Monday, January 17, 2005

End of an Era...

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines today celebrated the final flight of its last remaining 737-200 airplane, N95SW.  The flight, an invitation-only affair made up of 95 Southwest employees (including chairman Herb Kelleher) took off from Love Field this morning and flew a lazy route south over Waco before returning to Love an hour later.  To commemorate the importance of putting the -200 to "bed," all 95 passengers were dressed in special pajamas.

Gotta love Southwest.  You'll never see United do that.

Southwest began operations in 1972 with a handful of then-brand new -200s. Five-Sierra-Whiskey was delivered new to the airline in May 1983, and was one of the last "old-model" 737s delivered to Southwest before the introduction of the much-improved -300 model in 1984 (today, the model is up to the -800 "Next Generation" series, although all new Southwest aircraft to-date are of the -700 variety.)  

Some trivia:

---Southwest -200s were painted in the 80s-vintage "Desert Sand" color scheme--- yellow, orange, and brown--- except for one: N96SW was accidentally painted in the new "Canyon Blue" livery (blue on top) after a memo from the fleet operations supervisor called for the wrong aircraft to be repainted.   By the time the mistake was caught, the repaint was almost complete, and so it stayed. 
That supervisor, incidentally, was not fired. 

--- -200s are easy to spot on the ramp at any airport, with their long, thin, unpainted Pratt & Whitney engine nacelles under the wings (as opposed to the much-wider, oblong body-color CFM56 turbofan engines on the -300 and above.)  These nacelles almost always proclaim "Boeing 737" on their sides.  Those P&W engines also have a far louder, much more mechanical "popping" sound when spooling to full throttle, versus the comparatively smooth (and not quite so loud) turbine scream of the CFMs. 

---In the past few years, -200 were mostly relegated to Southwest's intrastate routes in order to place the larger and more efficient -300s on the longer interstate routes.  Now, -700s will gradually phase out the older aircraft, although this process will take several years.
---All Southwest 737s have identical cockpits.  Southwest orders all their new aircraft with the traditional "steam gauge" instrument panel, as opposed to the newer glass-screen instruments common today on new commercial aircraft.  This was done so that a pilot rated to fly a -200 could step into the cockpit of a new -700 and fly the aircraft with a minimum of additional training.

---For all the ceremony, this will likely not be the last time that a -200 flies for Southwest.  With their recent acquisition of many of ATA's assets, Southwest will now "code share" flights on ATA aircraft into several new markets.  These markets will be served by ATA's 737 fleet, in that airline's livery, and many of those aircraft are -200s.  Today did mark the final time a -200 in Southwest colors will fly, though.

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