Farewell to the MD-11

Mark Fetters/The Avion Newspaper
Mark Fetters / Staff Reporter

There is nothing more unusual in aviation than an aircraft with three engines. As the reliability of twin engine aircraft is at an all-time high, the need for aircraft with three engines is essentially nonexistent. On Oct. 25, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flew its remaining two MD-11 airliner jets for scheduled passenger service and I had the opportunity to be a part of this last flight. The party had started by the time I arrived at the gate. One could sense the excited anticipation amongst passengers (as well as melancholy) because this was the last flight for this type aircraft. KLM Flight 672 (named “Audrey Hepburn”) was to be the final flight for this particular MD-11, delivered to KLM in Nov. 1994. All of KLM’s MD-11s were so named after famous women (including a simulator named “Mary Poppins”). The plane would also fly with the 95th anniversary sticker for KLM. The festivities included a speech from the captain who noted that the reason for retirement of this fleet was to fly more fuel-efficient aircraft like the Airbus 330 and Boeing 787. The crew was very excited to have us on board as their special guests for a final flight.

As I boarded this majestic beast for the last time, I knew this would be a special flight. Before presenting the safety video, the purser told us to pay close attention as this would be the last time the video was to be played. After we were in takeoff position on the runway, all three engines roared to life and in no time flat we were airbourne. Later, the crew passed out champagne and deserts. While in the rear galley, I met a guy who showed immense dedication to the aircraft with having a tatoo of the MD-11 on his arm. Over the next hour, I talked to people from all over the world who made the trip just to be on this final farewell flight.

Before I knew it, breakfast was being served and we would soon touchdown. While on taxi, we had 10 airport operation cars escort us to the gate and upon arrival to gate D2, we were welcomed by a water cannon salute. The end of the flight marked the end of 80 years of partnership between McDonnell-Douglas and KLM. The MD-11 is a plane with many design flaws in aerodynamics and probably one of the most difficult planes to fly, but this design is one of my favorites with the tail mounted third engine. I will remember the final farewell flight for the rest of my life.