history from crop-dusting and air mail service to its first passenger flight from Dallas to Jackson, Mississippi, on June 17, 1929.
Many airlines began flying mail for the U.S. Postal Service, but Delta started by doing aerial crop dusting of cotton fields to protect them from the boll weevil beetle.
"That's what kept Delta in business during the Depression," said Marie Force, archivist for the Delta Flight Museum.
Huff Daland Dusters, which operated flights over the Mississippi River Delta region, later changed its name to Delta.
On Tuesday, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Delta CEO Richard Anderson attended the museum's grand reopening.
Retired Delta mechanic Art Arace of Newnan played a key role in building and preparing many of the exhibits. Arace, the museum's maintenance manager, built most of a full-size model of a Huff Daland Dusters plane by hand.
"You have to remember how you started so you can move into the future," Arace said.
The museum includes Delta's first Douglas DC-3 and its first Boeing 767 jet. Known as the "Spirit of Delta," the 767 on display was purchased with donations from workers, retirees and others who contributed to a campaign to help the struggling airline in the early 1980s.
The oldest plane is a Northwest Airways Waco 125, purchased in 1928. Northwest Airways later became Minnesota-based Northwest Airlines, which merged with Delta in 2008.
The older aircraft are among displays from aviation's propeller age, in Hanger 1. This was Delta's original hanger near Atlanta's old airport municipal airport when the airline moved to the city from Monroe, Louisiana, in 1941, Delta Flight Museum President John Boatright said.
Hanger 2, connected by short walkways, focuses on the jet age beneath a large Delta Air Lines sign once used at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. The letters were given to the museum when the airport was renovated.
Interactive displays allow visitors to watch Delta TV commercials from past decades and see how the airline's logo evolved.
Hanger 2 also includes a conference room inside a large section of fuselage from the first L-1011 TriStar jet built by Lockheed. It has been used to film scenes from movies such as "Passenger 57" and "Quick Change," starring Bill Murray.
Tickets cost $12 for adults and $9 for seniors, with lower rates for children, depending on age.