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Mobile Lounge: 1963

Mobile Lounge: 1963

A more complete view of the "mobile lounge" whose gangway was seen here yesterday. "Dulles International Airport, Chantilly, Virginia, 1958-63. Eero Saarinen, architect. Mobile lounges." Photo by Balthazar Korab. View full size.


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This is one of the first Boeing 720As, a smaller version of the 707. I can tell because of the lack of a turbofan jet engine Originally known as the 707-020, the foreshortened airplane was the answer to medium sized airports whose propeller-era runways were not long enough for the turbojet-powered airplanes that were coming.

This 720 has the Pratt and Whitney JT3 turbojet, one of the very first turbojets used in commercial service. The 720Bs that came later had the JT3C turbofans, with many airlines retrofitting the new bypass turbofans on their airframes by the late 60's. The 720 was later replaced in airline service by the 727 and later, the 737.

According to Eames

This Jetson-like ten-minute animated film is part of the sales pitch for the mobile lounge concept by the modern chair designers, Charles and Bernice ("Ray") Eames, to Eero Saarinen and the other architects of Dulles. The supposed advantages would include being able to browse "Playboy" magazine at the newsstand until minutes before departure.

Land Sharks

It has been a while since I have been to Dulles but I remember the then current version of these "mobile lounges" having two large fins sticking out of the roof.

With the advent of the Jumbo Jets the passenger doors are considerably higher off the ground and the lounge's passenger compartment needs to be raised to match the higher door of the aircraft.

The large fins enclose either a jack screw or hydraulic actuator (not sure which it is) that performs the lifting operation.

The large fins on top earned them the name "Land Sharks"

Still rolling

Mobile lounges are still very much in use at Dulles as an effective way of getting arriving international passengers from the aircraft to customs securely. This allows the aircraft to park close to the midfield terminals, unload, then move just a short distance to the gate to take on the next batch of passengers. It's a less-than-wonderful experience for travelers, but sensible from an operational viewpoint.

Russian Military Vehicles

I rode on one of these back in the late 90's at Dulles. I remember hearing that they were actually based on a Russian military vehicle, but upon further research it turns out that they were made by Chrysler and the Budd Corporation, the makers of railroad passenger cars.

Modern use

Last time I was at Dulles (probably last year), these were still in use to move people between terminals, though I wouldn't exactly call them a "lounge", as that to me implies something other than plastic chairs and diesel fumes.

Non-stop from Washington National

Back in the 1980's I boarded an American Airlines B-727 at what was then Washington National. I was amazed that there were less than 20 passengers. I was surprised when we landed at Dulles and a mobile lounge docked and filled the plane. I found out there was a law that allowed this arrangement, while listing flights out of National as non-stop.

Sunday Drive

I grew up next to Dulles. We used to get rides in these on Sunday afternoons, before airport security. Dulles was very empty in those days and we would go out and visit the airport.

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