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INAUGURAL FLIGHTS - THE MD-11 & BOEING 777

MCDONNELL DOUGLAS MD-11

I'm an airplane nut and one time while passing through Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta I noticed what looked like a new Delta DC-10 parked in front of their maintenance hangar.  But wait a minute!  Delta hadn't flown DC-10s for years!  Upon more careful inspection as we taxied by, it had winglets.  It was a brand new MD-11!  It had not yet entered service.

I called Delta's PR people in Atlanta after getting home in Tampa and found out when this thing would make its first flight. 

Turns out the inaugural flight would be the first regularly scheduled service for this new aircraft type and the flight would originate in Orlando and head for Tokyo Narita with an intermediate stop in Los Angeles.  I did not have the time to fly all the way to Japan so I booked my son and myself on the first leg from Orlando to LAX.  No preferential media treatment on this one.  I went at my own expense but it was well worth it.

Arriving at the Orlando Airport the place was all decked out in special Japanese decorations to celebrate the inaugural service.  The Japanese Ambassador was there and it was a big deal.  One guy who looked vaguely familiar approached me and told me that he was a frequent commuter between Orlando and Los Angeles and he asked what all the hoop-la was all about.  I explained that this was the introduction of a brand new aircraft type.  We got to talking and I kept thinking to myself:  "I know this guy but who is he?"  As we talked he asked where I was from and I told him Indianapolis.  He was amazed because he had grown up there, too.  He asked where I went to high school I told him North Central.  His eyes lit up.  He, too, had gone to North Central!  And then he introduced himself to me.  It was Mark Summers from Nickelodeon TV "slime" fame.  Later he would go on to host and produce shows on the Food Network.  Anyway I had booked the flight so far in advance that my son and I sat in first class.  Mark had to settle for business class and was curious at how we had scored first class!

The flight was great and we all got inaugural first flight certificates.  And the flight deck crew signed them for us.

BOEING 777 "TRIPLE 7"

I watched with great anticipation as the Boeing 777 went through its various trials and tests and kept a close eye (thanks to the help of United's public relations department) on when the inaugural flight would take place because I wanted to be on it!

Finally a date was set for the first flight.  It was to originate at London's Heathrow and fly to Washington Dulles and then continue on to Chicago O'Hare.  Unfortunately the timing was bad for me.  This was during a key rating period at my radio station and I could not get time off to fly to London and catch the Triple-7 on its maiden leg to Washington, D.C.  I could, however, catch this jet in Dulles and fly it to Chicago.  So I booked two first class seats for my wife and myself.

We flew on the second segment of the world's first regularly scheduled Boeing 777 service. Ironically it was flight 911.  Who knew -- back then?

We flew from Detroit Metro to Dulles on an elderly Northwest Airlines DC-9-30.  They had remodeled the interior and it was nice.  When we took the mobile transfer lounge to the United Airlines wing it was obvious that something big was happening!

There were ice sculptures all over the place with the "Triple-7" logo everywhere.  They even had bands playing.

I was surprised to see two United 777s pull up to the gates there.  But these weren't "the official" first flight.  That one was still on the way from London.

A huge gathering of press people started to assemble at the gate in anticipation of the arrival of the brand new jet.  Reps from Boeing were there, Pratt & Whitney engines, etc.  All of United's top brass were there with the exception of the airline's president.  He was aboard the inbound 777.

The captain who was going to pilot our 777 from Dulles to O'Hare proudly shook the hands of waiting passengers and passed out business cards.  On the front side was a picture of 777 along with his name.  And he autographed the backside.

When the jet taxied up to the gate the crew from the ABC Today Show exited.  They had been on board.  The president of United quickly cleared immigration and customs and raced to the gate area to talk to the gathered press.  I interviewed him and he related a funny story.

Back at Heathrow a huge crowd of media members had shown up at the airport for the send-off.  United's president told me one woman came up to him and asked him:  "What's all the fuss about?  Is the Queen here or something?"  He said when he told her the excitement was over the first 777 flight she brushed it off as a real let down!

We boarded the plane and quickly removed the emergency instruction card.  I know we shouldn't have done that but we wanted it as a memento and we cleared it with the flight attendant.  The crew knew a lot of people would do the same thing so they were armed with a boat load of extras.

The flight was smooth in this brand new aircraft and we got a bonus.  Due to bad weather in the Chicago area, we stayed up about :45 minutes longer than anticipated.  While this was fun for me it did make for a mad dash for our connecting flight back to Detroit.  We almost missed it.  I remember that flight well, too.  We had gone from a luxurious first class seat on the 777 to a dirty, old, and frayed cabin of a United 757.

All passengers on the inaugural Triple-7 flight got a nice first flight certificate which, along with the MD-11 certificate, hangs in my aviation shrine at my home.

We didn't have the time to get on the first A380 flight, unfortunately.  But we'll experience it sooner or later.

 

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