Re: Older Aircraft

Date:         11 Sep 97 03:35:29 
From:         kls@ohare.Chicago.COM (Karl Swartz)
Organization: Chicago Software Works, Menlo Park, California
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>I was wondering if anyone had statistics on the oldest aircraft
>currently being flown by a U.S. carrier in regular service.

United only recently retired the first 737-200, the 6th 737 built.
It made its first flight 30 years ago, on August 8, 1967.  Amongst
the scheduled passenger carriers in the US, Midwest Express likely
has the oldest jet in service -- the 2nd DC-9, N700ME, which made
it's first flight on May 8, 1965, over 32 years ago.

If you look at cargo operators -- regular service, though perhaps
not what you had in mind -- you'll find some older equipment.  FedEx
has a few 727-100s from 1964, and Kalitta American International
Airways has a DC-8-51C dating from 1962, leased to a subsidiary but
apparently in service.

If you don't limit yourself to jets, Reeve Aleutian still operates
three Lockheed L-188 Electras in scheduled passenger service, two of
which date from 1959.  You can probably still find some Convair 580s
in odd corners of the country, and there are even DC-3s which are in
regular service of sorts.  (Is Vintage Airlines still flying them in
South Florida?)

>I have flown what appeared to be a 25-year-old 747-100 from Seoul to
>Manila that had a plaque in the main cabin dating the aircraft to
>1972. I believe the plane was christened the William Patterson (UA).

United actually has two 747s (747-122 models) named for William A.
Patterson, who helped form United in the 1930s and led the airline
until his retirement in 1965.  N4720U picked up the name a few years
ago, but from the 1972 date you were probably on N4723U which had the
name when it was delivered on June 1, 1972.  It first flew on December
17, 1971.  It's scheduled to be retired next January.

>I was thinking that this couldn't possibly be the oldest plane in
>UA's fleet (if they have a 25-year-old plane up there, why not a

Oldest is United's second 737, the 8th 737 built, which first flew on
August 31, 1967.  But they're going quickly -- all of UA's aircraft
from the late 1960s and early 1970s will be gone by early 2000, that
date being dictated by Stage III noise regulations as much as anything.

Other carriers will still be flying some ancient jets, though, with
hushkits to meet the noise requirements.  Northwest has a program to
modernize their old DC-9s, for example, some of which date back to the

>How many cylces do most carriers (at least American ones) put their
>planes through before they scrap them?

The life of various parts may depend on cycles or on flight hours.
An aircraft designed for very long flights, such as a 747, may not
accumulate many cycles but will fly many hours.  I know there are
747s with over 100,000 flight hours (TWA has at least one in service,
or did a few months ago).

A couple of examples are probably best.  Unfortunately, one of the
easier ways to find the cycles/hours on an airframe is to look at
the accident report after it crashes.  Here are two examples, the
"Aloha Convertible" and TWA 800:

  accident   model     hours   cycles
  --------  -------   ------   ------
  Aloha     737-297   35,496   89,680
  TWA 800   747-135   93,303   16,869

>Do international airlines have different standards?

There aren't really any standards -- except for Concorde and some
early European types, most jetliners are not designed with a specific
lifetime.  As long as you don't mind increasing amounts of mainteance
you can keep flying them essentially forever.  Most often economics
is what causes an airliner to be retired.

Some carriers -- most notably Singapore Airlines -- like to keep a
relatively young fleet.  Others, usually in third-world countries,
can't afford nice new planes and so they squeeze as much out of old
birds as they can.  If you look in the right corners of the world,
you'll still find 707s soldiering along, and even older props.

>Does any American carrier still fly planes like the Tokyo Rose
>mentioned in a previous post? (a DC-8-82 delivered in 1968).

It's a DC-8-62, and as noted in that post, it *is* still flying for
an American carrier -- Airborne Express.  No DC-8s are still flying
passengers (other than charters) within the US, but plenty of them
are still flying freight.

>Also, do aging aircraft "feel" different to pilots when they fly them?
Do airline pilots recognize the personalities of particular aircraft
they've flown before?

Older aircraft obviously don't have the nice new glass cockpits and
most have a flight engineer, unlike the newer planes, but otherwise
I doubt pilots notice in most cases.  I'm not a pilot (airline or
otherwise), but I've talked to plenty of pilots who viewed that day's
plane as just another example of whatever type it was.  Once, I was
on United's 100th 737-300 (N202UA) and commented on that fact.  The
pilots didn't believe me -- they thought it was one of the oldest,
and it did look pretty ratty, since most of its older siblings had
already had their first D check but this one was just a little bit
too new for that.

Some aircraft do have their own character, though it's usually not
because of age.  The China Airlines 747SP that flamed out all four
engines and went into a dive over the Pacific in 1985 permanently
bent its wings, and I've heard that pilots think it's a little bit
faster than the others as a result.  At the very least, it probably
has some special weights or other operating considerations that make
it different to fly.

Karl Swartz	|Home
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