A year ago today, one of Lufthansa’s most popular aircraft was officially delivered by Boeing and I was there to experience what is perhaps the highlight of my ‘Avgeek’ hobby.
On March 25, 2015 Boeing literally handed over the keys to Lufthansa’s 18th 747 and a small group of us took off from Paine Field in Everett, Washington and brought her home to Frankfurt. Since entering service she has been a huge favorite of passengers and avgeeks alike due to her unique paint scheme. To honor their 60th Anniversary, LH had ‘Yankee Tango’ painted in a livery that resembled what the 747 fleet looked like in the 1970s when LH began flying 747-100 and -200 variants. Later in the 1990s, the -400 model would begin to replace the previous version. In all, LH had at one time or another operated 4 747-100, 26 747-200, 31 747-400 (13 still in use), and now 19 747-8i model aircraft.
The delivery event had been overshadowed by the Germanwings crash they day before and it was even discussed that the delivery be postponed. Ultimately it was decided that the aircraft should go home as scheduled if for nothing else than to demonstrate some level of normalcy and to keep to the schedule that had been months in the planning.
Not exactly a routing that one sees often…..
Having a 747-8i to share with only a few people and having the ability to roam anywhere in the aircraft including hours spent with the pilots in the cockpit was certainly a one-off experience. In addition, since the Economy Class cabin was not installed since the seats were in Frankfurt, it gave the 748 a cavernous feeling. As a bonus, since we were flying a very northern route from Everett, I finally got to experience the Northern Lights as well. It was certainly a once in a lifetime event for me. Until of course LH starts to take delivery of their 777s…….
I share below the stories I posted that covered the delivery event in case you’d like to see what’s behind a Delivery Flight. I’ll also include links to my dedicated ‘Yankee Tango’ gallery on my Aero-Shots.com plane-spotting website that has ton of photos of the aircraft going through her very first test flights. Enjoy!
60 years ago today Lufthansa inaugurated service to New York when it started flying to the Big Apple from Hamburg. It was also the launch of Lufthansa’s long haul service.
LH even flew their Retro 747-8i, D-ABYT, to JFK today to mark the occasion.
Earlier today, Lufthansa released the following piece comparing the ‘Then and Now’ of their flight experience, including comparisons between dining, entertainment and cabin comfort. It’s an interesting read and has a few brow-raising facts that may catch your attention. A lot has certainly changed over the years:
Lufthansa press release June 8 2015:
When Lufthansa’s Lockheed 1049 “Super G” Constellation first took off from Hamburg, Germany for New York on 7 June 1955, it was not just the birth of the airline’s long-haul service, but also the start of six decades, and counting, of top-quality service for intercontinental air travelers. What began as two long-haul flights a week from Germany to New York, taking 20 hours for the trip (including a stop in Dusseldorf and a refueling stop in Ireland), has evolved and expanded over the years into the present 104 Lufthansa long-haul flights to 77 destinations worldwide, per day. New York is served six times daily by the airline, with today’s Lufthansa jets taking a mere eight hours for their journey from Germany to the East Coast. Lufthansa now offers no fewer than 32 daily services to the United States.
1955 vs. 2015: The Lufthansa Long-Haul Fleet, its Passengers and Capacity
With its four Super Constellations, Lufthansa carried 74,040 passengers in its first year of long-haul operation, with 18,420 of them crossing the North Atlantic. Today, Lufthansa’s long-haul fleet consists of more than 130 state-of-the-art aircraft, which carry more than 15 million passengers a year, more than two and a half million of them to and from the U.S. The seating capacity aboard has substantially increased as well. While that first 1955 flight carried just 20 passengers in First Class and 44 in Tourist Class and the Super Constellation had a maximum capacity of 86 to 94 seats, Lufthansa’s transatlantic flagships today – the Boeing 747-8 and the Airbus A380 – offer space on board for 364 and 509 guests, respectively.
1955 vs. 2015: 60 years of Lufthansa First Class
The 1955 flight to New York marked not only the beginning of Lufthansa long-haul travel but was also the debut of the air carrier’s First Class. In 1955 Lufthansa launched a luxury service by the name of “Senator”. The “Senator” services offered only eight First Class seats, 18 Deluxe seats and four beds, for a grand total of 30 passengers. Fast forward to today, and Lufthansa’s Premium product and service has only further improved with time. Lufthansa’s current onboard First Class product, which received a five star rating from Skytrax, features a seat that measures 6’9” feet in length and 2’7” feet in width. The seat also converts into a flat bed with an ergonomic mattress to alleviate pressure from shoulders and hips, and state-of-the-art blankets and pillows that regulate climate for enhanced comfort. Passengers receive pajamas designed by Van Laack and turn-down service is provided by flight attendants. The cabin is equipped with soundproof curtains and sound-insulated flooring to reduce noise. With just eight seats, First Class passengers are offered “privacy-on-demand” via an electrically operated partition that they can control. Furthermore, and as a first in the industry for commercial airliners, Lufthansa’s A380 offers an automatic air humidification system that provides more than 25 percent air humidity.
In addition to First Class, travelers on all Lufthansa services on the Frankfurt-New York, Munich-New York and Dusseldorf-New York routes can also choose today from three further booking classes: Business Class, the new Premium Economy Class, or Economy Class. In contrast to those early long-haul years when anyone looking to sleep on board had to specifically request one of the few “sleeper seats”, now, not only every First Class seat, but also every Business Class seat throughout Lufthansa’s current intercontinental fleet will be transformable into a totally lie-flat bed upon the completion of the corresponding retrofit program within summer of this year.
1955 vs. 2015: The Culinary Experience
On the culinary front, Lufthansa, already on its 1955 flight, stood out in terms of onboard catering. While other airlines catered their coffee from the ground and then brought it aboard in thermos flasks, the German airline was the first in the world to serve its guests coffee that was freshly-brewed on board and freshly baked bread rolls. Passengers on today’s Lufthansa long-haul flights can still look forward to gastronomic highlights. The carrier offers a range of 16 different meals on its long-haul flights that are specially tailored to particular customer needs. For flights from destinations specifically in the U.S., Lufthansa unveiled a new culinary concept in March 2014 created especially for the airline’s U.S. market. Four distinct, regional dining experiences celebrate the gastronomic styles of the 17 Lufthansa gateways located throughout the continental U.S., including the West (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle), Central (Dallas, Denver, Houston), Southeast/Mid-Atlantic (Atlanta, Charlotte, Miami, Orlando, Washington, D.C.) and Northeast/Midwest (Boston, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Newark, Philadelphia) regions. The menus, offered in First and Business Class, reflect the corresponding region where the aircraft is departing from and thus, Lufthansa is able to use locally sourced ingredients for a truly, authentic homegrown experience. Lufthansa’s top-notch meal creations are accompanied by carefully-chosen, award-winning wines.
1955 vs. 2015: Inflight Entertainment
In 1955, when passengers grew tired of gazing out the window, they would amuse themselves with the “reasonable amount of reading material” which they had been advised to bring on board, Lufthansa’s transatlantic travelers today can choose from 200 TV channels, 300 CDs, 100 movies in up to eight languages and a vast further range of series and audio books. And on top of all this, Lufthansa offers Flynet – its fast broadband Internet access for passengers to use while inflight, with their laptops and other mobile devices, by means of Wireless LAN on all its Atlantic routes. Lufthansa is the only airline to offer this service while flying over the Atlantic.
1955 vs. 2015: Air Fares
Air fares were different back in 1955, too. At the equivalent of approximately three month’s salary, the price of a transatlantic Economy Class ticket, back then, kept the experience of flying with Lufthansa as exclusive and only to a small and affluent circle of people. Today, a round-trip Economy Class ticket for a flight with Lufthansa to the eastern United States can cost as little as a third of a monthly salary. Currently Lufthansa offers a Frankfurt to John F. Kennedy airport roundtrip Economy Class ticket for as little as $660.
Part II will focus on the actual flight which amounted to approximately 9 hours of ‘Avgeek’ bliss. When else can you have most of a 747-8i aircraft available at your disposal to explore? I spent more than a few minutes playing with cabin lighting controls, galley equipment, and the like. Like a kid in the proverbial candy store……
One of the biggest and most obvious differences with this flight is the fact that the Economy Class cabin was void of any seating so it gave us a perspective that most will never have and hopefully my photos capture some of that. The two observations that come to mind is realizing just how big the 2 economy cabins are and the amount of curvature of the fuselage at the back of the aircraft. It is one thing to see the curves from outside the aircraft, its another to see the perspective from within cabin.
As I mentioned in Part I, approximately 70 passengers were aboard the flight and most of them were Boeing and Lufthansa personnel along with a few members from the German media. I believe I may have been the only American aboard the aircraft that represented the US Media (scary thought isn’t it?).
About an hour before the flight, the pilots and cabin crew boarded the aircraft to prepare it for passengers. In speaking with the cabin crew, it was the first time that any of them had been on a delivery flight so they were looking forward to the experience as much as we were. Their biggest concern was making sure that the Lufthansa hospitality would be the same as conventional flights. They would not disappoint…..
D-ABYT’s Log Books and Manuals were brought aboard with the flight crew.
With an open Business Class seating policy on the main deck, it was fairly a quick and efficient boarding process. As I mentioned in part I, the Boeing Delivery Center is considered an airport and we were required to pass security screening just as if we were at a typical airport.
Once passengers were seated, the cabin crew took over and proceeded to treat it like any other flight which included a choice of pre-departure beverages including champagne, water or juice and a small snack. Soon after the beverage service, the IFE played the familiar Lufthansa Safety Video, the aircraft was pushed back from the gate, and we would be underway.
Departing from Paine Field is obviously a very unique experience since it is unlike any airport that most people will ever see. Covering the ramp area are essentially billions of dollars of brand new aircraft, many who may have only flown once or twice as part of Boeing’s testing regiment to ensure air worthiness. In addition, there are several aircraft that are dressed in their ‘greens’ and have yet to have their engines started or be painted. It is certainly a one-of-a-kind place and any self-respecting aviation enthusiast should visit at least once.
As we were brought out the threshold of Runway 16, the ground crew did something that I’ve never seen before (obviously…). Most of you are familiar with the red ‘Remove Before Flight’ flags that are usually attached to points that require inspection before the plane can depart. In our case, the ground crew had removed all of these flags from ‘YT’ and had laid them out for the pilot to confirm that all flags were accounted for. These flags were then loaded on the aircraft and this specific set will stay with the plane for as long as it is in service.
D-ABYT’s personal set of “Remove Before Flight” Flags.
Boeing’s Ground Crew sends us off…..
Once we were under our own power, the aircraft entered the runway where we sat for a few minutes allowing the engines to come to temperature. Once cleared, we rolled down the runway towards Frankfurt and since I intentionally picked a window seat, I was able to record the departure.
How many departure videos from Paine Field have you seen from inside the aircraft? In the video clip below pay special at the 1:55 mark of the video…… our pilot executes a ‘Wing Wave’ much to the delight of passengers. Apologies for a few moments where the video blurs, I was paying more attention to the outside than to the view finder.
Once at cruising altitude, the flight really took on a unique flavor. The flight crew was quickly taking care of dinner service so those wanting to rest or work could do so quickly. The catering was provided by Boeing and I must admit it was very good. Considering that the aircraft’s galley equipment was not yet operational, insulated trollies were used to store the meals. We even had the option between Steak (which turned out to be Filet) or Fish along with a favorite local beer. I went with the Filet.
You don’t need bone china to enjoy a meal!
Once dinner was over, I would spend the majority of the flight exploring the aircraft and enjoying the company and conversations with Boeing and Lufthansa personnel. It turned into a valuable opportunity to network and gain insights that are not normally available outside the companies.
As I mentioned earlier being aboard this flight provided perspectives that most passengers will never have especially when it comes to having access to empty cabins and cabin equipment. Hopefully the photos will do their job and give you an idea of just how unique this experience was for me. I’ll end my words here and let the photos tell the story. I’ll come back with Part 3 that will look at various bits of outstanding swag that was given to us, along with what is possibly the best and most complete amenity kit that I’ve ever seen. Stay tuned!
Looking towards the rear of the aircraft in the rear Economy Cabin.
The Rear Economy Cabin. The rope down the center is there to hold on to in the event of turbulence.
Looking towards the front of the aircraft from the rear Economy Cabin. The curve of the fuselage is apparent without seats.
The ‘forward’ Economy cabin….notice the leg room? The front part of this cabin will feature the Premium Economy seats.
The upper deck Business Class cabin.
A pair of Ovens and Coffee Makers. Cost of the coffee makers? $12,000 each.
Having no seats to contend with, I had the opportunity to capture angles and scenes that would normally not be possible had the seats been installed. The following shots of the wing and engines would be difficult to take if seats and passengers were in the way.
I Even had the chance to witness the ‘Northern Lights’.
Capturing sunrise from the cabin. This angle would not be possible with seats in the way.
The engine is as much a piece of art as it is an engineering masterpiece.
Same engine, now at sunrise over the Atlantic.
The substantial curvature of the right wing is impressive.
On March 25 I was invited to take part in the delivery ceremony and flight for Lufthansa’s penultimate 747-8i, D-ABYT. What makes this 747-8i a bit more special than her peers is the fact that the aircraft was painted in a livery that was used on Lufthansa aircraft in the 1970s and 80s. In some circles, it is referred to a ‘Retro-Jet’ or ‘Retro-Livery’.
The timing of this delivery was designed to compliment Lufthansa’s 60th Anniversary Celebration event that was to take place on April 15 in Frankfurt, but due to Germanwings tragedy the event was cancelled out of respect for the loss of life in the crash. It is also because of the crash that I delayed publishing any content related to the delivery flight out of respect to the situation.
Lufthansa’s D-ABYT at Boeing’s Everett Delivery Center
Boeing’s crew puts the finishing pre-flight touches on ‘YT’
The delivery event at Boeing’s Everett Delivery Center had a muted and somber feel to due to the crash. Initially, plans had called for a ‘Ribbon Cutting’ ceremony on the ramp next to the aircraft to celebrate the occasion along with a bit of ‘pomp’. However, Boeing and Lufthansa decided to hold a much simpler ceremony indoors where the Captain of the delivery flight, Uwe Strohdeicher and Boeing’s head of their 747 program, Bruce Dickenson each signed a ceremonial Purchase Certificate during a Luncheon hosted by Boeing at the Delivery Center.
Capt. Strohdeicher speaks to the strength of the relationship that exists between Boeing and Lufthansa.
Capt. Strohdeicher and Bruce Dickenson ahead of the signing ceremony.
As I mentioned earlier, this delivery event was more special than what is typically involved for a delivery flight. Usually only a handful of people (5-7 including pilots) are on a delivery flight and they are usually airline or Boeing employees that are onboard to monitor the aircraft. For this event however we nearly filled the Business Class cabin on the lower level. Lufthansa invited several members of the German press to cover the event and Boeing used this delivery flight to reward some of their colleagues who had worked specifically on this aircraft with a 4 day trip to Frankfurt to visit Lufthansa and to take in the city.
You’re asking who sat in the 8 First Class seats? Boeing and Lufthansa awarded those seats to Boeing employees through a lottery selection. If someone pulled a piece of paper from a hat with a star on it, they sat in front. A nice gesture to recognize employees who worked from start to finish on ‘YT’.
Soon after lunch, we prepared to board the aircraft for the flight to Frankfurt which was handled like any other international flight leaving the USA. The Everett Delivery Center has 2 Gates that handle Boeing delivery flights and is technically regarded as an airport. Both gates are equipped with a security check point complete with TSA staff who X-ray luggage and screen passengers through metal detectors (and no, there is no Pre-Check lane 😉 ). After clearing security, your credentials and passport are checked to make sure you are authorized to be on the flight.
Once through the process, I was allowed to board the aircraft and was able to choose any available Business Class seat available on the lower deck. I was among the first 10-15 passengers to board, so it was easy to find a seat. I wound up sitting in 4A but I use the term ‘sitting’ loosely since I spent only an hour or so actually in the seat. For most of the flight I was simply ‘taking in’ the aircraft, inhaling that ‘new airplane’ smell, and enjoying the fact that we had open access to most of it.
I’ll end Part I at this point since I want to dedicate an entire post to the flight itself. In Part II, I’ll go into far more detail about the onboard experience including delivery flight dining, an economy cabin with no seats, the fantastic Boeing Swag Bag, and other bits and pieces from an amazing experience.