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Interview with Finnair MD-11 pilots

As I wrote in my previous blog post, I sometimes write letters to the cockpit crew en route to ask random questions about the aviation. Few weeks ago, I was once again hopping from Helsinki back to New York, on board of my favorite jet, the good old MD-11. Since Finnair is gradually replacing these glorious planes with new Airbus jets, I felt it would be appropriate to ask the pilots how they feel about this change.

So here is my mid-air interview with the pilots. The interview was done in Finnish language using this weird letter exchange method. The pilot answering the questions granded a permission to publish the interview but asked to remain anonymous.

Picture 1 Greetings! During the last few years, I’ve been fortunate to get MD-11 ride quite frequently, and today I’m again returning to the home in New York.

I’m a big fan of MD-11 jet, and I have hobby of following aviation related things such as commercial aviation business. This flight may be one of the last ones with MD-11 (not knowing exactly when Finnair replaces MD-11s in Helsinki-New York route).

So I thought to ask what are your feelings now in the end of MD-11 era; to give a small interview. I understand if you are busy there in front, but I’d be grateful to hear your thoughts.

Myself: How does it feel? MD-11 is one of those historically important passenger jets, although a bit unknown to the great public compared to the Boeing 747.

Pilot: McDonnell had good engineers but lousy sales guys. The sales numbers were rather low with these good and powerful jets (couple of hundreds). Cargo companies are now trying to acquire every piece they can. Back then, Finnair made a good choice.

M: How is the MD-11 to fly compared to, for example, the Airbus 340?

P: Every Airbus feels the same to fly. First Officer has flown a small Airbus. He thinks in a high wind situation the yoke is good (not the side stick). I think this is a grand plane to fly. Go steadily as a train, partially thanks to the tail engine. Landing requires bit special technique. When executing a flare, right above surface you need to reduce the nose-up attitude.

M: What kind of thoughts the engine number two (tail) brings? The tri-engines are rather rare nowadays. Do you note its existence during a flight?

P: It is an excellent stabilator having a tremendous gyro power. No much tail shakes in landings. In the planes with wing engines, changing the thurst causes trimming needs, but the tail engine compensates that automatically.

Picture 1 M: What is the thing about MD-11s you will remember?

P: Very spacious cockpit. Lot’s of power. Carries plenty of cargo and passengers; far and fast. And isn’t it a one good looking piece of machine.

M: What is your strangest event in MD-11 flights?

P: Landing in the side wind of 35 knots at Nagoya, when many other airlines with other plane types were forced to divert to the alternative airports.

M: Thank you for the interview!

Posted October 31, 2008

author Juha LehtomäkiWritten by Juha Lehtomäki who lives and works in Helsinki area building useful things. You should follow him on Twitter