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!”

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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.

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Dallas CBD Vertiport

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

Dallas CBD Vertiport

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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

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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!

Paying the Feds a Visit!

“Where is a cool place to check out?”, I thought to myself as I was planning out my itinerary for Spring Break a few weeks ago. I browsed around the Internet to see what was interesting and worth seeing here in the Dallas area. Came upon the website of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and saw that they had an exhibit open to the public. Sounded like it would be pretty worthwhile, even if it was just to see what the building looked like on the inside.

As I do most times when heading to the downtown area, I took the DART light rail train. Doesn’t really make much sense to circle around for 20 minutes just to find some expensive, not to mention sketchy garage to park at! The Green Line trip from the Downtown Carrollton station to the Pearl/Arts District station took just over 40 minutes.  Upon disembarking, I was only about 7-8 minutes walking distance away from the Dallas Fed, right on the other side of Woodall Rodgers Freeway.

Upon entering, the first thing I noticed were the tight security measures in place. There were cameras everywhere, and not much of a lobby except for the security screening area. I went up to the access desk and told them that I was here for the exhibit. They took my ID (presumably to run a background check), handed me a sticker and then sent me on my way to the security checkpoint.

Once at the checkpoint, I had to remove all metallic objects from my pocket and place them on the x-ray machine. I then stepped thru a metal detector, much like what goes on at the airport. What was unlike the airport though, was what happened next. I then was told to walk into a portal containing two steel doors. Once I stepped inside, the door behind me closed, and thereafter the door in front of me opened. This setup was designed to prevent one from just running into the secured area, or perhaps piggybacking behind someone else. Now, I was officially in their lobby, which is where the exhibit resides!

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A very nicely designed building, both on the exterior and interior.

The exhibit, titled The Economy in Action, talked about the history of money and how the Federal Reserve came to be, the duties of the Fed, and some background information into the Dallas district. I started off by watching a brief film, narrated by one of the top dogs of the Dallas district, welcoming us into the exhibit and describing the vast and unique economy that they have jurisdiction over. Dallas, the 11th district of 12 across the country, spans all of Texas and parts of New Mexico and Louisiana.

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The Texas-Mexico border plays a huge role into our economy.

After the film, I started learning about the history of currency. Displays of various instruments of currency and visual depictions made it easy to comprehend how currency used to be something regulated by private financial institutions, and then moved to the control of a central bank. It also touched on the monetary system used by the Republic of Texas, and I got to see bills from that era.

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From there, I went into the section that talks about the duties of the Reserve. Upon exiting the exhibit at the end, I realized that I had toured it backwards..LOL! Oh well. Coming in, the first thing that drew my eye were these big carts that appeared to store money..lots of money.

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Too bad they aren’t giving away some of that green stuff as a souvenir to their visitors!

Played the video and learned that these carts do indeed store money, the $ that comes from banks and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing for safekeeping until needed. In fact, armored trucks deliver and pick up cash here all the time. Upon arrival, they first go through a rigorous inspection process at the loading dock to make sure they are not carrying anything suspicious, before the process of on-loading/offloading those greenbacks begins. All money dropped off is counted before the Fed officially takes possession. They then immediately run all the bills thru a machine that checks to make sure the bill isn’t worn out or damaged, and that’s it’s not counterfeit. Should it be the former, they are shredded, while the fake stuff gets sent to the Secret Service for investigation.

As I moved on, a handgun in a display case caught my eye. Safety and security is such a paramount aspect of the work that is done here, that they have their own police force! The Federal Reserve Police, created in 2001, is a fully operational, armed police force that protects the building and its assets, inspects people and property, and responds to emergencies.

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Should anyone try to break in, they will be met with deadly force.

The next section talked about how the Federal Reserve works in both the American and global economy. The Fed stepped in during various financial meltdowns, natural disasters, and other occasions of need by loaning banks money and other behind the scenes processes so that the economic wheel keeps turning.

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Interactive displays allowed me to attain understanding of what these guys do.

I then got to learn how the Federal Reserve hierarchical structure is laid out. The diagram and explanations did an outstanding job in educating someone from the general public with little to no knowledge of this aspect. Covered was what kind of role each committee and board plays, and how the members are appointed to said positions.

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The last (really first) section talked about the founding of the Fed, dating back to the late 1790s. Fun fact: The current Federal Reserve isn’t the nation’s first central bank! The first was actually created by President George Washington in 1791, and lasted for only 20 years due to political opposition for its charter to be renewed by the Senate. Speaking of Washington, also covered were finances during the days of the original colonies and the subsequent American Revolution. Some very cool stuff if you are interested in the history that eventually led us to where we are today.

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Getting my typical tourist shot.

In conclusion, this was a very well put together exhibit that is worth the trip for anyone who is interested in economics, finance, or just how “the system” works in general. No matter what your opinion is of the feds, The Economy in Action really gives you their side of the story well, and is good for gaining some background information into this part of our government.  That being said, the content can be a bit dry at times, but still generally relevant and understandable for your average college-educated citizen.

Not to mention you get to see a very well constructed and designed building at an awesome price: free!