Why You Shouldn't Weep For Retired Airliners

I've never really been one to get all nostalgic when old airliners are retired. I kind of view them the way I do old electronics; they've been around a while, paid for themselves, and served me well. There's something newer and more efficient available now, so it's time to say goodbye.

On the other hand, plenty of other avgeeks do get sentimental when the last model of a classic airliner is sent out to the boneyard.

Recently, the very last commercial DC-10 was retired by Biman Bangladesh Airlines, and Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren covered the event on behalf of airchive.com. Jeremy was allowed exclusive access by the airline, and set up several cameras to document the preparation and final journey of the last flying DC-10-30. The stunning video below is the result of his work.

The DC-10 had a great, 43-year run across the skies. Interestingly, the plane was originally created as a concept military transport. Douglas Aircraft Company lost the military bid but managed to re-work some of their design work into a passenger plane. American Airlines came along in 1966, taking bids for a plane that would seat about 250 people. American chose the DC-10 over Lockheed's L-1011 even though the L-1011 had received far more orders from its competing airlines.

Why You Shouldn't Weep For Retired Airliners

Throughout the 1970s, a series of crashes brought the safety of the DC-10 into question, eventually leading to a temporary worldwide ban of the plane in 1979. American Airlines flight 191 lost a DC-10 as the number one engine (the left one) separated form the plane just after takeoff, putting the plane into a roll from which the pilots were unable to recover. Inspections revealed that improper maintenance procedures were being done by both American and Continental, which lead to fines for both airlines. You can watch a National Geographic special on AA191 below.

Two other crashes happened later that year with Air New Zealand and Western Airlines, but those could not be blamed on the aircraft itself. But due to the high profile of the crashes, the public began to associate the plane with danger, and orders for the DC-10 slowed. Four hundred forty-six DC-10s rolled off the line, the last one in 1989. Its replacement, the similar MD-11, is still flying for KLM but is due to be retired later this year.

I'm glad to say I did fly on the DC-10 a few times. My first time was Houston to Washington DC with my dad when I was in Kindergarten, and my last was from Munich to Houston in 1997. For more info on the DC-10 and its history, I encourage you to visit airchive.com. Their in-depth coverage is excellent.

Actually, I did find myself getting nostalgic about the retirement of one plane — the Concorde. I never got to fly on the Concorde, and to this day, my Dad regrets missing the opportunity to buy discounted tickets as an employee within the industry back in the late 1980s. I was a summer camp counselor in Texas when the Air France Concorde crashed. That was the beginning of the end for that magnificent bird.

Why You Shouldn't Weep For Retired Airliners

Thankfully, I have set foot on a Concorde — at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. The interior is incredibly well-preserved. It's hard to believe that it has already been 10 years since the last Concorde flight, but a group in the U.K. is hoping to one day see her return to the skies. I'd love to see that happen.

Once U.S. airlines retire planes, they go to one of three different places. Ideally, they're re-sold on a secondary market. Many foreign countries with new or national "flag-carrier" airlines like to pick up used planes because they come cheap and are well cared-for. The other destination is the bone yard. The southwestern U.S. has a few such bone yards. At the bone yard, planes can either be stored for future sale, or they go straight to the scrap yard where salvageable parts are removed and the aluminum skin goes to the recycler to be potentially forged into beer cans.

You can read about that here.

So, next time you're drinking a canned beer - hopefully a craft beer — think of the places that metal has been. It's pretty amazing to ponder upon! Then make sure it's recycled again after you're done, so that plane can live on.

Top photo: Biman DC-10 by Deanster1983 -Licensed for Creative Commons Commercial Use

American DC-10 and Concorde photos by AeroIcarus on Flickr - Licensed for Creative Commons Commercial Use