As promised, this is the follow up to Part I of my tour of Lufthansa Cargo. In Part I covered my visit to one of the warehouses and the cargo ramp where shipments and containers are prepared. Part II takes me onboard an MD-11 Freighter as she is being prepared for her flight to India.

For those of you unfamiliar with Lufthansa Cargo’s MD-11 aircraft, they are the workhorse of the fleet. Lufthansa Cargo currently has 18 of the type in the fleet and they are the favorite of their pilots. “Fast”, “Reliable” and “Strong” are all words that I’ve heard from Lufthansa Cargo pilots as they describe the MD-11, and as far as airplanes are concerned, you couldn’t pay an aircraft a nicer compliment!


MD-11 Statistics:

Length: 61.6 meters / 202 feet
Height: 17.6 meters / 58 feet
Wingspan: 51.8 meters / 170 feet
Landing Weight: 223 tons / 446,000 pounds
Takeoff Weight: 286 tons / 572,000 pounds
Maximum Cargo Weight: 95 tons / 190,000 pounds
Main Deck Cargo Capacity: 412 square meters/ 492 square yards
Lower Deck Cargo Capacity: 122 square meters / 146 square yards

Once past a security check point, I quickly found myself on the tarmac at Frankfurt Airport. It is easy to identify an MD-11 thanks to its distinctive 3rd engine that is integrated in its tail:

The third engine creates a distinct look

As my guides and I approached the aircraft, the aircraft started to impress with its size. This has been the closest I have ever been to an MD-11 and based on the size of my goose bumps, I must have been really impressed!

Pre-Flight activity underway 2 hours prior to departure for India

The following images show part of the process involved in loading the lower deck of the MD-11. The lower deck has a smaller capacity than the upper deck, and is loaded with smaller pallets and customized cargo containers. After speaking with my guides, I gained a new appreciation for the science involved in properly loading an aircraft. For each cargo flight, a “Loadmaster” is assigned to a flight and their responsibility is to ensure that the loading of an aircraft is done properly and safely. The loadmasters biggest responsibility is to ensure that the cargo is distributed in such a manner that an aircraft can operate safely and be within its performance thresholds.

A pallet is loaded on the lower deck

This gentleman is the Loadmaster and it’s his responsibility that the aircraft is loaded correctly.

Next, I was able to board the aircraft to get a very “first hand” look at the process involved in preparing the MD-11 for her flight. At this point in the tour, the term “Child In A Candy Store” came to mind. Short of firing up the engines and taking the plane for a short trip, there was nothing that I was not allowed to see or do while aboard the aircraft.

Climbing the stairs into the aircraft

Ground Crew awaits arrival of containers for loading

Once onboard, the capacity of the MD-11 freighter was obvious. The cavernous main deck can accomodate a tremendous amount of cargo and is equipped with powered and unpowered rollers to help the crew put the containers into very specific places on the aircraft.

In fact, if you pay close attention to the following photos you will see large bold letters in pairs on the fuselage. The letters indicate pallet locations on the aircraft. Think of it as a seat assignment for each cargo container. Prior to loading the aircraft the Loadmaster determines each pallet’s position on the aircraft, and the ground crew then follow his instructions to place each pallet in it’s appropriate “seat” on the aircraft. It was described to me as playing “TETRIS” but with weights instead of shapes.

Empty upper cargo hold – notice the large letters on the fuselage that I referred to?

As I mentioned earlier, loading of the aircraft is a complex process and must be properly planned for in order to ensure safe operation of the aircraft. Not only is weight distribution important, so is the order in which pallets are loaded. If you load beginning from the rear (as would be logical), you risk tipping the aircraft (there are plenty of examples of that on the internet). If you load too much weight on the wings initially, you risk landing gear damage. To help crews properly load and unload aircraft, large charts are present on the fuselage to help a crew when in doubt. These charts are not so much for Lufthansa crew since they are specially trained, but if you think about the places that this aircraft will visit during its flights there may be little guarantee that ground crews working on the aircraft in remote parts of the world would be as well trained as Lufthansa’s own staff.

Loading Sequence Chart

Unloading Sequence Chart

View through main loading door on port side of aircraft

Initial pallets come aboard – Loaded in forward section to weigh down aircraft

A pallet is remotely rolled into position

Another pallet makes it way to it’s “seat”

At this point in order to not become part of the cargo manifest, we moved out of the Cargo Hold and moved to the front of the aircraft where I was able to spend several minutes admiring the cockpit. The MD-11 is known to have one of the friendliest cockpits among all aircraft. It is very roomy by cockpit standards and has large windows for easier outside viewing by the flight crew. Additional, right behind the cockpit is a small galley area where the pilots can fix their meals and get their beverages (no flight attendant on Cargo flights!). Additionally there is a small crew rest area and 2 jump seats located just aft of the cockpit.

The MD-11’s Cockpit

After leaving the aircraft (the pilots arrived and wanted their cockpit back :)), I was able to continue to walk around the aircraft at my leisure so that I can observe more of the flight preparations. Spending a while longer just watching the process take place, it soon began to look and feel like a complex symphony of many different instruments rather than just the act of containers being loaded onto an aircraft. I certainly have gained a deeper appreciation for what is involved when a Cargo Jet is being loaded and prepared for its flight!

To learn more about Lufthansa Cargo please visit For great video content, please visit their dedicated YouTube Channel showing great video footage of their aircraft and in-flight operations. In addition you can find them on FACEBOOK and on Twitter: @LufthansaCargo .

Below are additional photos from around the aircraft showing various parts of the preparation. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Lufthansa Cargo for their fantastic hospitality and their granting me full access to their facility and aircraft. Truly a unique experience that will not be forgotten!

Loading of the MD-11 continues

Small rear cargo hold primarily for crew luggage and small items.

Fueling in process

Containers filled with sand to act as ballast when plane is empty and on the ground.