Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Aerial Recycling


An airliner in the backyard makes sense (almost)



DREAM HOME! A retired Boeing 747-200 was cut into sections and airlifted by Chinook for Francie Rehwald's Wing House. The 125x45x7-foot wings serve as rooftops.
For the last six months or so, every time we'd taxi out, my eyes would drift to one end of the jet ramp, and linger on a Falcon 10 that has been there for quite a while. To my eyes, the littlest Falcon is the F-86, the P-51 of the corporate-jet world. Although sorely outdated (last built in '89), it's one of those airplanes that have no bad angles: No matter how you look at it, it's pretty. And guys who fly it say it flies as good as it looks.

I look forward to that little glimpse of aerial art to brighten my day. Then last week, I found trucks, cranes and mechanics clustered around it like mechanical maggots devouring a carcass: They were dismembering it before my very eyes! I was horror-struck!

Over the next week, it was as if I was watching one of those stop-action movies, where we see a building being built in two minutes of freeze frames: Every time we'd taxi past, another piece would be missing. It was indescribably depressing.

It seems impossible that an airplane that's so capable is, in today's market, worth more in parts than as a flying airplane. I don't know the particulars of this specific airplane, but a month later, another Falcon 10, this one obviously an older model, suffered the same fate in the same location. At that point, I realized that even pretty jets are doomed, if they burn too much fuel and don't have state-of-the-art cockpits. A pure-jet aircraft is doomed in a turbo-fan world.

The Falcon 10/100 isn't alone. A quick run through Trade-A-Plane shows older Lears, Jet Commanders, Saberliners and the like selling for as little as $300,000. They've been overtaken by technology, and it would cost too much to bring them up to speed. Lots of airplanes of this type now are sitting on the back rows on local ramps, along with oxidizing Cessnas and ancient cabin-class twins that can't find an owner.

In an odd bit of timing, as the Falcons were dissected before my eyes, I received an email invitation from a reader to come fly his recently restored Lear 23, and I had to laugh: We've reached the point when we might see restored Lears, Jet Commanders and even four-star JetStars (first flown in '57) parked in the grass amidst the restored Tri-Pacers and straight-tailed 182s at Oshkosh. The times definitely are a-changin'.

Out here in the desert, the dead-airplane thing is always in our face, because we have lots of airports where all types of airplanes, especially airliners, patiently wait for their turn in a salvager's smelter. When I see those, I invariably have the same thought that I had as I watched the poor little Falcon coming apart: If they gave it to me, what would I do with it?



Labels: FeaturesPilot Talk

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