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Last Chance: How to Fly on Historic Airliners Before They’re Gone

Scandinavian DC-3. Photo by Matt Falcus.

Scandinavian DC-3. Photo by Matt Falcus.

This is a guest post by Matt Falcus. He is an author of the popular Airport Spotting Guides series, and runs the blog AirportSpotting.com which helps aviation enthusiasts make the most out of their hobby with airport, airline and aircraft news and spotting information.

With yet another series of enthusiast’s trips to North Korea recently announced by specialist operator Juche Travel, the demand for flying on historic and rare aircraft types is big business amongst aviation geeks.

I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that classic jets and props are now very much a dying breed, replaced by the modern aircraft produced by Airbus, Boeing and other manufacturers. We can’t deny the fantastic advances in today’s aircraft, but neither can we deny that it’s not quite the same as the old days.
If you’re lucky enough to see first generation Boeing and Douglas aircraft in action today, chances are it’s with a cargo airline. But with a bit of research, it might surprise you to learn that there are still opportunities to fly on older jets, props and Russian types – opportunities which won’t last for long.

It is well documented that there is only one airline still flying the Boeing 707 in passenger services, and many enthusiasts have made the journey to Iran to take a flight. The operator, Saha Air, operates the type on domestic services, however it is upgrading its fleet, meaning and the chances of flying a 707 are rapidly diminishing.

Photo by Matt Falcus.

A Lufthansa Junkers J 52 (D-AQUI). Photo by Matt Falcus.

The Boeing 727 can today only be found flying passengers in Africa, Iran and Afghanistan. Perhaps these sound like unlikely destinations, but when you consider that they are flown into Dubai on a daily basis, it makes the chance of flying on a short hop to Tehran and return quite feasible.

Even early Airbus products, which you might consider to be relatively modern – namely the A300B2 and B4 models – are now only operated by Iranian airlines.
Canada is a relatively easy place to find a number of rare types still flying passengers, and much easier to travel to for those in the USA. TV shows such as Ice Pilots NWT have highlighted Buffalo Airways and their DC-3 ‘sked’ service. But did you know airlines in Canada also fly some of the world’s last commercial Convair 580, DHC-7, and Hawker Siddeley HS.748 services?

Dragon Rapide by Matt Falcus.

Dragon Rapide by Matt Falcus.

When it comes to Russian airliners, the chance of catching them are running out fast – particularly with the Tupolev TU-134, which has recently been banished from Russia’s airlines. However, organized trips to North Korea are now regularly organized by Juche Travel Services which are targeted at aviation enthusiasts. These offer trips on Air Koryo’s Ilyushin IL-18, IL-62, IL-76, Tupolev TU-134, TU-154, TU-204, and Antonov AN-24. Needless to say you’d be hard pressed to organise flights on each of these types so easily elsewhere.

In Europe you can find some rarities, including the last passenger British Aerospace ATP operator, Next Jet. This airline operates the type on domestic services from Stockholm, Sweden – a pilgrimage I recently made, after missing out on flying the ATP in my native UK.

Classic tri-holder, the MD-11. Photo by Matt Falcus.

Classic tri-holder, the MD-11. Photo by Matt Falcus.

One of the most recent types to feature on the endangered list is the McDonnell Douglas MD-11. Anticipated as having massive potential as the natural successor to the DC-10, its debut was as recent as 1990, but today only KLM Royal Dutch Airlines still operates the type in scheduled passenger service. If you haven’t flown the MD-11, you’d better head to Amsterdam soon as the airline has already begun retiring the type and is expected to complete this in 2013.

Finally, when it comes to even older airliners from the early 20th century and wartime periods, there are a number of specialist operators in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA still keeping these types alive. For the de Havilland Dove, look up LTU Classik in Dusseldorf. If you want to fly a DC-4, Skyclass of South Africa have an example flying tourists. For the Ford Tri-Motor, look no further than the EAA Museum at Oshkosh, WI. For a Junkers Ju52, there are examples flying in Germany and Switzerland.

For full details on the rarest and most historic airliners still flying passengers, including details of the airlines and countries still flying them, check out my new eBook – Last Chance to Fly.

13 comments to Last Chance: How to Fly on Historic Airliners Before They’re Gone

  • Kathryn Creedy

    Dear Airline Reporter, wonderful story. Of course you know about the de Havilland Beavers at Kenmore which provided me a thrill going to San Juan Islands a couple of years ago. But are you aware of the 1929 Ford Tri-Motor? It isn’t in pax service but for those airplane geeks who want to get certified on the Ford, a friend of mine runs the service. Check out FordTypeRatings.com. I did a roundtrip transcon on 414 Hotel in ’85 when the US Travel and Tourism Administration was working with a German TV crew to replicate the old TWA route for a TV special. We started in Long Beach, ended at the TWA terminal in Kennedy before heading to Pratt & Whitney’s 60th anniversary. It was there a month and then headed back to LAS. What a trip. Anyway, I thought you’d appreciate it. Cheers — Kathryn

    • Dave

      Kathryn, I did get a chance to fly aboard the EAA’s 1929 Ford Tri-Motor in Plant City, FL earlier this year. It was an awesome experience! – Dave

  • Dave

    Excellent Story !!

    I wonder how many people have had the opportunity to fly aboard every member of Boeing’s 7-series family of aircraft (the 707 through the 787).

  • Cook

    With a , I’d add only one minor correction: if one is a Federal prisoner or in custody of the U.S. Marshall’s service, on behalf of some state, I think it is still possible to fly a “Domestic, Scheduled Passenger Service” in the U.S. on a 727-200. I’ve been on one of those airplanes (though not during regular operations, thank you) and just take it on faith… The are not comfortable and the single-class, soft product sucks. If you think that the FAs on United or Delta are old, jaded or uncaring, you ought to see the properly trained fellows that fly for Prison Air. If an evacuation is necessary, they WILL get you out, even if tossing is necessary. More often than not, ‘evacuation’ means that a client has lost more than his cool, to include one’s personal rear-door control. It happens. As for the ‘Coffee, Tea or me,’ routine, I’ve been told that those who enjoy middle seats and avoid speaking tend to have the most enjoyable flights. Meal service never has been, but as bad as domestic airline food can be, if Prison air served anything, would you be interested? Although a highly specialized carrier and with a two-foot thick manual for its own cabin service and operations, I think that this Department of Justice operated airline manages to comply with most sections of the FAA’s regulations for Part 121 carriers. So yes, at least in theory, it is still possible to get a domestic flight on a 727-200. If Prison Air has retired the last few 727-200s within t he last 4-5 years, perhaps one can obtain similar service on a 737-200? Do you really want to find out? (Looking for frequent flyer status or mileage points? Commit a serious felony, flee about a thousand miles from the scene and then arrange to be captured. If you’re a first timer, don’t worry; Prison Air will sign you up for their Frequent Flyer program automatically; no credit cards required. And for the benefit of their high-status customers, Prison Air will provide more than enough restraint methods and devices to prevent event the most aggressive cabin jumper from invading your front-end accommodation. Strange as it may be, this is probably the world’s only airline where Front Cabin seating is not the best available.
    And thanks . Otherwise a fun and informative post. Personally, I’d love to ride on a Martin 404 again, but only of the engines don’t leak and the FA casually say, “Oh, it’s nothing. They fill it up every time we stop. If we get there fast enough.” Heard live, on Southern Airways, Tupelo, MS to Atlanta, GA, about 1975.

  • Kathryn Creedy

    I knew you’d like it! Keep up the great work!

  • Pago Flyer

    Between 1965 and 1971 we flew back and forth PPG and APW on Polynesians DC 3. Around 1970 Ernie Gann delivered a Super Charged ex Coast Guard DC 3 to Polynesian. It crashed later on a training flight killing the crew…..they think the pax door opened….this had been a problem?

  • Norton Rider

    A number of years ago I had the pleasure of flying right seat on a Douglas DC-2: Long Beach – Las Vegas – Grand Canyon, round trip. It was a wonderful flight. In Las Vegas parked the DC-2 next to Scenic’s Ford Tri-Motor.

  • B H

    Saldeca among other carriers in Colombia still operates DC-3 combi passenger/freight service.

  • Will

    Any airline still flying the 747SP?

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