CNAC reunion features surviving WW II pilot, C-47/DC-3

This past weekend we attended a reunion of two of the living pilots, descendents, friends and interested public of the China National Aviation Corp. at the San Francisco International Airport.

We did a detailed write-up for CNN.com. This story and some photos are here.

There was a lot that didn’t fit into the CNN article, for space and for the thrust of the article. In a departure from our usual aviation coverage, we’re sharing the experience below.

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Throwback to the 1930s

This weekend we’re heading to San Francisco in style–1930s style. We will be on the Historic Flight Foundation’s Douglas DC-3 from Everett Paine Field to SFO for a reunion of the China National Aviation Corp., CNAC, including a 100-year old veteran of the airline.

We’ll be on HFF’s DC-3, the only surviving CNAC plane, which is today painted in the colors of Pan American World Airways from the era. PAA owned a piece of CNAC before World War II.

This Douglas DC-3, owned by the Historic Flight Foundation, was operated at one time by China's CNAC and later as an executive aircraft. It still has the executive interior and panoramic windows of the executive configuration. Photo by Gail Twelves.

This Douglas DC-3, owned by the Historic Flight Foundation, was operated at one time by China’s CNAC and later as an executive aircraft. It still has the executive interior and panoramic windows of the executive configuration. Photo by Gail Twelves.

The plane eventually became an executive transport and the executive interior is still in it.

The flight will be about four hours each way. This will be the third time we’ve taken a ride on the aircraft, and this will be the longest. Previous rides were an hour long.

Look for our report from the trip on CNN.com, International, Travel next week as well as some additional information here.

An alternative air show

The Farnborough Air Show got all the headlines this month, but we went to a small air show in Everett (WA), right at Paine Field, where Boeing dominates.

The Historic Flight Foundation is the brainchild of John Sessions, who has put together a private collection of all-airworthy airplanes. It’s also near by the Paul Allen (yes, the Microsoft Paul Allen) collection of airworthy airplanes at the Flying Heritage Museum and across the field from the restoration center of the Museum of Flight, which is at Boeing Field.

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Farborough Air Show, July 16: Snipe hunts in an era of model improvements

  • Upate, 5:30am PDT: The Wall Street Journal has an article that is more or less on point to the theme of this post.

It doesn’t matter what the competition does, it’s always inferior–until you do it yourself.

The continued, and tiring, war of words between Airbus and Boeing throughout the decades is monotonous and self-serving. If you step back, it’s also amusing.

Consider:

  • Boeing constantly dissed the Airbus concept of fly-by-wire–until ultimately adopting FBW in its airplanes.
  • Airbus dismissed twin-engine ETOPS of the 777 while promoting four-engine safety of its A340–until evolving the A330 into a highly capable ETOPS in its own right.
  • Airbus put-down the 777X, saying the only way Boeing could make it economical was by adding seats…which Airbus has now done for the A330-900 to help its economics.
  • Boeing ridiculed the idea of a re-engined A320, but then had to follow with a re-engined 737 MAX due to the runaway success of the A320neo.
  • Boeing ridicules the A330neo as an old, 1980s airplane–neatly ignoring the fact that the 737 and 747 are 1960s airplanes.
  • Airbus still calls the 777/777X/787 a “dog’s breakfast,” though we know some dogs who eat pretty well.

And so it goes.

The fact of the matter is, however, that minor and major makeovers of existing airplanes have long been a fact of life, maximizing investment and keeping research and development costs under control. The Douglas DC-1 was the prototype for the DC-2, which begot the DC-3. The DC-4 (C-54) begot the DC-6, DC-6B and DC-7 series. The Lockheed Contellation was reworked from the original L-049 through the 647/749/1049 (in various versions) and finally the 1649.

Then came the jet age, with vastly more expense, and model upgrades became the norm. The sniping today between Airbus and Boeing goes unabated in an era of historical model improvements.

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Odds and Ends: Gooney Bird; UAV helicopter

Gooney Bird: Britain’s The Economist has an interesting look back at The Gooney Bird, one of the affectionate names of the Douglas DC-3.

Any aviation enthusiast knows the DC-3 has a unique place in history, a description that is often over-used but which is true in this case. The feats, particularly during World War II, are legendary. The plane has been withdrawn from service in all of Europe (the article explains why) but remains in operation elsewhere in the world, including here in the United States.

A Super DC-3 at Opa Locka Airport in Miami in 2011, still in use then. Photo by Scott Hamilton

A Super DC-3 at Opa Locka Airport in Miami in 2011, still in use then. Photo by Scott Hamilton

After WW II, Douglas tried to breath new life into the airplane, creating the Super DC-3, with a square tail, wheel covers, a small fuselage stretch and more powerful engines. Capital Airlines bought a small number (three, if memory serves) but with cheap, surplus DC-3s left over from the War and modern competitors in the form of the Convair 240 and Martin 202, airline sales were a bust. The Navy bought a fair number.

Unmanned Helicopter: Sikorsky has entered the unmanned helicopter business to provide the military with heavy lift capability at no risk to the troops.

OEMs are ramping up services as profit centers

Original Equipment Manufacturers are ramping up their focus on services to increase these as profit centers for company financial performance.

The news April 10 that Boeing will relocate its Commercial Aviation Services unit from Seattle to its fading facility in Long Beach (CA) is another example. After-market support services for all DC- and MD- models and the out-of-production 7 Series airplanes previously were relocated to Southern California. Now, support for the in-production 7 Series (except the 787), the 737-based P-8A Poseidon and the forthcoming KC-46A will shift to SoCal. The 787, 737 MAX and forthcoming 777X support will be in Seattle.

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Odds and Ends: Looking ahead in 2014; Boeing letter to Machinists; TWA retro choice; Screw it, let’s do it on Virgin [plane]

Looking ahead in 2014: We wrote this outlook for 2014 for CNN International Travel.  More seats, more fees, quieter year.

IAM 751 members vote Friday on the ‘777X contract.‘ Here is a letter dated December 27 from Boeing to the Machinists making the case to vote for the contract.

It is the TWA Twin Globe livery that is the clear choice by our Readers for American Airlines to select for a retro livery.

Source: Photobucket.com. Convair 880

TWA’s last livery was a distant second. (We didn’t particularly like this design.) The design should probably go on an MD-80, the derivative of the DC-9 on which the Twin Globes livery appeared.

Source: Ed Coats Collection. Douglas DC-9-15.

Which TWA livery should join American Airlines’ fleet as the “heritage” airplane?

Answer Votes Percent
Boeing 707 Twin Globes Livery 944 53%  
Final Blue/Red/Gold Livery shown on Boeing 757 427 24%  
Red Stripe, Solid Tail Livery shown on Boeing 747 165 9%  
1950s Livery seen on Lockheed Constellation 158 9%  
Boeing 707 Delivery Livery (no Twin Globes) 56 3%  
Reverse Red livery shown on McDonnell Douglas MD-80 23 1%  

In other news and irreverence:

  • Today is the last day to vote in our polls concerning the IAM-Boeing ‘777X Contract.’ We’ll post the results before the machinists begin voting on Friday.
  • Aspire Aviation has a long profile on the 777X here.

Ultra Long Range Airplane market will limit 777-8 sales

A limited global market for Ultra Long Range Airplanes (ULRA) will limit sales of the Boeing 777-8.

The Boeing Board of Directors is expected to green-light the 777X program this month, with two versions of the airplane: the 350-passenger 777-8 and the 406-passenger 777-9. The 777-8 will have a range of about 9,400nm and the -9 a range about 1,000nm less.

The 777-8, an Ultra-Long Range Aircraft, is known within the industry as “Tim Clark’s airplane.” Clark is the president of Emirates Airlines and for years has been urging Airbus and Boeing to develop a plane with ultra-long range that can fly from Dubai to Los Angeles with a full payload. The absence of this ability is one reason why he has not purchased the 747-8I.

Reaction to the 777-8X in customer meetings sponsored by Boeing has been tepid. The 777-8X has been viewed as a niche airplane that will not compete effectively against the Airbus A350-1000, which nominally carriers 350 passengers but has a range of about 8,400nm.

Customer reaction, we are told by some of those in attendance at these meetings, has been that the 8X is a highly niche aircraft that will be needed on only 5% of the world’s routes. It will be too heavy and too costly for most operations, and uncompetitive with the A350-1000.

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China’s closed airspace hasn’t changed much in 20 years

China’s military continues to so control–and close airspace–in China that delays are rampant, this AP story reports. We’re reminded on the era when we were doing business in China, going there nine times in a 4 1/2 year period from December 1988-mid 1993.

Visiting a number of airlines there, one of which was operated by the military, along with CAAC, CASC and the McDonnell Douglas Shanghai factory, we were struck by the low aircraft utilization: only six or seven hours. Western standards were 10 or more. Even then, we were told, the military control of the skies was a key factor. The low utilization rate then clearly contributed to the need to buy more airplanes to meet traffic growth than was necessary. We haven’t seen any data on today’s utilization rate, but we have to believe this nexus remains.

Flying Chinese carriers then was pretty alarming at times. A ramp worker smoked while refueling a plane, with the refueling connection spraying fuel on the ramp. Carry-on baggage was in the aisle on take off. A person was in the lav on take off. We’ve read some stories in recent years that suggest not much has changed.

Back then, getting into China had limited options. We flew to Tokyo and pretty much had to take Air China into Beijing. A direct air route would go over Korea. We couldn’t go through North Korean air space and apparently flying over South Korean to China was then forbidden, so we had to route south around the Korean peninsula, adding a great deal of time to the flight.

The McDonnell Douglas Shanghai factory was primitive even by standards of the day then, well before robotics and moving production lines. The factory was producing one MD-80 a month and the planes were essentially hand-built. This antecedent might be why the MD-80-looking ARJ21 is having such difficulty. The factory drew so much power that parts of Shanghai went brown-out or black-out during the day, an issue presumably long-since overcome in the Shanghai power grid.

The MD-80 plant was supposed to be MDC’s “in” to gain market share. While selling something like 40 MD-80s/90s (if memory serves) to China via this plant, the venture clearly was a failure and the Chinese used the operation to learn a bit about commercial aviation. Embraer had an ERJ plant in China for the same purpose, and likewise came up short of its goal while the Chinese benefited more. The Airbus plant in Tianjin seems to have been more successful, but we don’t think it’s coincidence that the COMAC C919 looks a lot like the A320.

Not from the Paris Air Show: Move Over; riding in a DC-3

In a week dominated by Paris Air Show news, we have a couple of unrelated items.

We saw this car in a parking lot and couldn’t resist taking a picture. Note the writing on the windshield and how it would be legible in your review mirror as the car comes up behind you.

Porsche.

And then back to aviation, we took a ride in the ex-Pan Am DC-3 over the weekend. It’s owned by the Historic Flight Foundation in Everett (WA).

PA DC-3

Photo by Scott Hamilton

PA-DC-3_2

Photo by Scott Hamilton