Dallas CBD Vertiport

A Tour of Dallas’ Huge Downtown Heliport

Venture thru Downtown Dallas, and you’re bound to see quite a few things – historic buildings, City Hall, and skyscrapers everywhere you look, just to name a few. Head several streets down into the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, and you might catch a glimpse of some trade show or expo going on. But something else unknown to most lies atop the roof of the Convention Center – the Central Business District(CBD) Vertiport, considered to be the world’s largest urban elevated heliport. After reading about this unique facility on the Dallas Airport System website, I had to go see it for myself. A huge heliport? In Downtown Dallas?

Built in the ’90s, the original idea was for air carrier service via rotorcraft. Much like the airport helicopter shuttle that’s been set up between Tokyo’s Narita International Airport and central Tokyo, planners envisioned a future where you could arrive at the Vertiport and board a helicopter to DFW Airport, or even other cities like Austin or San Antonio. After it was built, the idea never came to fruition, and today the Vertiport remains largely unused except for the few privately-owned helicopters that stop in every so often.

Showing me around was Rick Ellis, one of the Senior Airport Operations Officers for the Dallas Airport System, the City of Dallas department that owns and maintains the facility. To get up to the Vertiport was pretty interesting in and of itself. After meeting at street level, I followed Rick thru a series of curving ramps and security gates that went all the way up to the flight deck level, passing by the loading dock used by the Convention Center along the way.

Dallas CBD Vertiport entrance
One of the entrances leading up to the CBD Vertiport.
Dallas Convention Center loading dock area
One of the loading docks for the Convention Center, as seen on the way up.
Dallas CBD Vertiport
A sign points the way to one of the last ramps up to the flight deck level.

Upon getting to the top, my first reaction was “Wow, this is much bigger than I thought!”

img_2641
The Vertiport flight deck, looking towards the southeast.

As a fixed-wing pilot, many of the helipad markings were relatively foreign to me. Rick explained that there are two landing spots up here, where rotorcraft coming in must land at. From there, they can then taxi into one of the five parking spots. With a dual-deck design, the CBD Vertiport is capable of handling three helicopters and two tiltrotor aircraft(like the Boeing V-22) at the same time.

Dallas CBD Vertiport
One of two landing spots. Methodist Hospital, visible in the far distance, also sees quite a bit of helicopter traffic. Together with the usual airplane traffic, this forms a pretty busy region of Dallas’ airspace.

Why are there numbers on the pavement? Rick said that those indicated the maximum weight that could be supported at that particular landing point. In contrast, numbers in front of a runway indicate the number of that runway, which also aligns to the magnetic compass heading.

Dallas CBD Vertiport
Numbers on the landing spots indicate the maximum weight supported.

Up here, there is also an amazing view of Downtown Dallas!

Dallas CBD Vertiport

Of course, I had to get my photo taken.

Next, Rick and I headed to see the terminal building. Rick mentioned that the Vertiport has been used in several movies and TV shows – and it certainly fits the bill for some interesting filming!

Dallas CBD Vertiport
The terminal/lobby.

Inside the terminal was a pretty basic setup, with couches, restrooms, and an unstaffed attendant desk. Before the tour, I had expected something a bit more modern and well-equipped, but this setup made sense given the low traffic numbers seen here.

img_2655

Dallas CBD Vertiport

On the walls, various photos of helicopters served as artwork.

Dallas CBD Vertiport

img_2679

A small office hosted some communications radios and other mechanical equipment. Close by, a sign-in log for arriving aircraft was also there, the sheet only one line full.

Dallas CBD Vertiport

Dallas CBD Vertiport

Rick and I then headed down the elevators to see what was on the ground floor.

Dallas CBD Vertiport
The elevators leading to the ground floor.

Downstairs, there wasn’t much to see except the empty parking lot for Vertiport users and staff. Security gates ensure that folks parked here won’t have to worry about their vehicles being broken into or vandalized.

Dallas CBD Vertiport

One thing I found neat was this turnstile, which led directly to the DART Convention Center Station, served by the Red and Blue lines. Literally, you could take the light rail from your apartment in downtown Plano all the way to the Convention Center station, and board your helicopter airline flight to Oklahoma City. Well, at least that was the initial idea. I guess if you have your own helicopter, that’s still doable.

Dallas CBD Vertiport
This turnstile connects the Vertiport to the DART station.
DART Convention Center Station
The DART Convention Center station.

Wrapping up the tour back upstairs, Rick showed me the side catwalk area of the Vertiport terminal, which looked out to a huge parking lot full of trailers used in Convention Center expositions, as well as massive cooling towers below.

Dallas CBD Vertiport

img_2677

Although the facilities here are quite nice, the main problem plaguing the Vertiport is lack of traffic. I saw so much potential here – yet, the place sits deserted. Hopefully down the road, the City of Dallas starts a revitalization initiative to bring traffic here – done correctly, I’m sure it would be successful!

Dallas CBD Vertiport
Looking out onto the flight deck from the terminal.

Special thanks to the folks at the Dallas Airport System for making this post possible!

Hayes Ring Plaza

Checking Out Texas A&M University

To close out winter break and start off 2019, I visited College Station to explore one of the largest universities in the nation – Texas A&M. Having been to many of the institutions of higher education that make up our state, I wanted to see what comprised Aggieland, as well as to cross Brazos County off the list of counties yet to be visited.

With a student body of over 68,000, the College Station campus is A&M’s flagship school in their system, which is made up of 11 different campuses. Texas A&M was established in 1871 as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, under the Morrill Act. 148 years later, this school is stronger than ever, with some $9.8 billion in endowments and 4,900 staff on the payroll. Additionally, A&M is also one of the largest college campuses in the nation, at over 5,000 acres.

Upon arriving, I parked at the Cain Garage, located directly across from Kyle Field. Since it was the weekend, there weren’t many cars there, so spaces were plentiful on the first floor right by the entrance. Parking fees were still being collected, although it only amounted to $4 for the hour or so I spent here. The car now in a place where it wouldn’t be towed, I was ready to start seeing TAMU.

cain garage at Texas A&M
The Cain Garage.

My first stop along my walking tour was Kyle Field, the school’s ginormous football stadium. To give you an idea of what “ginormous” means in this context, Kyle Field is the fourth-largest stadium in the nation!

All around the stadium, the saying “Home of the 12th Man” can be seen. This term dates back to 1922 when an Aggie by the name of E. King Gill suited up to help his team, who had sustained multiple injuries in a grueling game against Kentucky’s Centre College. Although he never ended up entering the field, the “12th Man” is representative of the A&M student body, who are willing to serve when duty calls. Duty and loyalty are common themes here, as I would see all throughout my visit.

kyle field a&m
One of the entrances into Kyle Field. Several statues are displayed around the stadium.

Past the stadium, around a five-minute walk away, was the Haynes Ring Plaza, home of a giant 12-foot replica of the iconic A&M class ring!

Hayes Ring Plaza

img_2586

For students, “Aggie Ring Day” is one of the most notable events that they will attend during their time here, as it symbolizes the completion of a specific set of academic requirements, and induction into an exclusive network of fellow Aggies. Ring Day takes place at the Clayton W. Williams, Jr. Alumni Center, located right next to the replica ring. Alongside the walkway, various Aggie quotes of respect, loyalty, and honor are displayed.

Haynes Ring Plaza

img_2590

After getting my photo taken underneath one of the most unique outdoor artifacts I’ve seen at a university, I began checking out the various buildings that make up Aggieland. Rudder Tower, named after former university president James Earl Rudder, was one of my first stops.

Rudder Tower at Texas A&M
Rudder Tower.

On the first floor is the Aggieland Visitor Center, where you can get maps, brochures, or go on tours of campus. A backdrop of the A&M school logo off to the side provided for a good photo op.

img_2596

If you are looking for a place to dine and get some good views of campus, the University Club, located on the 11th floor might just be your ideal spot. It was closed when I visited, however, according to their website they serve a buffet Monday thru Friday. It looks like a great spot to break for lunch during a weekday visit!

Heading further into the center of the school, I found myself on the Military Walk, one of the main walkways of A&M. Rooted in tradition, this was the spot where for years, the students making up the Corps of Cadets gathered daily. Many of these Aggies went on to become leaders in their respective fields.

Military Walk at Texas A&M
Military Walk.

Descriptions of the various notable points of the school’s history were displayed on both sides of the walkway. These signs provided me with a good introduction and understanding of the history I was surrounded by.

Military Walk at Texas A&M

Continuing along, I decided to go check out a building that I had seen while driving in – this tall building with an airport control tower “cab” look to it at the top. After walking for around ten minutes, I finally got to it. This structure was none other than the Eller Oceanography & Meteorology Building, the tallest building on campus.

Eller Oceanography & Meteorology Building
The Eller Oceanography & Meteorology Building.

Although it was closed for Winter Break, this 15-story building sure has an interesting design! Upon doing some Googling back home, I discovered that a Doppler radar unit is mounted on the roof. With all those panoramic windows, it would sure be nice to see the view from the 15th floor. Speaking of architecture, that is one area A&M is lacking in. Most of the buildings can be described as being pretty bureaucratic and plain. Several pieces of public art lined the courtyards and walkways, but it wasn’t anything super special by any means.

texas a&m campus

img_2606

The next stop was to the Sterling C. Evans Library, one of five libraries on campus.

Sterling C. Evans library
The Sterling C. Evans Library.

Inside, rows and rows of books lined the six different floors. If you want a good view of campus, head up to the sixth-floor graduate study lounge. Everything here was open to the public, so visitors can waltz right on in to see the landscape of A&M.

Sterling C. Evans library

 

On the first floor, there was a sizeable computer/study area, which works well for research or group collaboration.

img_2617

Heading out, I came across a replica of A&M’s mascot, Reveille the Dog on the first floor by the circulation desk. Reveille has served as the school mascot since the 30s, and there have been nine lucky dogs that have held this title. The Reveilles that have passed away have their own cemetery close to Kyle Field, complete with a mini-scoreboard so they can see the 12th Man outscore the visiting team!

Sterling C. Evans library
Reveille the Dog greets all who visit the library.

My last stop on my way back to the car was at the Memorial Student Center, A&M’s student union.

Memorial Student Center
The Memorial Student Center.

Located close to the Cain Garage and Kyle Field, this student union was one of the newer buildings on campus. Inside, you can find everything from the bookstore to different spots to hang out. Many of the facilities inside are named after the values and traditions of the university, such as Respect Lounge and 12th Man Hall. In fact, this whole building is considered a living memorial to those Aggies that gave their lives defending our nation. To that end, signs on the doors instruct visitors to remove their hats upon entering as a sign of respect.

Memorial Student Center
The main lobby of the Memorial Student Center. Banners overhead display the core values of the university.
Memorial Student Center
The Barnes and Noble bookstore inside the MSC.

One unique spot in the MSC is The Flag Room. Nicknamed the “living room” of A&M, it contains sofas, tables, and even a grand piano! This spot is great for Aggies and visitors alike to sit down, hang out, and take in the culture of the university.

Memorial Student Union Flag Room
The Flag Room is one great place to take a break and experience some of A&M’s history.

As the name suggests, the room contains various flags used in the history of the university, including many of those belonging to the Corps of Cadets. Other A&M memorabilia was displayed, making it an interesting location to congregate and learn about the history of the school!

Memorial Student Center Flag Room
Some of the many flags displayed in the Flag Room.

In conclusion, this was one nice first visit to see one of Texas’ most well-known schools, and one that has so many different customs and traditions. This campus is simply humongous, and could easily take half a day or more to see everything. With that in mind, a second trip is already in the works for when the government reopens, to visit the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library, located on the edge of campus! A lunch stop at the University Club would also be included in the itinerary.

Texas A&M water tower
This water tower reminds you that you are in Aggieland!