Not often does Pittsburgh experience the Pacific paradise that is Hawaii.
Well, not weather-wise. Perhaps the closest Pittsburgh International Airport came was the arrival of a Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A330-200 on Sept. 17, marking a rare occasion for the carrier to visit the region.
It is one of many unusual aircraft to land at PIT, noted for their logos, size and even how much noise they make.
Hawaiian, popular among aviation enthusiasts for having one of the most distinguishable emblems (known in the trade as liveries) of any airline, stood out during its local visit.
Since its founding in 1933, Hawaiian’s paint scheme, though receiving some minor tweaks over the years, has synonymized the island’s culture, tradition and pride, according to the airline’s website.
The latest iteration, unveiled in 2017, added a maile lei flower that wraps around the fuselage, symbolizing a welcome gesture. What did not change in the 2017 livery refresh was Hawaiian’s iconic logo, named “Pualani” – the Hawaiian female face that has served as the airline’s primary logo since 1973. Adorned on the aircraft’s tail, Pualani is one of the most recognizable symbols of any airline operating today, earning the nickname, “The Flower of the Sky.”
The Hawaiian aircraft transported the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders football team for a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field that weekend. For the 2021 season, the Raiders are the sole NFL team that flies with Hawaiian for its away-game charters. In addition, the Raiders and Steelers play in different divisions and don’t often face each other, making Hawaiian Airlines’ appearance in Pittsburgh infrequent.
As rare as the Hawaiian A330 is at PIT, airliners, however, are not the only types of special planes that can make an appearance in Pittsburgh.
While PIT is a multi-use facility, which includes the Air Force’s 911th Airlift Wing and Pennsylvania Air National Guard’s 171st Air Refueling Wing, it rarely sees fast and loud fighter jets from the military. One rare occasion was the arrival of two Northrop T-38 Talon trainer aircraft on Sept. 9.
The T-38 is the primary advanced jet trainer for the Air Force and is used to train up-and-coming fighter pilots. First entering service in 1961, the T-38 was the world’s first trainer capable of supersonic flight. Despite being one of the oldest aircraft flying in the Air Force today, T-38s have undergone numerous upgrades to be brought up to modern specifications.
Besides training fighter pilots, T-38s have been used to maintain pilots’ flying skills in other aircraft types with low utilization, such as the Lockheed U-2 spy plane, to retain currency and flying proficiency. NASA uses its T-38s for astronaut training and as chase aircraft.
The two Talons that arrived at PIT were operated by the 80th Flying Training Wing based at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, which hosts the only internationally managed training program worldwide. Known as the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Training Program, the unit is responsible for training nearly half of all U.S. Air Force fighter pilots. The program has delivered more than 7,500 pilots to NATO countries since its inception in 1981.
While the T-38 is one of the smallest unique planes to pass through PIT, Qatar Airways’ Boeing 777 is one of the largest. Qatar, which operates twice weekly cargo service at PIT on behalf of Unique Logistics, flies a 777-300ER passenger jet converted to carry freight.
Introduced in 1995, the Boeing 777 is the most produced widebody aircraft in aviation history, with 1,669 aircraft built as of August 2021, according to Planespotters.net. Currently, Qatar operates 81 of the 777s – the third most of any airline.
Qatar is also a member of the Oneworld Alliance – one of the “big three” global airline alliances. In an alliance, conglomerates of carriers establish varying levels of agreements to create more flight options for travelers worldwide. Depending on the level of cooperation between carriers, passengers can use one airline’s frequent flier miles on another, access other member airlines’ lounges and seamlessly rebook on partner carriers, if necessary.
As part of having membership, airlines are required to paint a certain number of their aircraft in the alliance’s livery. Qatar, a member since 2012, has four of its Boeing 777s sporting the Oneworld livery, making it an uncommon, yet special aircraft to touch down at PIT.