SEATTLE -- A Kalitta Air Boeing 747-200 delivers a soft puff of white smoke as the jet completes its second-to-last landing ever Thursday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. On Friday, the jet and its crew will shuttle the airplane back to Kalitta Air’s home base in Michigan, where the airplane will be retired for good by the cargo carrier.
In a time when the iconic jetliner has been disappearing from fleets across the globe at an astounding rate, another 747 biting the dust may not seem particularly remarkable. Yet this particular airplane stands out among the crowd: It’s one of the last airworthy 747-200s.
“I tell ya, this is a nice airplane. It’s old-school,” Capt. Scott Jaykl says during a post-landing interview aboard the aircraft.
Built in 1987, Capt. Jaykl’s jet was among the last "-200" variants of the 747 to come off the assembly line. The model was then replaced by the updated 747-400 in 1989, and the -200 variant -- which debuted in 1971 -- ended production completely a few years later.
Indeed, many of the features on the jet hearken back to the early days of the 747. The engines -- Pratt & Whitney JT9Ds -- look, sound, and perform much differently than the modern engines on today’s planes. The 747’s distinctive upper deck hump is smaller on the -200 than on the more common (and newer) -400 and -8 variants of the jet. For the pilots, well, there are a lot more buttons and not much in the way of automation.
“It’s a pilot’s airplane,” Jaykl says from the plane’s antiquated flight deck. “You have manual control over everything.”
The captain and his crew sit surrounded by a dizzying array of analog gauges, dials and knobs that seem plastered across every available surface space. Save for a handful of digital display panels added around 2010, virtually nothing has changed on the flight deck since the day it was delivered in 1987.
As for the rest of the jet, it was converted from its original use as a passenger plane for United Airlines to a freighter for Northwest Airlines in 2000, a transition that was especially common for older 747s. Kallita, a cargo airline, added the aircraft to its fleet in 2010, according to public records.
“It’s more work” than today’s largely automated airplanes," Jakyl says of the -200 variant of the 747, “but it’s a lot of fun."
So much more work, in fact, that the airplane still utilizes a third member of the flight crew -- known as a "flight engineer."