The demise of a bunch of airline fleets of 757s at the moment is a shame as it is a type I was always fond of from the days of British Airways using them for shuttle services around the UK as well as being the first commercial jet I flew on heading to Lisbon from Heathrow. The military has also made use of the jet of course. The New Zealand 757 displays in the past have been pretty impressive and maybe that gives me an idea for a future post. The USAF has a bunch of them, designated as C-32, and they are used for VIP transportation.
They are not a type that you often come across but I have seen them on a few occasions. An Andrews AFB Open House provided one movement – they are based there so not such a surprise. Another was at Nellis AFB when one launched just prior to a Red Flag launch when we were waiting between the runways for the action to kick off. The VIP colors of the USAF jets are quite elegant and they suit the 757 nicely.
Freighter use is the great second chance for older airliners. It is also a nice source of something different with the number of airlines shrinking as mergers and bankruptcies take their toll. Cargojet is a Canadian freight operator that has a contract moving mail for Canada Post. When I was at Vancouver, there were a couple of Cargojet aircraft on the ramp across from where we were. One was a 767 and the other was a 757. They were being loaded when I arrived and, as the evening light drew in, the first jet taxied.
It was getting pretty dark by the time they got airborne. However, I was not complaining since I was able to get another airline in operation that I had not seen before.
Icelandair has made a good business of operating Boeing 757s on routes from Iceland to the US with Seattle being a regular destination for years. There was a time when the 757 was a cutting-edge jet but these days they are getting up in years. Similarly, the RB211-535E4 was once considered very advanced. Now, it is dated. It turns out that one of the engines on this flight is in a little better shape than the other. As they cycled the power on the approach, the starboard engine was noticeably smokier. Not a big deal but I guess it has been on the wing a little longer than its partner.
Flipping through various shoots looking for something else, I happened to come across a few shots of aircraft from the FedEx fleet. It occurred to me that I could drag together a post that was focused purely on the FedEx aircraft types. FedEx has an extensive fleet of aircraft these days. Their early days of using Falcon 20s to move their packages around are long gone. Now they have a variety of aircraft types of different sizes and range to meet all of their needs.
The fleet is constantly in a state of regeneration. The types that have long been a part of FedEx operations are now going or gone and being replaced with something more up to date. The 727 fleet has gone. The A300s and A310s are still in use but the number in the fleet is gradually going down. The interesting thing about the FedEx fleet is the way the economics are changing. For a long time, second hand jets that had been retired from airline service made a lot of sense. The operating model involves a lot of jets flying from their home base to Memphis in the middle of the night to deliver packages to the hub. Then, after a quick turnaround of all of the sorted packages, the planes fly back to base. Then they sit on the ground for most of the day.
This model means that utilization for the aircraft is low. Having a less efficient jet is not a problem when it only flies a few hours each day. If it is cheap to buy, you can use it efficiently. Having a bunch of inefficient 727s works very well. Similarly, the smaller aircraft that feed into hubs also can be operated relatively cheaply. A fleet of Cessna Caravans that sit on the ground or a bunch of ATR42s is effective.
The 727s are gone now. They have been replaced with 757s which have all been retired by airline operators (a lot of them from British Airways).The big change is that new jets are being acquired. The operating economics for FedEx have changed. The DC-10s (which got upgraded to MD-10s) are gradually being replaced by new 767s. Meanwhile, the MD-11s which had previously been the kings of the long haul flights are now being relegated to domestic service while the 777F takes over the long haul missions. Direct from Memphis to China is now the norm for the 777F. You don’t see MD-11s crossing the Pacific as much any more. I think the Europe runs are limited too. The 777 can go direct with a decent payload and doesn’t need to stop for fuel in Anchorage.
The MD-11 will survive for a while yet. Its less efficient operate will mean it can be pushed onto shorter segments with lower utilization. The high utilization missions will be the preserve of the newer jets. The older jets will be fine on the flights that only involve a couple of trips a day. For these their low capital costs will offset any operational cost penalty. The migration of the fleet will continue though. Soon it will be a fleet with a few less types and things will be a bit less interesting. There will still be a bunch of 727s scattered around airports that had them donated though so keep an eye out for them.
I have posted before about taking photos from airliners of passing jets and using Flightradar24 and the wifi connection to try and get a shot. On this trip I had two good opportunities that I knew about. The first was a 757 operated by FedEx. I could see it coming using the app. It was apparently not going to be a close pass but it was going to be within range. I saw the jet show up and shot a sequence of it as it came by. The shots were okay given the idea of shooting through windows. A better chance came with an American 737. It was going to be really close to our flight path. Actually, it was really close. Unfortunately, it came right under us. I saw it flash by but I only got shots of engine nacelles and wings of our own jet. Oh so close!
You go to Red Flag with the goal of seeing a lot of different combat aircraft. However, Nellis is a regular base and has other traffic. You don’t always see something during the course of a mission launch but sometimes it happens. While we were checking in at the gate, a VC-32 came down the approach. This is the USAF’s version of the Boeing 757 and it is a pretty nice looking plane. Unfortunately, when we are the gate, the security team is not too keen on us taking shots so we watched it land and figured we had missed our chance.
Turns out we were wrong. While we were out between the runways, the VC-32 taxied out and got ready to depart. Even better, it departed to the southwest which meant it came past us with good light on it. It turns out that Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter had been visiting and the plane was taking him onwards. I was very happy to get something I haven’t seen up close for a number of years.
Airliners were not the only thing we got to see above LAX. On the south side of the field are some FBOs and they had an interesting selection of planes parked up on their ramps. As we passed overhead, it was a good time to see what was around. There were plenty of Gulfstreams on show. The view from above shows just how large the wing is on the largest of Savannah’s products. We also had some BBJs, a 757 that appeared to belong to a casino and some Cessnas, Challengers, Falcons and Hawkers. I am not sure I would be able to choose which one to use today. Maybe I will rotate them?
You don’t often get to see an airliner maneuvering at low level. They tend to be up and away or approaching to land in a stable configuration. Each year at Fleet Week, united bring one of their airliners as part of the air show and it gets to be thrown around the bay, if not with abandon, at least with more vigor than is the norm for an airliner. In the past, the 747 has been the display aircraft of choice. Since I have been here, they have been using the 757.
The bay provides a nice backdrop for any display but one that uses a big airplane is well suited to the area since they have to maintain a reasonable distance from the shore at all times unless they are climbing out over the crowd. A combination of clean passes and gear and flaps deployed passes made for some good variety and some aggressive climb outs at high power and low weight were nice. Watching the plane turn over the Marin side of the bay was also pretty cool.
This may not be the most dynamic of air show performances but it has a novelty factor that makes it worth seeing and it certainly brought some variety to the show on the day. I’m just glad I got to see it this year. Last year they displayed on the day I was there but the low cloud base meant that we mainly heard them above the clouds but saw very little.
DHL planes are hard to miss. The bright yellow livery they carry is not one that you are going to miss easily. They may not have the wide reach of FedEx or UPS in the US but Boeing Field is a regular stop for them. The 767 is one of their staples, much as it is for all express carriers. They also make use of the 757 which pleases me given my fondness for the first airliner I ever flew on.
Evening light is the best for getting a DHL jet since the yellow positively glows when the low sun gets on it. I had a bit of traffic during this visit and these are the jets I saw.
I was in the vicinity of SeaTac when I saw on Flightaware that a freighter operated by Centurion Cargo was inbound. This was not an operator I had seen much of and, since I had a few minutes before I was heading to my next appointment, i thought I would try to catch it. Getting arrivals at SeaTac in the afternoon when they are coming from the north restricts the options for shooting. however, there was a place I had been before for departures that I thought I would try.
I got there with a few minutes to spare so was able to get an idea of what was possible with some other arrivals. The location was not ideal with a lot of trees in the vicinity which, even though it was winter, tended to obscure things a bit. There was a view through the trees up the approach and then along a road as they passed by. Neither was very good. I got a British Airways 777 which gave me a clue as to where the Centurion jet would appear and how much free space there would be. Not much as it turned out. However, I did get a brief view which will have to do for now.