Flight Plan

My flight plan....to encourage, mentor, guide those pining for the sky. I'm also here to virtually open the flight deck door for those who want to take a peek at the many aspects of aviation.....enjoy!

...and welcome aboard!...


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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Airplane Heaven - Aircraft Graveyards

The saying "Flown West" for a pilot means they passed on. Looks like this B747-400 knew it's fate as well.

Since I've been with Air Canada (15 years) I've seen the B747-200 (Classic) and B747-400 (the Queen) retire. Other ones which flew their last flight are: The DC-9, B737 (Canadian's contribution), B767-100 series, the Airbus 340-300 and the Airbus 340-500. The RJ Challenger went to the connectors.
Calgary ramp attendant Kelly Paterson sent some great shots of the 747 before it went south as a "snow bird."

Here's an excerpt from my book:

So what does one do with outdated planes? Unlike cars, where they are thrown on a scrap heap, retired planes are treated with a more humane approach. Just a couple of years ago, the family and I flew to Arizona. In Arizona we wanted to visit one of the largest graveyards for airplanes. I guess they thought a family of five weren’t serious buyers of a old B747 so we were denied entry.

Airplane Heaven

Glinting under the hot sun in the Arizona desert is FIN 714, an Air Canada DC-9 known simply by its Flight Identification Number. After 33 years of service, it now sits parked in a compound just off Interstate 10, northwest of Tucson, among hundreds of other retired DC-9s, jumbo jets and other types of aircraft.

The Evergreen Air Center is the largest commercial aircraft storage base in the world, capable of holding up to 300 aircraft. Air Canada has several of its DC-9s and Boeing B747s at this peaceful facility, where they rest alongside aircraft like L-1011s and DC-8s. Unlike Canada, with its harsh climate, Arizona and other locations in the south western United States are ideal for storing aircraft outdoors, thanks to the consistently warm, sunny weather and dry, light winds.

The airplanes put into long-term storage here aren’t just left to bake in the sun among the rattlesnakes and tumbleweed. First, they are embalmed. Qualified aircraft maintenance personnel empty fuel from the tanks, remove oil from the engines and drain hydraulic fluid that once operated the landing gear and control surfaces. Instrument probes are also plugged and expensive instruments are covered or removed. All the while, the records for each aircraft are carefully filed and stored.

Airplanes are “put out to pasture” for various reasons. Sometimes, an economic downturn means less air traffic, so airlines will put some airplanes into temporary storage until the economy picks up. Old aircraft still in perfectly good shape may also be retired to make way for newer airplanes that are larger, faster and more fuel-efficient. The Airbus A340, for example, is not only less noisy and more comfortable for passengers than the Boeing B747 it replaced, but it is also 60 percent less expensive to operate.

Many airplanes that end up at the Evergreen Air Center will never leave. Some will be stripped of their precious parts, which will help keep other airplanes flying. Others will be dormant for years and then eventually fall victim to the welder’s torch. But the lucky ones will be sold to other airlines. In fact, many of Air Canada’s well-maintained aircraft return to service, operating for other carriers all over the globe. Airplanes expected to reside at the storage facility for only a short stint undergo regular engine starts and various electrical and system checks. That way, prospective buyers can have an airplane up and running in days. Some other lucky planes are preserved forever by playing key roles in film and on television shows. For ABC’s hit drama Lost, a retired airplane was pulled apart and set down on a Hawaiian beach to stand in as the ill-fated Oceanic Flight 815 aircraft.

Today Air Canada’s FIN 714 sits in limbo, awaiting its fate. During its tour of duty, it performed 67,657 landings and amassed an incredible 75,826 flight hours. A pilot who is also retiring with more than 30 years of service might accumulate a mere 20,000 flight hours. Still, there is always a possibility that FIN 714 will fly again one day and that its new owner will be just as proud as its original owner was more than three decades ago, when the shiny, new DC-9 first took to the air.


AviatonCrazy said...

Those A340-500s were just great aircrafts. Really sad to see them gone.

From the Flight Deck said...

Aviation Crazy. I concur, the '500 was a beautiful bird! Those engines had lots of 'oomph' compared to the 300. There was rarely an issue about take off weights, getting to altitude and carrying extra fuel. But that was the problem, it liked it's fuel with a burn rate of 10,000 liters or 8000 kg an hour.

Plus the take off proved to be interesting on rotation. So much so, we had to implement a flap 3 take off instead of flap 1.

Thanks for the post.