October brings the end of MD-11 operations for Lufthansa. When the MD-11 rapidly fell out of favor with the passenger operations, it became a bit of a favorite for freight operations. New build MD-11Fs were joined by conversions of displaced passenger jets. Lufthansa had bought some new jets and added more to their fleet. In recent years, the introduction of Boeing 777Fs had gradually displaced the MD-11s from operations. Now the last one is being retired. FedEx is still using a ton of them so no likelihood of the type going away soon. I only saw them a few times in Lufthansa colors and won’t any more!
The shot you didn’t get. How many of those do we have. It’s easy to get blasé about something and decide not to bother. Of course, many times, this will be just fine, otherwise we wouldn’t be blasé in the first place. A couple of UPS jets had arrived. One was an MD-11 and one was a 767. A second 767 was on approach and I figured why bother. As it touched down abreast my location, something looked decidedly odd about the radome.
I talked to Nick, who had been next to me and had photographed it and asked him to take a look at his shots. Sure enough, the radome was a complete mess. Presumably a bird strike had smashed it during the flight although whether it was early on or during the approach we couldn’t know. It was quite the scene of destruction and I didn’t get a photo of it. 99 times out of a 100, it wouldn’t have been anything but this time… Oh well.
It must be a sign of aging how surprising it is to find something that was previously so common as to be boring suddenly is a rarity and has novelty value. Sierra Pacific is an odd operator anyway but they have some 737-500s. These were not the most popular of that generation of 737 but they sold reasonably well. United had a bunch of them that I have shot and Southwest had a fair few, some of which I have flown on. The follow up with the 737-600 and that was a poor seller.
Sierra Pacific was bringing their example in to BFI and I was able to get some time off to see it arrive. It was scheduled to be a brief stop so the chances were good of getting it arriving and departing. The -500 was a short jet – similar in length to the -200 and the last version to come of that generation that started with the -300 and then got stretched to the -400. They were both more popular with the airlines. It now looks like a toy compared to the current crop.
The skies had been a bit overcast but a bit of sunlight showed itself as the jet was on final approach. Not fantastic light but certainly an improvement on a little while before it appeared. It touched down and headed for Modern’s ramp. It wasn’t long before a bunch of people were around the plane and then a fuel truck showed up so it looked promising for a speedy departure. Sure enough, it was soon taxiing. Bigger jets have to cross to taxi to the threshold but you always worry that they will instead take an intersection departure. This day was a good day, though, and they crossed and taxied right by me. They were heading to Omaha so we’re pretty heavy so it wasn’t an early rotation but, since it was later in the day, the heat haze was not so bad.
Sun Country changed their livery design a while back going with an orange based scheme known as the pumpkin livery. I hadn’t shot one before – I’ve got their older colors and also the Transavia hybrid on leased jets – but it was due in shortly before the National A330 I had gone out for so I was happy to get the bonus. It’s a garish livery, for sure, but it makes a change from the steady stream of stuff we see normally.
Of the four 777X test aircraft, one had eluded me. I had shot the third jet on the ground but never in motion. Supposedly it is the performance test aircraft so the suggestion was that it was being preserved until a lot of configuration work had been done to make sure the engines were in peak shape prior to measuring fuel consumption. Recently I heard that it had been making a bunch of flights. The good news was that these flights – lots of straight line flying out over the Pacific – were quite long and they usually landed in the early evening. A trip after work was on the cards.
The problem with this timing is that is clashes with dinner. Fortunately, I have a wife that is tolerant of my interest (although I think it would be wrong to say she understands my obsession!). Nancy was willing to delay dinner until it came back (and I could then get home). With test flying, there are no guarantees about timing so I would watch the jet head back up the coast only to turn around and go for another run south.
Fortunately, it finally turned back towards Seattle and it was pretty certain it was coming back. The benefit of this waiting is that the light is getting better and better. The downside of shooting the 777X is the size means the long lens is too much for the touchdown area. The wide lens doesn’t do well for the rest of the approach though. Two cameras was the answer. I thought I had one set up right but it turns out I had messed up something with the result that the shots were rather overexposed. Fortunately, RAW came to the rescue and I was able to get the shots back to what I wanted. Now I have them all in flight.
Seeing that a National A330 was coming in to SeaTac one evening, I figured I couldn’t pass it up. Sure, they don’t come here often but they are also one of the few airlines that has a relatively interesting livery. Plus, it would be later in the day when light should be good so why not go? With SeaTac you always wonder whether the heavies will come in on the outer or inner runway. Fortunately, there was a lot of other arriving traffic at that time so it was a good bet they would come on the inner runway. A heavy can disrupt the flow of the lighter wake turbulence category jets.
That proved to be the case. They came to the inner so I was positioned well for the arrival. However, the weather wasn’t playing ball. A bunch of clouds were building off in the distance and they drifted across the sun shortly before arrival. Rainier was already obscured by cloud/haze but losing the sun was annoying. Fortunately, the silvery scheme allows a bit more tolerance of less than ideal light.
Being close to the 737 production line means you see all sorts of airline markings on jets. That includes seeing an airline you didn’t know anything about. Caribbean Airlines had an upcoming delivery of a 737 Max 8 and it was out on test the day I took off. Not the most dramatic livery but still not too bad. The predecessors, Air Jamaica and BWIA were more colorful, though. It taxied passed me as it headed out so I got shots of it taking off. Later in the day it returned just as I was thinking it would be time to head home. It arrived and then I left. Quite a good end to the day.
One evening, while at BFI, a couple of Max test aircraft taxied out. One was painted up in Fly Dubai colors and the other was still in primer although the rudder seemed to indicate that it will be a United jet when delivered. They both taxied out and then held on the taxiway. The primer jet was second in line and held for ages. Eventually, it took the intersection on to the runway and backtracked to the Boeing ramp. No idea what the issue was but it clearly wasn’t ready to fly. Their colleagues took off a short while before in their, apparently serviceable, jet.
The Air Malta Max jets have been on here before. A subsidiary of Ryanair – everyone’s favorite airline – they have been stored at Renton for a while awaiting the commencement of deliveries after whatever delays have been preventing Ryanair from accepting any jets. With that now addressed, both Ryanair and Air Malta have been taking jets. Buzz still hasn’t accepted any and they still seem to be parked at Renton. I was pleased to have an Air Malta jet come in from a test flight while I was at BFI. It was an overcast day but there was a hint of light when it made its approach. Not great but better than sitting on the ground!
Boeing is not having a good time of it at the moment. The 737 Max saga hurt it significantly and it is still getting in to delivering jets that have been stored for a long time. Some countries have still not cleared it to fly. Meanwhile, the 787 program is in a bit of a hole with a variety of quality problems showing up such that deliveries have almost ground to a halt. Those two programs are supposed to be cash generators at the moment which allow investment in the next program. The KC-46 is also not what you would call a success!
That program is the 777X and it is not going well either. In the aftermath of the Max problems, the certification program is getting significantly dragged out. Initially engine problems delayed first flight but now that is a distant memory as all sorts of other things are meaning that service entry is not likely until early 2024. They should have been in service last year under the original plan.
Production of the last original 777s other than freighters is now complete and production of 777X airframes is well underway. However, there is nothing to do with them for now so a steady stream of green airframes is piling up at Paine Field. The cross runway (it doesn’t seem fair to call it a runway given that Boeing has used it as a parking lot for the last decade) is now filling up with airframes with weights where the engines would be and either no wing tips or they are covered with film to disguise the customer airline markings. Line numbers are taped to the gear doors. It all looks rather familiar and sad. It will be a while before these jets are readied for customers and it will be interesting to see how many Paine Field can hold before the production line churns out even more of them than there is space for.