The FedEx Boeing 727,
tail number N136FE, had just made its last ever landing, Capt. Betty Mullis
in the left seat.
Portable stairs had been rolled into place. Mullis and the other two flight
crew members left the aircraft, climbed into a cab for a ride to Syracuse's
airport and a return flight to Memphis, FedEx's hub. Dignitaries on hand at
Griffiss to welcome the 727 and to listen to the speeches were leaving.
A tug pulled the 727 into one of the massive Griffiss hangars. The airplane,
in service for 38 years, first hauling passengers for Eastern Airlines and
then freight for FedEx, was at its last airfield. Here at Griffiss, students
from Mohawk Valley Community College, training to be mechanics, will work on
the 727's three Pratt & Whitney engines and on the airplane's frame, which
measures 133 feet from nose to tail and 108 feet from wing tip to wing tip.
A man wearing a FedEx jacket asked, "Would you like to sit in the left
seat?" I said I would. The seat was still warm.
I looked around. The flight deck is worn from all the hands and feet of
pilots who have flown her.
Flight decks on airplanes are always small, leaving as much room for
passengers and cargo as possible. This flight deck was bigger than most I've
Sitting there in the captain's seat you couldn't help but think of N136FE's
history. She was rolled out of the Boeing plant in 1968, built for Eastern
Airlines. She hauled passengers until FedEx bought her in 1982 and converted
her to a freighter.
You thought about the 46,361 landings N136FE made at airports all over the
world and the more than 62,000 hours she spent in the air. You thought of
all the captains, first officers and flight engineers who have flown her.
You thought of the tens of thousands of passengers and countless tons of
freight she has carried, and very faithfully.
I turned in my seat and looked the length of the airplane. Without seats,
the airplane looked strange. Padding covered the metal skin to prevent
damage from cargo containers. Passenger windows were covered over. An
11-foot wide cargo door had been cut into the left side of the fuselage.
I got up and walked around in back. You have to be careful. The floor is
covered with hundreds of ball bearings on which cargo containers slide.
The rear door was open, stairs down, a feature built into the 727s to make
it quicker to load and unload passengers.
(Rear doors on passenger 727s were sealed in 1971 after "D.B. Cooper"
parachuted out the back of a Northwest Orient airliner with the $200,000 he
got after threatening to blow up the plane.)
Go out to the Arizona desert and you'll see many 727s waiting in a "boneyard"
to be cut up for scrap metal. At least that won't happen to N136FE. She's
grounded but she's going to be useful.
Matt Gibbs, the FedEx first officer who helped fly N136FE into Griffiss,
said he and Capt. Mullis had talked on the flight north about it being the
727's last flight.
"Pilots generally feel a connection to the airplanes they fly," Gibbs said,
"and this 727 has been one of the workhorses of the FedEx fleet. It's a good
feeling knowing it will be used as a training tool for people whose careers
will be in aviation."
Joe Kelly is the editor and publisher of The Boonville Herald & Adirondack Tourist and