Today, Sunday (17OCT21), marks the end of the MD-11F era at Lufthansa Cargo. The aircraft, built in Long Beach by the then manufacturer McDonnell Douglas, has seen more than 20 years of service for the German cargo airline, which had up to 19 of the aircraft type in the fleet's heyday. With the landing in Frankfurt of the last remaining freighter, the D-ALCC, an eventful chapter in air cargo history is now closing for the company and its employees. To mark the occasion, CFG spoke to the former head of the fleet, Fokko Doyen, whose career is inextricably linked to the ELEVEN.
CFG: The MD-11F is history at Lufthansa Cargo. Are you sad?
FD: It's not a nice day for me, and certainly not for some of my other cargo cockpit colleagues. However, I already said goodbye to the ELEVEN on 17DEC20, after my last flight with the freighter from Atlanta to Frankfurt.
CFG: Looking back – how did you feel when you first sat in the cockpit of the MD-11F and took off in it?
FD: I actually sat in the cockpit for the first time in Long Beach, the “birthplace” of the MD-11 at the manufacturer McDonnell Douglas, in August 1998. At that time, I was retraining from the B747-200 to the ELEVEN in the simulator at Douglas, together with a captain who had participated in the test flights at the end of the 1980s. As expected, he had a lot of interesting things to say about the aircraft. During that time, we were able to go to the hangar where our planes were being built. It was really cool to crawl through the holes of a half-finished plane. And, of course, we also sat in the front left. I remember saying to my colleague, Wilfried Harink: “This will be the seat in which I retire”. I didn't actually believe it at the time, but it really happened that way. My last flight was with the D-ALCD.
My first scheduled flight took from MIA to JFK. I knew both airports well from my time on the B747, but preparing to land at night on runway 13L with the well-known Canarsie approach was exciting. My pulse was racing! It was, in fact, my first proper landing after the simulator training. However,... it all worked out.
CFG: The aircraft was the backbone of Lufthansa Cargo's freighter fleet for over 23 years. When the type was introduced, it impressed with much better efficiency than its predecessor, the four-engine Boeing 747-200F. In retrospect, would the B-400F not have been more suitable than the MD-11F? Cargolux or ABC opted for the B-400F (and later the B -8).
FD: This question often comes up and is also quite justified: why do the others fly with the jumbo and we don't? The answer, however, is also more than obvious: because of high operating costs, a jumbo can only be operated economically when it is fully loaded. Yet, Lufthansa Cargo could by no means ensure this on all routes. Seen in this light, the somewhat smaller ELEVEN was the better option.
CFG: Due to the mighty turbine mounted in the aft section, the aircraft is very tail-heavy and complicated to maneuver. What is your professional view on this aspect?
FD: There are two aspects to this:
1. Loading and unloading: due to the heavy Engine 2 at the rear, the danger of tail tipping is very high. Loadmasters have to be extremely careful to load and unload shipments in a very specific sequence to balance the weight. In fact, all cargo airlines that have had the MD-11F in their fleet have, at one time or another, put the plane on its tail. Thank goodness, we never did!
2. Operationally, the MD-11F is demanding. Besides its tail-heaviness, it is, above all, the high approach speeds that require enormous concentration. That's one of the reasons why I never lost my respect for this aircraft, nor my confidence in its performance, even after 23 years. This is also due to the many test flights after major technical checks, during which we always took the ELEVEN to its operational limits. There is no better way to get to know the aircraft.
CFG: What is the prevailing opinion amongst cargo pilots? Are there more outspoken MD-11F-“lovers” or, conversely, “objectors”?
FD: Generally speaking: There are many staunch fans of the MD-11 Freighter and few who never quite identified with the aircraft.
Yet, in no other fleet in the entire Group, have the pilots spoken so affectionately about an aircraft as cargo pilots do about “their” MD-11F. Sometimes, we received odd looks and were ridiculed with sentences like “it's just your work machine”. But no, the pilots have actually taken this aircraft much more to their hearts than pilots of other fleets, convinced sidestick friends of Airbus products, for example.
Many colleagues therefore stayed on much longer than originally planned. And some didn't even want to leave. Once ELEVEN - always ELEVEN!
CFG: The crash in Saudi Arabia in July 2010 was the most serious accident involving a Lufthansa Cargo MD-11F. Looking back, what is your opinion on this, and did the crash lead to any consequences?
FD: I remember the call from our operations management very well. I was at home, on holiday, when it came. I then immediately went to the company headquarters at Frankfurt Airport, and sat with the crisis team for days.
The problem, in this case, was that the D-ALCQ with 80 tons of cargo on board, had touched down extremely hard and jumped back into the air. In aviation parlance, this is called a "bounce". You don't necessarily notice this immediately in the cockpit of a large aircraft. In this case, the MD-11F touched down a second and even a third time. On the third touchdown, the g-force was so high that the structure could no longer absorb the g-load and broke apart. Thank God, the two pilots were able to leave the aircraft, which had caught fire, in time via the emergency slides.
The most effective action in such a situation is the go-around, i.e. take off again. This is still possible without any problems even after the landing gear has touched the ground, as long as you have not switched to “Reverse”.
The consequence for Lufthansa Cargo: It was made a requirement that a system be installed that indicates to the pilots “landing gear back in the air” after touchdown. A blue light then shines directly in front of the eyes of both pilots. However, this system did not exist at the time; it had to first be developed and tested.
CFG: Were there any critical situations that you personally experienced with the freighter?
FD: Not really, but unusual situations at times: weather that forced an alternative landing. Nairobi thunderstorm... with an alternative flight to Kilimanjaro Airport, for example. Or a horse that was supposed to fly to Doha, but “fell over” in the box right after take-off in Frankfurt, and couldn't get back on its feet... We landed in Munich, so that the animal could be rescued. If we had flown through to Doha, the horse would not have survived, the vets in Munich later said.
CFG: What special experiences do you associate with the MD-11F?
FD: A great many...
1. When it comes to attractive destinations and routes: Around-The-World flight (Tahiti, later Honolulu - Auckland - Melbourne ... ), or Quito. Our flights over the Pole to Fairbanks/Alaska were also special, to name just a few examples.
2. For me personally, however, the flights to Nairobi were always the best. Especially when they were accompanied by doctors, who stayed there for some time to work for our Cargo Human Care project, free of charge.
3. Particularly challenging and interesting, as I already mentioned, were the test flights after major maintenance checks.
CFG: The MD-11F played a central role in the project you are most passionate about: Cargo Human Care. What kind of role, exactly?
FD: “Cargo Human Care” (CHC), first came into being through Lufthansa Cargo's cargo flights to Nairobi and Jo'burg. I had the idea for the aid project to support orphans and found approval on the Cargo Board. This support has been maintained over all the years until today, has even been continuously expanded, and remains with us even now, although we are currently no longer flying freighters to Kenya.
I know from experience and many conversations, that for the CHC doctors and all the other volunteers, the flight with the MD-11F to Nairobi and back to Frankfurt, was always a special highlight.
CFG: Which was your most emotional, and which your saddest flight with the MD-11F?
FD: The last flight, ATL-FRA, was my most emotional flight, with a wonderful reception in Frankfurt and my farewell to retirement.
The saddest? The transfer of the Charlie Hotel to the storage area in Victorville, USA. It was the plane bearing the special CHC livery. That really got under my skin. But now there is a worthy successor in the form of the FOX INDIA Triple-Seven. Even with a picture on it that my wife painted.
CFG: And finally, what has the MD-11F given you personally, when you look back on your time as fleet manager, and up to your last flight in mid-December 2020?
FD: Clearly, these 23 years have been the most enjoyable and varied of my time in the cockpit. The nine years as fleet manager were, without question, very exhausting and busy, but, in retrospect, I wouldn't want to miss a single day of it. Then, on my 60th birthday, I decided to “just fly”, i.e. without any management function at Cargo. I have enjoyed these last five years as a captain, every single flight. Until the most emotional one of all: ATL-FRA with me at the controls and the ATC call sign “Fokko One”. But, we've already been through that...
CFG: Fokko, thank you for the interview.
On the occasion of the retirement of the last MD-11F Lufthansa Cargo issued this press release:
The last MD-11F leaves Lufthansa Cargo
The era of tri-jets within Lufthansa Group comes to an end.
On Sunday (October 17, 2021), a Lufthansa Cargo MD-11 landed at Frankfurt Airport for the last time. Flight LH8161 from New York (JFK) touched down ahead of schedule at 12:03 local time on Runway 07R.
This marked the end of commercial service of the three-engine MD-11F aircraft type at Lufthansa Cargo after more than 23 years. The aircraft with registration D-ALCC, also the last MD-11F registered in Europe, will now be sold to an American cargo airline.
"We are very grateful to our MD-11F fleet for over two decades of loyal service. We know that this particular aircraft has an incredible number of fans, throughout our colleagues at Lufthansa as well as among aviation enthusiasts worldwide. The decisive factor for the introduction of the MD-11F at Lufthansa Cargo in the late nineties was its significantly better fuel efficiency compared to the widebody freighter previously used. In the future, we will rely on the twin-engine Boeing 777F for the same reason," said Dorothea von Boxberg, Chairman of the Executive Board and CEO of Lufthansa Cargo.
Lufthansa Cargo took delivery of its first two MD-11 freighters (former registrations D-ALCA and D-ALCB) in June 1998, followed by the third aircraft in August of the same year and given the registration D-ALCC. In total, Lufthansa Cargo operated nineteen MD-11, including the last ever manufactured (former registration D-ALCN, serial number 48806, delivered 25 January 2001) and the last ever delivered (former registration D-ALCM, serial number 48805, delivered 22 February 2001) aircraft of this type.
The MD-11 freighter is 61.4 meters long with a wingspan of 51.7 meters and a height of up to 18 meters. It has a cargo capacity of up to 94.7 tons, divided into 26 positions on the main deck and up to 14 more on the lower deck. Lufthansa Cargo's freighters were powered by three General Electric CF6-80C2D1F jet engines, each with 273.57 kN standard thrust. The maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) was 285.99 metric tons, resulting in a range of 7,242 kilometers.
Since November 2013, Lufthansa Cargo has been gradually replacing the MD-11F freighters with twin-engine Boeing 777 freighters, which are much quieter and operate with lower emissions.
Author: Heiner Siegmund
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