The occasion of Charlie-Charlie's farewell was a dignified event, full of emotion and secretly shed tears, but also accompanied by a great deal of cheerfulness. “A bitter-sweet ceremony,” Boeing representative, Michael Haidinger verbally hit the nail on the head. 300 people, hand-picked Lufthansa Cargo employees - mainly pilots and technicians, as well as customers of the cargo airline, were invited to the official farewell event. CargoForwarder Global was the only invited press representative - a great honor! Thank you, Lufthansa Cargo.
There she stood, D-ALCC “Charlie-Charlie”, in Lufthansa Technik’s large maintenance hangar in Frankfurt. The cargo hatch swung open, bearing the inscription “Thank you” framed in a red heart. A
farewell forever. Gratitude, respect, and also a little melancholy gripped most of the 300 invited guests last Thursday (21OCT21).
The dignified ceremony marks the end of an era for the airline, its employees, and its customers. The ELEVEN freighters built by McDonnell Douglas were in service for Lufthansa Cargo for 23 years, 19 units in total at the fleet’s peak. Together, they covered 995 million kilometers, taking off and landing 230,000 times.
“She's a diva”
The aircraft was not easy to maneuver due to its tail-heaviness and high approach speed (see: https://www.cargoforwarder.eu/2021/10/17/exclusive-lufthansa-cargo-bids-farewell-to-the-md-11f/ ). She was therefore alternately referred to as Diva, Bitch, or Mad Dog (MD) by cockpit crews. The fact is that the ELEVEN has left its mark on an entire generation of pilots, including Fleet Captain Technical MD11, Markus Schwarz:
“I associate many experiences with the aircraft that I was allowed to fly for 14 years. The highlights were flight tests over Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, or triangular flights from Frankfurt to Seattle, from there to Los Angeles and back again. The flights along the U.S. West Coast were breathtaking when looking out of the cockpit, because of the scenic beauty. I will miss the ELEVEN very much. I realize that especially now when saying goodbye, as it triggers a wistfulness. It's a great plane. But that's how it is: one aircraft goes, another comes. Now I'm retraining for the B777F, the new backbone of Lufthansa Cargo's fleet.”
Pandas as “passengers”
In her brief speech, Dorothea von Boxberg, CEO of Lufthansa Cargo, began by highlighting the fact that the “family reunion” to mark the retirement of the MD-11 fleet was the first major gathering of her company's employees since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The occasion could not have been more dignified, she said. “This celebration is for you: the pilots, ground handling personnel, technicians, loadmasters, and, of course, our customers, who have continually filled our MD-11 fleet with shipments.”
She recalled the pandas flown by the MD-11F from Beijing to Berlin, “Charlie-Charlie” being used as an ambassador for the “Deutschland Hilft” [Germany helps] campaign on humanitarian missions. And she made a case for the successor model, the B777F, which is significantly quieter than the ELEVEN, consumes less kerosene, and enables Lufthansa Cargo to fuel the aircraft with SAF, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, Ms. von Boxberg looked to the future and set goals: “We have to become simpler and faster, think from the customer's point of view, make interfaces smoother, and act more sustainably.” A key component for this is the rollover from the MD-11F to the B777F.
An era ends
Regarding this final farewell, Jettainer CEO, Thomas Sonntag spoke of “images in my head that come up again when I see the MD-11F: for example, my flight in the cockpit of the MD-11F over the Amazon, or landings in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. The aircraft allows a panoramic view from the cockpit, which is one of the reasons why everyone I know who has flown on it, has always raved about the freighter. Today, with ‘Charlie-Charlie’ being taken out of service, an era is coming to an end. The freighter was wonderful.”
Leaf blower is no longer needed
Head of Lufthansa Ground Handling FRA, Mohammed Ali Seiraffi spoke of a “fantastic aircraft that flows like a red blood cell through the global veins of supply chains, helping to keep the world alive with its cargo. I've already experienced the farewell of the B747-200F, now the MD-11F. As handling people, a leaf blower was part of our inventory on the MD-11F, because if air freight pallets got wet during loading, there was a risk of water getting into the cable duct. And, as is generally known, moisture does not get along well with electronics. So, we blew the water off the pallets before it could do any damage. Now we don't need the leaf blower anymore, because the B777F has a rain drain installed.”
Bloemen voor Amsterdam
A great list of anecdotes immediately comes to mind when Alexander Kohnen is asked about his relationship with the MD-11F. He is CEO of time:matters, a subsidiary of Lufthansa Cargo. “As part of my job at Lufthansa Cargo, I was also responsible for Sales & Handling in the Benelux countries for some time. During this period, an MD-11 freighter, coming from South America and fully loaded with flowers, landed in Amsterdam (“bloemen voor Amsterdam”) for the first time. Incidentally, much to the annoyance of top local dog, KLM, which then took legal action against the flights, claiming a violation of traffic rights. Irrespective of this legal farce, it was a great feeling to see our MD-11 freighters periodically flying to Schiphol, until this was stopped by a Dutch court. I also vividly remember my very first flight on the MD-11F, from Frankfurt to Chicago and on to Houston. Over the North Atlantic, we had a race with a Canadian Air Transat A310. It had no chance against the fast MD-11F.
It is a pity that the era of the trijet ends with this aircraft; we will miss an aircraft of this size. Besides saying goodbye to the MD-11F, however, the positive news is that this farewell party brings people together again who were unable to meet during the corona period for precautionary reasons."
To Kathmandu without simulator training
Michael Kutner, a technical pilot on the MD-11F, wore a special tie from the early days. “There were only 150 editions of this tie produced for the occasion of the first delivery of the MD-11F to Lufthansa Cargo.” Exciting months followed, because at that time there was no simulator for training pilots on the cargo version. “Swissair, at the time, was very supportive of our training, along with Finnair, because both companies had the passenger version of the aircraft in their fleets,” he recalls. “We were then asked to fly the ELEVEN on one of its first commercial missions to Kathmandu, a difficult airport to approach. No MD-11F had ever landed there, so there were no flight manuals - simply nothing. We therefore approached the task step by step and got there safely.”
The farewell party ended with various video messages from the MD-11F's last stops, such as Chicago, Montreal, or Houston. A big event for the airplane at each final flight. Poignant images. At
the latest, seeing these pictures, some of those present furtively reached for a tissue. Farewell, MD-11F - take care / mach’s gut!
Closing remark. Charlie-Charlie’s “life” continues, albeit under a different registration and with a new owner. Once repainted, she will fly for Western Global Airlines, based in Estero, Florida. Their fleet already includes 17 other MD-11Fs.
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