Lifestyle: Historic DC 10 makes her final flight from Birmingham

THE last commercially operational DC 10 aircraft has made its final flight. The airliner, operated by Biman Bangladesh Airlines, took off on a special one hour pleasure flight from Birmingham Airport before being retired. Duncan Tift from TheBusinessDesk.com was one of the lucky passengers to be on board the historic event.

As I make my way to the check-in desk I’m immediately aware that this is not your average pleasure flight. It is quite unlike any other I have experienced – and that sets the tone for the day.

The accents were more diverse than anything I’ve heard since a summer stroll through Stratford. There’s English – with its American, Irish and Australian derivatives – German, Russian, Chinese, Asian – even someone from Uganda.

Then there are our hosts, Biman Bangladesh Airlines, whose stewardesses are some of the most charming I’ve encountered anywhere. I know this was a PR exercise but the company really did its utmost to accommodate everyone and with such a diverse passenger load this was a challenging ordeal.

After the champagne and cake in the terminal to commemorate the occasion, the various passengers are bussed out along the taxiway to the waiting aircraft.

Then the fun starts. The aviation enthusiasts are like kids in a sweet shop, spilling out onto the tarmac and almost knocking each other over in the rush to get that all important photo.

They are 10-deep waiting to stand by one of the large engines, with ground crews in their high vis jackets roped in to be photographers for the occasion. Many of those embarking on the flight are proudly sporting tier commemorative caps and T-shirts, emblazoned with the legend “I flew the last DC 10” – more of this later.

Hardly ever before must the airport have experienced anything like this flight and for the hard pressed comms team it’s been a demanding day. Most UN peacekeepers don’t have to work this hard. But they remain steadfastly cheerful knowing the PR gains from the event will help to life the airport’s profile considerably.

My attention turns back to the passengers as they crowd around the aircraft. What a diverse crowd they are. To call them ‘Planespotters’ is doing them a disservice, they are far more than that. They are some of the most enthusiastic supporters of their chosen hobby you could ever wish to meet and they gleefully exchange tales about their recent experiences while eagerly awaiting their latest adventure.

Our friend the Australian has accompanied the plane all the way from the Far East and he’s not about to give up the chance to be the last person on board the last ever commercial flight of the DC 10 as he proudly gets out his Bangladeshi flag and holds it aloft like a jubilant football fan while another member of the ground crew is handed the camera.

For many of them it’s also the opportunity to grab their 15 minutes of fame as they are interviewed by the waiting press and TV crews, all eager to capture the moment for posterity.

My favourite has to be the guy approached by Ben Godfrey, the reporter from Midlands Today. While being filmed I hear someone chime up from behind me “What’s that guy doing talking to Ed Miliband; I didn’t know he was coming”. For those not aware, the BBC reporter bears a passing resemblance to the Labour leader.

Imagine therefore how disappointed the guy behind me was when he heard it was not the politician but a local TV reporter.

“Who?” responds the passenger, clearly puzzled.

But there’s no time for that because we’re ready for the off- or we would be if everyone was in their seat. Just as there must have been hundreds of thousands of times before there are people sitting in the wrong seat or have lost their boarding pass and can’t find where they’re supposed to be. All are greeted with a smile by the by now, long suffering cabin crew and eventually everyone’s seated ready for take-off.

As we start to taxi to the runway I look to my left and in the window seat is a passenger so palpably excited that he literally can’t sit still. Which is a shame for him because strapped to his head is a Go Pro-style high definition headcam filming the whole event for his records. He is an amazing study in dexterity because while filming the cabin he is simultaneously holding a video camera pointed out of the cabin filming the take-off. The concentration on his face is incredible and I marvel at his dedication but make no move towards him lest I disturb him and his world comes shattering down.

There is chatter in the cabin as we await final clearance. I hear one passenger, possibly German, possibly Dutch – it was difficult to hear properly say he’d been looking forward to the flight because his first ever flight had been in a DC 10 many years earlier.

There is also talk of the plane’s engine configuration and whether it is the best three-engine airliner ever to take to the skies. The consensus is that it probably is, although the old Tristar gets a few votes, at least from the Brits.

I look around and I can’t think when I’ve seen sick bags and safety leaflets more closely scrutinised; most eying them up for souvenirs once the flight is over.

I notice a few seats in front of me is radio presenter Janice Long and her presence quickly becomes apparent. In a former life she was a stewardess on DC 10s and when our hosts learn of this she is ushered to the front of the aircraft and asked to make the final address over the intercom, welcoming passengers on board and hoping they have a pleasant and memorable flight. She returns to her seat, clearly thrilled to have been asked.

Then we’re off and as the old girl takes to the skies one last time spontaneous cheers and a smattering of applause breaks out – normally what you get on landing after a difficult flight.

The plane banks to the left for a final flyover above Birmingham before turning north and heading for Scotland.

After levelling out, the seat belt signs go out and the excited passengers are up again, milling around the seats and thronging the aisles, talking to each other in excited voices.

It is frankly a rather ridiculous scene as grown men – and a few women – start pointing cameras at anything or anyone that moves, and in some cases doesn’t. Selfies are one thing but I can’t remember the last time I ever saw someone take photographs of a cabin toilet – or who was so clearly excited about it. Just one of the many strange things about this flight.

It’s a shame really that more aren’t looking out of the cabin windows because for one in this wretched winter, the sun is actually shining and the blue sky stretching out before us looks as though it was specially ordered for the occasion.
 
As I settle back in my seat I marvel about how much room there is on board – even for someone of my ridiculous proportions.

The scene unfolding before is getting increasingly more hectic. There are so many people milling around, bumping into each other trying to get that important picture it reminds me of some Moroccan street market. All we need now is some street vendor hawking souvenirs.

As if by magic, he appears. I’ll call him Billy Three Hats – the reason for which is obvious. He’s wearing three of the hats sported by the enthusiasts I saw earlier.

“Come along now, get your last flight souvenirs here. Hats, t-shirts, they’ve all got to go otherwise I’m out of a job tomorrow,” he chimes.

“Come along, now last chance ever to get you DC 10 commemorative hats and t-shirts. Please buy them or my family will go hungry.”

He sells some but most enthusiasts are too savvy. They are playing a waiting game, knowing that once the flight lands the price may be more negotiable.

After an hour of this we start to make our final – and it is final – descent into Birmingham. After a little coaxing, everyone returns to their seat and we await touchdown.

At precisely 16.17 the wheels hit the tarmac for the last time. The cheering is spontaneous, as is the  applause. Then as the old girl taxis around the perimeter of the airport – almost a lap of honour if you will – she is given a final send off with a guard of honour made up of fire tenders who deliver a traditional water arch salute.

As she makes her way to her final berth the mood of the passengers is subdued. They know they are now a part of history but it’s a hollow feeling knowing that an iconic machine has now passed into the annals and its like won’t be seen again.

But there’s still time for one last celebration as the pilots come back into the cabin to be greeted like rock stars with fans fawning over them, eager to hear their thoughts on the experience and pose for yet more photographs.

Then it’s over and the cabin doors are open and as I leave the plane who should I bump into but Billy Three Hats only he’s not. He’s bareheaded, clearly sentiment has outweighed commerce and he’s disposed of his goods. I depart, strangely happy to know that his family will now get a decent meal.

But the day has been the DC 10 and she is the ultimate star of the show. I just hope she was happy with her send off before her rather ignominious departure back to Bangladesh to be scrapped.

Not really any way to treat an old lady is it.