As many of you know, on March 2, 2016, the first Boeing 727 made its final flight successfully down to the Museum of Flight at Boeing field. It was much more than just a final flight or really even the plane. The 727 has become an icon of not just aviation history, but personal history as well. Seeing the aircraft, even for non-AvGeeks, is a time warp to the past.
I have enjoyed covering the first 727 for quite a few years. Although getting access to see the inside of the aircraft has been amazing, my favorite part have been the personal stories that have been shared. I have been grateful that so many of you have taken the time to share your memories of the aircraft (the first and other 727s) in emails and comments on AirlineReporter. From those of you remembering it as your first flight as a kid to others who spent years behind the yolk. It seems that nothing can bring a group of AvGeeks together better than the iconic tri-holer.
The day before the final flight of the first 727 (which was painted in the classic United livery), I had a chance to sit down with a current United 777 First Officer Kimberly Kuyk-Novotny. What better place to have our conversation than the flight deck of the 727?
Kuyk-Novotny was hired by United in 1987, and she has four more years until retirement. She talked about the many different aircraft types that she has flown over the years; from the DC-3, to Metroliners, and she was even a flight engineer on the DC-10. But, the 727 holds a special place in her heart, since it was the first plane type in which she got to sit in the right seat. She was in awe to once again be sitting in the flight deck of a 727 again. She explained that it was much more than just a plane — it has soul that would once again come alive with its final flight.
When I asked how it was flying the 727 compared to the 777, she said in some ways she misses the hands-on flying, but it would be hard to go back. The next day, she would be one of the guests on a special United 787-9 delivery flight — her first time on a Dreamliner. Talk about a stark difference between the two aircraft.
The reality of sitting in the captain’s seat, the day before the aircraft’s final flight, speaking to Kimberly about her flying experience was surreal. Our conversation would have surely been interesting if we were sitting in a coffee shop, but being in that 727 made it something that much more special.
Before the first 727’s final flight, the big question was, should you set up north at Paine Field (KPAE) to watch the takeoff, or hang out down south at Boeing Field (KBFI) to watch the landing? Of course most wanted to be at both, but with an 11-minute flight — that wasn’t possible. Some were positive that KPAE was the best place to see the plane lift off for the first time in decades, whiles others felt watching the last landing would be the prime way to experience the historic event. Either way, it was an amazing experience.
I had the opportunity to speak with Captain Tim Powell, the man piloting the plane in the left seat, after the flight and he said the plane flew fantastically. Even though being at the controls for the flight was an honor for him, what really amazed him was seeing all the people in United uniforms waiting for them after landing. Seeing all the passion (from those in uniform or not) for the aircraft really took him by surprise.
“The true soul and character of an airline is in its employees…. and the United employees showed their true colors this day,” Powell explained to me. “I felt the spirit of a great airline as I stood with them for the group photo in front of the aircraft.”
Martha Casne, President of the Seattle Retiree Associate of Flight Attendants, was one of the people there to greet the 727 at the Museum of Flight after it landed.
“Flight Attendants are a unique group of individuals,” Casne said to AirlineReporter. “For those of us who flew in the 727 era we were in the process of changing a short term job into a career. In reality, we had two lives: the first being the normal life as females who in the second part of the 20th century were limited to few opportunities outside the traditional jobs, i.e.: housewife, teacher, nurse, secretary. When we put on the uniform we stepped outside those roles and had a way of life that afforded us a great deal of freedom.”
“The only people who understood were the other people who wore those uniforms,” Casen continued. “The confines of a small work space and an unsupervised job made us rely heavily on each other. We have a bond forged out of that experience. We enjoy seeing each other and talking about the old days. Therefore when we had the opportunity to come to the Museum of Flight it only seemed natural to put uniforms on and to wear the wings again.” She felt it was a great day and was excited to be part of a larger group to welcome the 727 to its new home.
There is no way that the first 727 would have been able to fly again without the dedication and passion from the team that spent years restoring the aircraft at the Museum of Flight Restoration Center. I wanted to give them a huge round of applause for sticking with their project, even with many thinking that the 727 would never fly again.
This has not been a short-term project, but really one that started when the plane first arrived — 25 years ago. I reached out to Terry “TC” Howard (who has been so wonderful giving me tours of their operations over the years), to learn more about those who have worked hard on the plane.
“My hat’s off to the great teamwork between Troy Porter’s crew at ATS, David Wittrig and Kenn Finister, Sr. of SOAR and their wonderful crew; John Catanzaro, Steve Huemoeller, Jim Munneke, Jon Vernier from the 727 Restoration Crew under my direction that spent many hours on the UAL 727 during its final refurbishment,” Howard explained. “Jim Munneke, myself and Jon Vernier spent many hours driving to Aero Controls at Auburn and Shelton, Washington to pickup needed parts for the UAL 727. Dennis Middlesworth, an ex-Boeing Flight Test Engineer was also the man of the hour solving many electrical and avionics issues on the airplane. Gary Williams and his crew from Triumph were also involved solving many of the fuel tank issues that were found during the fueling operations.”
When I asked about the others who have dedicated so much of themselves, he gave me the following list, that I wanted to share:
The 727 Restoration Leadership
Terry ‘TC’ Howard – 727 Restoration Crew Chief – Ex-Boeing Engineer and Quality Assurance Engineering Manager
Steve J. Huemoeller – UAL Mechanic Emeritus and 727 Chief Mechanic
Jim Munneke – The Best Helper
John Catanzaro – Ex-Boeing Flight Line Mechanic
Jon Vernier – Ex-UAL Mechanic
Others that were were instrumental in engine build-up, etc. leading up to the SOAR involvement:
Ross Michel – Aircraft Experience and 2nd 727 Chief Mechanic
Richard Johnson – Ex-Boeing Flight Line Mechanic and 3rd 727 Chief Mechanic
Scott Shurtleff – General Helper
Rich Stein – ATS Inspector
Landon Nye – FAA Licensed A&P, IA
Al Horne – Ex-Boeing Tooling
Dana Dilgard – Machinist
Ralph Bernard – Ex-Boeing Inspector
David Capodilupo – General Helper – Came from Boston yearly
Ryan Best – General Helper
John Budig – FAA Licensed A&P
Nathaniel Coates – Boeing Engineer
Although the first 727 had its last flight, this is surely not the end of the line for the plane. The Museum of Flight is in the process of building an Air Park that will protect the 727 (and their other airliners) to keep them around for a long time.
And do not worry… there will be a few more historical moments for the 727. As we recently reported, the American Airlines 727 which was at the Museum of Flight is being prepped to be flown over to the National Airline History Museum (NAHM) in Kansas City, MO. And, there are still quite a few flying for cargo and as private jets — so hopefully it will be a while before the final 727 flight overall.
Want to learn and see more about the first 727? Check out our coverage:
- Current status and tons of great information from Bob Bogash
- Interview with the captain of the final flight
- Video: Taxi test of the first 727 at Paine Field
- Rare photos: The anniversary of the 727’s first flight
- An AvGeek in the left seat — flying the Boeing 727
- Photo tour of the first 727 cabin — looks almost new
- Background: The first Boeing 727 prepares for its last flight