Back in August, we connected with some of the fine folks that have been working to prepare the first Boeing 727 for its last flight. At the time, they were painting the plane and it looked damn good. Although a new coat of paint will make the plane look slick, it doesn’t exactly get it airborne. What does? Engines, of course.
I heard that they took possession of a few Pratt & Whittney JT8D engines and I wanted to get an update on how things were going and also take a tour of the interior.
When the aircraft was donated to the Museum of Flight, it was almost fully restored to how it looked (inside and out), when it first flew for United Airlines. So, I headed to the Museum of Flight Restoration Center at Paine Field and see how things were progressing.
Although the main Museum of Flight facility located down south at Boeing Field is pretty sweet, I always love getting to the Museum’s Restoration Center at Paine Field. The planes just feel more alive and it is interesting to see how those who volunteer there restore aircraft.
I met up with Crew Chief T.C. Howard, who is leading the restoration project and is more of an AvGeek than probably most of you reading this combined — and that is a huge compliment. He has a vast knowledge of aviation and mechanics, and knows a thing or two about the Boeing 727. Plus, he is just a really cool guy who loves to share his passion.
It is one thing to look at the parts and pieces, but its another to have someone who knows them in great detail and can explain things in terms that I can understand.
As we walked into the main working space, I could hear the sound of wrenches and people taking care of business. I also couldn’t help but notice the five JT8D engines, sitting between the Boeing SST mock-up, a classic fire truck, and the Lockheed Jetstar prototype. Let’s pause a moment and just think about how awesome that last sentence was.
Although not a expert on the Boeing 727, I do know that it only has three engines… so why did they need five? Three were to be the used on the 727 and the other two for parts. The engines were kindly donated by FedEx and will hopefully serve their purpose well.
The three main engines did not all come from the same plane. TC took the time to show me how (besides the obvious – needing to be attached to different areas of the plane) they were not set up all the same. Brackets, tubing, and other parts weren’t all exactly where one would expect them to be, due to the years of being in service, on different aircraft, and mechanics sometimes needing to get creative to keep them running optimally. This has added additional challenges for the restoration team, but nothing that they cannot handle.
During our tour of the engines, they needed to move one around so that it could be picked up by a forklift and taken off its stand. Am I just going to stand around and watch? Heck no… I put down my stuff and even though I was in business casual clothes, I helped out. Not saying I made much of an impact (at all really), but not going to lie, I did feel a bit closer to the project. I couldn’t imagine how the guys there feel when they put in so much passion, time, sweat, and love into this 727.
Then it was time to head outside to the 727 and get a tour inside. Although the Restoration Center is open to the public and you can get up and close to the 727, the interior is closed. Not that they don’t want to share with the public, but the volunteers working need constant access and unfortunately when the public also has access to cool things, parts and pieces end up going missing.
Many years ago, before I knew how to take photos — or even write well (Editor’s note: based on the amount of editing I do on your stories, not sure if you “write well” now… but I will agree with you “writing better”), I took a tour of the interior.
Stepping inside was like stepping back in time. Although I am a child of the 80s, the interior still brought back memories of my childhood, especially the colorful bulkhead and flying the tri-holer around the U.S.
Although the back of the plane was pretty cool, I knew I wanted to end up in the flight deck — that was going to be the climax of my visit. But, I took my time, by slowly starting in the back and moving towards the front.
Before getting to the flight deck, I made my way through the first class cabin. I hear “flying is not the way it is used to be,” all the time. They are right.
Although cool, in a historical sort of way, this product doesn’t have many of the niceties that we enjoy today. The seat pitch isn’t that great, no in-flight entertainment (IFE), but I guess you do have the ashtrays, if that was your thing back then. Of course, we could argue that United’s service might have changed a bit since then… but that is for another story.
Then it was time to head to the flight deck. Just amazingly beautiful in so many ways. Airline flight decks have changed just a little bit (that is sarcasm, they have changed A LOT) over the years.
For ease of flying, safety, and costs these changes are all great. But the inner five year old in me loves all the gauges, buttons, and switches. Okay, the adult me likes them too — although I promised I wouldn’t touch anything without first asking. I ended up asking quite a bit.
One of the best parts is the engineering station — something not seen in many airliners still flying today. I first sat in the engineer’s seat and absorbed my surroundings, while looking at the many different gauges and switches.
Then I moved to the Captain’s seat and oh yea — that felt good. I could have stayed in that seat for hours, but figured I probably should take my photos, ask some questions, and slowly (very slowly) make my way back outside and say good bye to the first 727… for now.
So… the big question? When is the first Boeing 727 going to fly again? When it’s ready.
Yea, I know… that is not the answer you wanted to read, but it is as close to the truth as I can give. In our last story, we had reported it might fly in October and that was a bit optimistic. However, I have talked to many people on and off the record about the 727 flying again, and the huge majority agree that this plane will fly once more. There are surely challenges, but when is aviation not challenging?
When it does take its last flight, do not worry… you won’t miss it. We will be covering it on AirlineReporter and hopefully we can even set up a special event to mark the occasion.
To give some shoutouts to those folks working hard to make this work… T. C. Howard’s crew working on the EBU (engine buildup) has consisted of Richard Johnson, Jim Munneke, Landon Nye, Rich Stein, John Catanzaro, Al Horne, Ross Michel, and other Restoration Center volunteers.
Tom Cathart, Director of the Museum of Flight Restoration Center and Reserve Collection, assisted with many of the moves of the JT8D15 engines and installation of their thrust reservers. The donated JT8D15 engines for the UAL 727 and the engine #1 and #3 loaners from Fedex was accomplished by Bob Bogash.
If you want to help out, they are looking to get people who are a qualified ex or current United mechanic, ex or current flight line mechanic (airline or aircraft company), and/or hold a FAA AP license. If that is you and you want to help out, shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I can connect you. There is still a long way to go, but with all these passionate people who are motivated to get this bird airborne, I have no doubt that it will happen!