Denver. Out with the old...in with the new. February 1995.Prologue:
In February 1995 I was living in northern California. At the time and my mom and stepdad still lived in the Denver Metro Area. I've had ties to Colorado since the early 70s, and it was in the mid-70s I cut my plane-watching teeth at Stapleton. After graduating High School in 1982 I joined the USAF. After basic military training at Lackland AFB, Texas I returned to Lowry AFB, Colorado for my 'tech school.' Due to the timing of my classes I was able to witness the arrival of the first UA 767 flight: #1767 from O'Hare on 8 September 1982. After tech school graduation in October 1982, I headed off to my first duty station: Vandenberg AFB, California. After a couple years there, it was off to England for three years, then South Korea for a year before returning to the USA.My friend Martin Marlow's photo of N606UA arriving Stapleton as UA #1767 from Chicago O'Hare as the inaugural 767 service worldwide. I was standing next to him when he shot this photo during my lunch break from USAF technical school classes at nearby Lowry AFB. 8 September 1982
Around 1985 my mom and stepdad bounced around between California and Denver a couple of times, eventually settling back in Denver for good in the late 1980s. My stepdad was a 'trucker' (a vocation my mom joined him doing in 1978 after they got married) and having 'retired' from long-haul trucking he found work hauling materials to the Denver International Airport construction site in the early '90s. I'm proud to know he played a part in building the first all-new airport in the USA since DFW opened on 13 January 1973. Some of you familiar with the construction of DIA may know of or remember the public "construction viewing area" a couple of miles west of the airport. I got to visit this area a couple of times in the early stages of DIA construction. Photos during construction taken during June 1992. Print scans
Since Denver has been a travel destination for me for 20 years at that point, I was anxiously awaiting the opening of DIA. But as many of us who are familiar with the saga know, DIA became the butt of many commentaries on local and national news. In fact, at the time it was probably a 'laughing stock' due to its notoriety and many delays prior to opening. After all, DIA promised to be the solution to the congestion at Stapleton, especially during inclement weather when those closely-spaced parallel runways severely limited operations. In general, the airlines were counting on DIA's design to significantly reduce the inevitable domino effects of severe weather events on the industry. All that needed to happen was for DIA to open for business, though apparently this was easier said than done.
At one time DIA was scheduled to open in 1993, then in 1994. During 1994 I was on TDY out of the USA for six months. I figured I'd miss the opportunity to be there when Stapleton closed. As luck would have it, delays continued and it looked like February 1995 was a good bet for DIA finally opening. I don't know when this announcement was made nor have I researched it.
With 28 February 1995 the new proposed date for DIA opening, I booked a round trip from San Francisco to Denver covering the dates 25 February - 2 March. This would give me a couple days to watch Stapleton's final days and a couple of days at DIA. SFO was not the most convenient airport for me but I often chose it because of the plane-watching variety. I chose MarkAir as I'd never flown on them. Interestingly, MarkAir was a long-time Alaskan airline but had recently built up a lower-48 operation with a hub in Denver. The routing for my Denver trip was SFO-RNO-DEN-RNO-SFO resulting in two new city pairs and three new airport pairs. I'm glad I flew on MarkAir when I did...unfortunately they didn't survive for too much longer.25 February 1995SFO-RNO-DEN (Stapleton)
Flight # 422
Depart SFO: 1334 PST Runway 1R
Arrive RNO: 1415 PST Runway 34L
Distance: 192 miles / 309 kilometers
Time enroute: 00:41
Depart RNO 1511 PST Runway 34L
Arrive DEN 1757 MST Runway 26R
Distance: 794 miles / 1278 kilometers
Time enroute: 01:46
My MarkAir ticket stuff
Due to arriving Stapleton just after sunset I went straight to my parent's house. Apparently, I didn't get a photo of EI-CIX at either SFO or DEN on flight day so below is a photo of it arriving Stapleton on February 27th.MarkAir 737-4Y0 EI-CIX arriving Denver Stapleton 27 February 1995
Denver can have some interesting and variable weather. February in Denver can be sunny and warm (60-70F, 15-21C) or experiencing a good old blizzard. In February 1995 I experienced both. When I arrived Stapleton from SFO/RNO on the 25th the weather was fine. In fact, it was pretty nice right through the morning of the 27th...the day of Stapleton's last scheduled operations. After arrival my mom graciously let me use one of their cars so I could spend time photographing planes for the next few days.
One of my favorite spots at Stapleton was the 94th Aero Squadron restaurant. I don't remember if it was closed or even still in place during 1995 but it was nicely positioned along the east-west fence line to catch arrivals and departures on the 26s. It was this spot I first started watching planes in 1976. Unfortunately, I don't have many photos until beginning in 1979, but with all my visits to Stapleton I managed to amass a sizeable collection from various spots around the airport and from inside the concourses.
In February 1995, the physical location of the 94th Aero Squadron remained pretty much undeveloped and accessible right to the end. Photos were easy to take, especially if you had a vehicle you could use to get above the chain link fence. I used this spot to advantage for the next two days, enjoying the typical variety Denver had to offer and remembering the goodies seen here during the late 70s and through the 80s. 26 February 1995
A great day to photograph the action at Stapleton...I was there all day. Below is a selection of K64 slides I scanned recently from that penultimate day at Stapleton. Arrivals on 26L & 26R from the 94th Aero Squadron location and shown in no particular order. At the time I was using two Canon A-1 bodies: one with K64 slide file and one with print film. Some of my photos in this trip report will be scans of prints or negatives.27 February 1995Shortly after dawn at Denver Stapleton Int'l Airport. 27 February 1995. Print scan
Operations on the 27th were understandably curtailed, what with the imminent closure. The weather was pretty nice at dawn but as I alluded to earlier, conditions began to deteriorate as the day wore on. A convoy of airport service vehicles began moving to the new airport and would continue throughout the day. As seen from the 94th Aero Squadron, the convey seemed to be using one of the far east-west taxiways (maybe even runway 8/25?) to get to the eastern perimeter of Stapleton. From there I have no recollection what route the convoy took to get to DIA....it is probably documented somewhere.
Around 3:45pm with rapidly deteriorating conditions, United Airlines conducted their "Blue Flight" with a trio of United aircraft performing a fly-by of Stapleton Airport and flying around the city. The trio were supposed to perform a simultaneous landing at DIA on three parallel runways but somewhat ironically weather conditions and technical issues prevented it that day!One last photo of the control tower before darkness falls on the 27thSome American Airlines MD-80s at Concourse E on the final day of ops. Crappy weather is here!
I don't remember the exact sequence of events for the rest of my day. I probably went back to my parents’ house and took a nap! But I do know I decided to go back to Stapleton to wander around the concourses one last time and be present for the final departure: Continental Airlines flight 34 to London Gatwick. Additionally, I also saw the final flight arrive, it was Delta's #569 from DFW operated by 727-232(A) N400DA
I had my air band scanner and a tape recorder so I recorded the final ATC conversations for posterity. Besides CO34 there was a Piper Malibu on frequency ready to depart. It's almost as if the Malibu wanted to be the last to go but that honor went to the DC-10. I transcribed the conversation and eventually posted it on my website when I started working on that in 1997. I have reproduced that conversation and excerpt from my webpage below. With the inclement weather N12061 needed de-iced and when ready to depart the rampers braved the weather for a final send off. Scans of negativesExcerpt from my webpage:
If you've read any of my other stories, you're aware that Denver's Stapleton International Airport was like a second home to me during my teen years (late 70s-early 80s.) Stapleton airport finally closed late in the evening of Feb 27, 1995. I was fortunate enough to be on-site for the occasion and below is a transcript of the final moments of transmissions between the tower, a Piper Malibu and Continental's DC-10-30 N12061 operating flight 34 to London Gatwick. Both aircraft apparently wanted to be the last one out. The Piper eventually gave in and departed, followed by the DC-10. Following CO's final transmission on tower, a ground ops vehicle came on the air for a moment.TOWER: Malibu four five delta contact departure you all take care.
45D: Four five delta and uh after the last one leaves be sure and turn off the lights.
TOWER: We'll do that.
45D: Take care.
TOWER: Continental thirty-four heavy you ready?
CO 34: Uh yeah, we might need about thirty seconds on the hold out there.
TOWER: Continental thirty-four heavy runway three five left taxi into position and hold.
CO 34: Position and hold Continental thirty-four heavy. And uh Continental thirty-four heavy we're ready.
TOWER: Continental thirty-four heavy roger and uh...(unintelligible) Runway three five left cleared for takeoff wind zero-seven-zero at one-zero.
CO 34: Cleared to go Continental thirty-four heavy we will miss this place - lot of memories.
TOWER: I think we all will. Thank you.
TOWER: Continental thirty-four heavy turn right heading zero-one-zero, contact departure. You all take care and we'll see you at the new place.
CO 34: Okay, zero-one-zero...going to departure...we'll see you later now Continental thirty-four heavy.
OPS 7: Tower ops seven.
TOWER: Ops seven tower.
OPS 7: Well, this grand old airport is now officially closed. You can shut the runway lights off and we'll issue the NOTAMs.
TOWER: Thank you Ron and it's been fun.
OPS 7: Same here...
With that, Stapleton International Airport became history and the DEN code transferred to Denver International Airport. I think a few planes still needed to be ferried over to DIA but I don't specifically remember. I lingered around the airport interior for a while longer but it was getting quite late in the evening. I needed sleep for the big day tomorrow so I headed back to my parent’s place and hit the sack.28 February 1995
The surface streets and Interstate 70 were barely affected by the overnight snowfall but I didn't even worry about making the 29-mile drive to DIA in time to witness the first scheduled arrival: a United Airlines flight from Colorado Springs. As I recall, I arrived at the airport around 9am or so. For a number of years, a toll booth controlled access to the parking lots and terminal areas. Drivers had a 30-minute grace period to drop off or pick up passengers before being charged. The toll booth was located about 4 miles from the terminal. Eventually, the toll booth was discontinued then eventually removed.
Once I parked and made it inside the airport I was impressed with the size of the 'great hall' / The Jeppesen Terminal. A press conference was taking place with then-mayor Wellington Webb speaking. During my walk around the terminal, I ran into Federico Peña...the former mayor (#41) of Denver who championed the construction of DIA. Additionally, the access road Peña Boulevard between Interstate 70 and DIA is named for him. At the time Mr. Peña was the serving U.S. Secretary of Transportation and then later the U.S. Secretary of Energy, both during the Clinton Administration. He was gracious enough to give me his autograph on a postcard.Then-mayor Wellington Webb during the press conference. Print scan
With Concourse A serving colorful Frontier Airlines (among others) I spent a lot of time at the elevated windows near the pedestrian bridge. These windows offer a great view of the south side of Concourse A, with the resulting favorable sun angles during most of the day. I haven't been to DIA since May of 2019 (I hope to scratch that itch soon) but I have spent a LOT of time in Concourse A watching planes over the preceding years.
Concourse A also provides views of airliners taxiing under the pedestrian bridge. Just make sure you're not driving a 757! https://www.fss.aero/accident-reports/look.php?report_key=1112Continental Airlines 727-227(A) N12761. Formerly with PEOPLExpress and Braniff
Of course, I had to also visit Concourses B and C and ride the underground people mover. I don't remember how long I stayed at DIA that opening day but I was pleased to be there and hoping I'd be coming back many more times. Just for the record I have been back to DIA numerous times since.
I also remember visiting one of the FBOs and they had some snacks out for visitors. Peel-n-eat shrimp as I recall 1 March 1995Driving to DIA on 1 March 1995Now-closed Stapleton Int'l Airport on 1 March 1995
Spent some time watching planes at DIA...not posting any photos from the day.2 March 1995DEN (DIA)-RNO-SFO
Flight # 421
Depart DEN: 11:17 MST Runway 25
Arrive RNO: 12:14 PST Runway 16R
Distance: 794 miles / 1278 kilometers
Time enroute: 01:57
Depart RNO: 12:51 PST Runway 16R
Arrive SFO: 13:51 PST Runway 19L
Distance: 192 miles / 309 kilometers
Time enroute: 01:00
All trips must come to an end and this little excursion to Denver was no exception. The weather in Denver this day was much better than opening day, but there was still snow on the ground.
MarkAir provided reasonably good service this trip and I arrived SFO with no problem.MarkAir 737-4Y0 EI-CEW arriving gate C33 for my flight to Reno and SFO
Interesting weather conditions at SFO on arrival as we landed on 19L, a runway I've arrived on only a couple of times, most recently in a Qantas 747-438ER from Sydney in Feb 2019.Starboard side view of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge
NAS Alameda and US Navy ships. This is where Star Fleet Commanders Uhura and Chekov were hoping to find "nu-cle-ar wessels" in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.San Bruno MountainOver the threshold of 19LAbout to touch down on 19LInternational Terminal for a few more years anyway
Over the years, Stapleton's land south of Interstate 70 has mostly been repurposed as residential but the control tower remains to this day. North of I-70 industrial sites occupy some of the area where parallel runways 17/35 once were.
My stepdad passed away in 1999 and my mom in 2001. My dad however just passed away in April 2020. He and I flew through Denver International Airport a few times on various United flights, including a 747-238B, 767-322ER, and 737-522s. Despite having made 118 flights to, from, and through Denver over the years, my first and so far only, international flights at Denver were in May 2019 with Icelandair DEN-KEF-LHR-KEF-DEN. May 20th and departure was delayed four hours due to a snow storm. http://www.aeromoe.com/flightlog/flt725.html
Stapleton's control tower is center stage in this photo taken in March 2014 inbound from PHX on a Frontier A320. Quebec St. runs North/South across the top of the photo. I-70 slices through the top right corner of the image. M.L.K. Jr. Boulevard bisects the center of the image from top to bottom.
Thanks for coming along with me on this trip down memory lane.