Another End of an Era – Farewell to the Boeing 767
by Assistant Editor Jay Selman
February 12, 2015 marked another end of an era at US Airways, as the company retired its last Boeing 767-200. While the airline was quick to point out that its merger partner, American Airlines, operates nearly 60 of the larger 767-300s, the final flight of the 767-200 represented the end of an era for US Airways. Following the general success of flight US 737, marking the retirement of the company’s last 737 Classic in August 2014, US Airways repeated the act with flight US 767, which operated from Philadelphia to Charlotte, and back to PHL.
The 767 entered the US Airways inventory through the merger with Piedmont Airlines in 1989. Piedmont received its first Boeing 767 on May 21st, 1987, shortly after the merger with USAir was announced. N603P was used to inaugurate the carrier’s first intercontinental service, between Charlotte North Carolina and London’s Gatwick Airport. Piedmont ordered six of the type initially, and after merging with USAir, another six were added to the fleet. Eventually, the 767s were used by US Airways in virtually all of its intercontinental markets. The 767 had the range to fly from Charlotte to Rome, Sao Paulo, and even Honolulu. Its common type rating with the 757 allowed the company to better utilize its pilots.
The Boeing 767 first went into service in 1982. It was the manufacturer’s first wide-body twin engine aircraft and was ground-breaking in several aspects. The 767 was the first Boeing wide-body to be designed with a two-crew digital glass cockpit. Cathode ray tube (CRT) color displays and new electronics replaced the role of the flight engineer by enabling the pilot and co-pilot to monitor aircraft systems directly. (A three-crew cockpit remained as an option and was fitted to the first production models. Ansett Australia ordered 767s with three-crew cockpits due to union demands; it was the only airline to operate 767s so configured.) Development of the 767 occurred in tandem with a narrow-body twinjet, the 757, resulting in shared design features which allow pilots to obtain a common type rating to operate both aircraft.
The 767 was initially flown on domestic and transcontinental routes, during which it demonstrated the reliability of its twinjet design. In 1985, the 767 became the first twin-engine airliner to receive regulatory approval for extended overwater flights. The aircraft was then used to expand non-stop service on medium- to long-haul intercontinental routes. Today, thanks to the concept proven by the ground-breaking 767, over 90% of the intercontinental airline flights are operated by twin engine aircraft flown by a two-pilot crew.
Above Photo: Assistant Editor Jay Selman prepares to depart on flight 767 on February 12 from Philadelphia bound for Charlotte.
Above Photo: Jay Selman. The morning departure of flight 767 from Philadelphia.
There was a low-keyed celebration at the gate in PHL prior to departure of US 767. Breakfast pastries were served and the gate agent boarding the flight made a short announcement explaining the significance of flight 767. We pushed back from gate A18 in PHL at 8:55 am, five minutes early (below).
At the controls were PHL-based Captain Scott Lesh (above) and First Officer John Hyde (below).
Above Photo: Jay Selman. Captain Scott Lesh and First Officer John Hyde in the cockpit of N252AU for the final day of revenue flights.
Flying “shotgun” in the flight deck jump seat was First Officer Jim Zazas (below). Jim and I go back a long way, and he is one of those guys we call an “Aviator” with a Capital A. He was in the second 767 class with Piedmont in 1987, and has been on the 757/767 ever since. In his spare time, he flies just about anything with a propeller, especially if it has the classification “Warbird.” From B-17 to P-51, Jim has probably flown it. His latest accomplishment was to get himself checked out in The Tinker Belle, the C-46 based in Monroe, NC. For Jim, this was a farewell to his favorite jet airliner.
Above Photo: Jay Selman. US Airways First Officer Jim Zazas.
I found it interesting that the flight was basically an extra section, added to the flight schedule approximately one month earlier, yet we departed PHL with every single seat filled. There were a significant number of aviation enthusiasts on board, but for the majority of the passengers, this was merely one more flight from Point A to Point B.
The flight was operated by N252AU, a 767-2B7 ER, msn 24765. 252 was originally delivered to USAir as N652US on May 25, 1990. It was the 308th production 767. From November 1993 until April of 1996, this aircraft was used on a wet lease program on behalf of British Airways, and flew in the British carrier’s colors during that time. Following the merger between US Airways and America West Airlines, the aircraft received its current registration.<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/119629568″>US Airways Boeing 767-200 N252AU departure from PHL on the last day</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user19954503″>Bruce Drum</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
Video: Jay Selman. The departure of N252AU from Philadelphia on the last day.
Our flight to Charlotte was uneventful, and following a well-deserved water cannon salute (above), we arrived at Gate D2 a little past 10:44 am. There, the company presented two cakes, decorated in blue and white, commemorating the retirement of the 767-200 (below).
Above Photo: Jay Selman. The crew of flight 767 poses with the two special cakes at the Charlotte turnaround.
During the nearly two-hour turnaround, I had a chance to chat with the lead Flight Attendant, Ellie Zalesky. Ellie told me that she began her career with Mohawk. “I’ve worked every airplane from the FH-227 to the A330, and the 767 was my favorite, hands down. I’m really going to miss her.” We had a chance to snap some souvenir photos prior to the final scheduled flight, and then it was time to head back to PHL.
Above Photo: The crew of flight US 767 poses with Boeing 767-2B7 ER N252AU on the ramp at Charlotte during the turnaround.
The return flight of US 767 pushed away from the gate in Charlotte at 12:27. It was markedly different from the first leg. The plane was less than 1/3 full, and this time, the majority of the passengers were hard-core enthusiasts and airline employees, much to the curiosity of the few “regular passengers” on board. There was a party atmosphere in flight, as we took time to enjoy the final flight of the 767-200. The flight attendants were surprised by the “enthusiast culture”, but quickly warmed to the occasion. Captain Lesh made a long announcement regarding the last flight of the 767-200, and its significance to US Airways, and commercial aviation.
Above Photo: Jay Selman. The cabin of N252AU.
I also had a chance to talk to another old friend, Bruce Clarke, who retired as a Captain on the 757/767. Of the 767, Bruce waxed poetic, “I don’t think that Boeing has ever built a sweeter airliner. She never put me into a situation that I could not easily get out of. With a service ceiling of 41,000 ft, we could get above a lot of weather…and other traffic.” (Shortly before he mentioned that, I looked out the window and noticed a CRJ900 cruising a few thousand feet below us). Clarke continues, “The CF6 engines put out plenty of power so even at max takeoff weight of 395,000 lbs, the 767-200 ER climbs effortlessly. The 767 has inboard and outboard ailerons, which gives her incredible agility. She is a very stable platform and cuts through turbulence like a knife through soft butter. I’ve flown the 707, 727. 737, 757, and 767, and the 767 was by far my favorite.” Clearly, everyone I spoke with who had flown or worked the 767 loves her.
Above Photo: Jay Selman. Back at PHL once again.
We arrived back at the gate in PHL at 13:46, about 20 minutes early. Most of us were in no rush to deplane. Instead, we lingered for just another few minutes, savoring what will probably, for most of us, be our last moments on a 767-200. After all, as US Airways removes its last 767 from the fleet, its merger partner, American Airlines, prepares to introduce the 787 into service.
The crew patiently stayed onboard to pose for final photos, answer final questions, and perhaps absorb those last few moments on the aircraft they love.
When Captain Lesh shut down the CF6s, N252AU had logged 100,813.48 hours, and amassed 18663 cycles, relatively few for today’s jet airliners. The airframe has plenty of life left in her, and, while nothing has been officially announced, there is an excellent chance that the 767 will be “re-purposed” in the near future.
As a postscript, a Boeing 757 scheduled to operate a round trip from Philadelphia to Charlotte later in the day developed a mechanical issue, and 252’s retirement was postponed for another few hours. The final round trip, however, was done with none of the hoopla reserved for flight US 767. As far as we were concerned, we were on THE retirement flight.
As one more side note, when sister ships 249 and 250 were officially retired from the US Airways fleet, they represented the last airplanes that flew for Piedmont Airlines. As an original “Piedmonter”, this fact was as significant to me as the retirement of the 767-200.
Above Photo: What will be the fate of ship “252”?