Going Places - Across Central Asia
By Rodolfo Astrada
The mighty DC-10. It was 1987 when I had the chance to fly on it, Porto Alegre to Rio de Janerio. A short walk from boarding lounge to stair afforded close up acquaintance with the cavernous number 1 engine nacelle, the massive bulk of polished aluminum in the livery of now defunct Varig, looming tall on the tarmac. By then I was finishing my Private Pilot course and was flying either a Cessna 150 in the real world, or the - crude by today's standards - Sinclair Flight Simulator or early PC versions. Then again I was seduced rather by fighters than those lumbering trucks.
And here I find myself several decades later virtual flying the MD11, contemplating the Pamir plateau from a vantage point at FL360, bound from Almaty to Mumbai. This story started a few months ago by mere chance. Save for that initial DC-10 flight, and for having both DC-10 and MD11 models in my FS inventory for the sake of completeness, I had no particular interest in the big trijet.
The DC-10 has had a rocky history; high profile crashes tainted the brand, not fairly. Take the 1979 flight 191 O'Hare tragedy, because of what was later found to be an unauthorized engine replacement procedure, engine number 1 separated from the left wing on takeoff, resulting in fatal loss of control. This accident could not be blamed on design or any other DC-10 specific issue but to handling procedures in a way specifically advised against by McDonell Douglas. The 1989 Flight 232 crash may be arguably connected with a design issue. Uncontained failure of number 2 engine - the one at the back - severed all tail surface control lines. Against all odds and in what was later raised as an exemplary case of Crew Resource Management, the plane could be reined in and almost did it to Sioux City, crash landed at the last moment. Over half on board survived, which is remarkable under the circumstances. Vulnerability to loss of control due to catastrophic engine failure is not exclusive of DC-10's, all tail mounted engine jets like the B727 or private and regional jets are equally susceptible yet this is rarely an issue.
Back in the cockpit, we pass Multan, Pakistan's third largest city and over 6000 years old. I have made a point of looking whatever may come of interest below the flight path. Time and again I was rewarded with unexpected gems or just new knowledge.
Circumstances allowing, I will be sharing bits and pieces in future stories. As it was to be expected Multan, and more broadly the Punjab region, has been historically witness to persistent struggle. Being squarely in the middle of major conquest routes leading from Central to Southern Asia and a major entry point to India, warriors from Alexander the Great to later Muslim rulers have subjected inhabitants to all suffering to be expected when war knocks at the door. Today, Multan enjoys relative peace and is better known for its many Mosques and religious sites as well as for being an industrial and commercial center. Talking about the MD11, it was in mid 2016 that I stumbled across something unexpected, which led to what I am now sharing with you dear reader, hopefully drawing your interest. Like so many aviation nuts, I keep a regular eye with flightradar24 on whatever may be flying around my home city Montevideo, Uruguay. Flights arriving from a northern general direction and bound for runway 06 approach to Carrasco Int'l, usually pass above my house. So, whenever something interesting pops out, I go out to have a look. It was late afternoon, dusk setting in, when I spotted an unfamiliar GECxxxx callsign coming in. It was a Lufthansa cargo from Curitiba, an MD11, but what made it interesting was its previous scale, Dakkar... Out I went and up there it was, a shadowy outline against the darkening sky, gliding oh so stately down at about 5000 feet, landing lights and strobes ablaze. A distant yet deep rumble signaled this was not the run of the mill A320 or 737, but serious heavy hauling. A spell of mystery, of distant exotic places somehow was cast on me by this ghostly apparition, and sows a carving to learn more.
Some background now, beg your patience. Boeing made it first serious entrance to the transport airplane category in 1933 with model 247, a modern looking all metal twin radial engine plane. Affording 188 mph for 10 passengers, this retractable gear monoplane with a 740 mile reach was a big step forward from the staple 1926, 8 passenger and 107 mph Ford Trimotor good for 570 miles. Now, while this should make a good recipe for a passenger air travel revolution, Douglas happened to have a different idea, enter the DC-1 also in 1933 at 190 mph and 18 passengers with a 1000 mile range. Somehow Boeing did not seem to notice or to be able to rise to the challenge, not only that, the following year Douglas unveiled the DC-2 which entered service with KLM. While it was not much of an improvement over the DC-1, a KLM DC-2 entered second place (in front of ... a Boeing 247 piloted by legendary Roscoe Turner) in the McRobertson race London to Melbourne. Winner was a de Havilland Comet - history has those ironies - which delivered a tired, cramped Jim and Amy Mollison. KLM crew flew in shirtsleeves and tie, with ample room behind to stretch and relax. Then the DC-3 in 1936, up to 32 passengers, 207 mph (180 kt) and 1500 mile range, it is the classic airplane credited to have single-handedly invented the air travel industry.