Good Bye to the F-27By Chris Knollmeyer
The following is an article by Chris Knollmeyer that originally appeared in the AirT Inc. Company Newsletter. AirT Inc. is the parent company of Mountain Air Cargo, which operated our F-27 before it came to the museum.
Friday January 30 marked a significant and somewhat sad milestone for Mountain Air Cargo. That evening N713FE, Mountain's last Fokker F-27 Friendship (Fokker's unique moniker is very appropriate), made its final revenue flight from Santo Domingo to Borinquen Puerto Rico. The next day, 713 made its way to Fort Lauderdale where it awaits its fate. As far as we know this was also the last flight of any civilian F-27 in the U.S.
The story of the F-27 is really the story of Mountain's beginnings as a 121 operator. The Fed Ex purchase of these aircraft led to our acquisition of a 121 certificate and subsequently, a great leap in our capabilities. [Part 121 refers to the rules and regulations that apply to large airline operations].
At its peak Mountain operated 22 of the type making us by far the largest F-27 operator in the world. The program started with six former Air Inter aircraft, N705FE through N710FE. These airplanes became known as the French variant and after conversion to a cargo configuration using our own STC, began revenue service in 1988. More F-27s followed, the next batch coming from Malaysian Airlines. N712FE through N722FE were converted and had joined the fleet by the end of 1991. About a year and a half later we got the last and newest variant; 1985 models from Air Wisconsin. These last six, N723FE through N728FE rounded out the fleet and were the only ones equipped with flight directors and autopilots.
For the last 20 years, Mountain's F-27s have ranged all over the eastern and central U.S, Canada, the Caribbean, and South America. Carrying millions of pounds of freight, the F-27 fleet flew with tremendous reliability in temperatures ranging from -20 in places like Minneapolis to +95 in Puerto Rico.
Now the transition to an all ATR 121 fleet is complete but to everyone who flew or worked on the F-27 it will be fondly remembered as an aircraft that was way beyond special.
During this period there were only a few misadventures, the worst being a harrowing in-flight fire on N715FE resulting in an emergency landing in Melo, Uruguay. 715 was damaged beyond repair but thanks to the skill of the crew and the strength of the airplane, no one was seriously injured.
No doubt the F-27 had shortcomings; it burned a lot of fuel, made a lot of noise, and wasn't very fast. In exchange however, it was reliable, stable, forgiving, and as tough as they come. Fly it into moderate icing and it would eventually slow a bit but that's about all. Additionally, viewed in flight with the gear up, it was quite beautiful.
Remembering the F-27, pilots and mechanics will undoubtedly smile whenever they recall the painfully loud whine of her Rolls Royce Dart engines, the hissing pneumatics, and the impressive sight of flames blowing out the stacks on nighttime engine starts.
In all, Fokker built around 600 Friendships between 1958 and 1985. Fairchild Aircraft in Hagerstown, Maryland also built another 207 under license in the U.S. Our F-27 heritage is preserved at the Hickory Aviation Museum where N705FE (ironically, our first F-27) has been graciously donated by Fed Ex and is living out a happy retirement as the only civilian airplane in the collection. Sitting between the F-14 Tomcat and F-5 Tiger, visitors approach and constantly refrain:
"Can we go in the FedEx plane?"
Of course you can. What an airplane.