It was a grisly image, what happened last week at Boeing Field to a 43-year-old Boeing 727 jet that had been built not far away, in Renton. The plan had been for the old transport, with the distinctive trio of rear-mounted engines, to end up at the Airline History Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.
But it’s never easy when dealing with old planes that their fans want to save. Volunteers don’t have Jeff Bezos kinds of money.
Instead of the hoped-for second life as a tourist attraction, the 727 met up with a Cat 349F hydraulic excavator and its 396 horsepower digging power.
King County, which runs the airport, was tired of dealing with the plane and all the problems it brought. It had been parked at Boeing Field since 2017 and the airline museum was behind on rent.
The county went to King County Superior Court in March 2020 and got permission to demolish the old plane.
In emails, a county spokesperson said the plane was “derelict,” “no longer airworthy,” “a nuisance,” of “no demonstrated historical value,” “not safe,” “with a birds nest, moss and exposed wires,” and was taking up tie-down spots that have other planes on a yearslong waiting list.
The Cat excavator dug into the 153-foot aircraft, beginning with the tail, and proceeded to just tear it apart, chunk by chunk. A video taken Nov. 10 shows it attacking the plane like in one of those wildlife videos. Any metal remains have ended up in recycling, after oil and other liquids were drained before demolition.
“This is absolutely horrifying . . . I actually feel like I’ve just been punched in the gut. Absolutely tragic . . .” was one of the postings for a Facebook page simply titled, “N874AA.”
That was the FAA registration number for the plane, which had flown all its working life from 1978 to 2003 for American Airlines.
For the airplane buffs who heard about what took place last week, and posted on the web, passions were high.
Just ask Bob Bogash, 77, of Hansville in Kitsap County. He knows about the emotions involved with old planes.
Bogash is one those Boeing lifer guys, having spent three decades at the company, ending up as director of quality assurance. He is credited with helping bring to the Museum of Flight a number of historic planes, including a British Airways supersonic jetliner Concorde and a 1954 Lockheed Super Constellation.
“I think of airplanes as living things, inhabited by ghosts. People take it for granted that in the speed of a rifle bullet, they’ve carried people millions and millions of miles, just to wind up as beer cans,” says Bogash.
Since 2017, more than $8,000 in rent was not paid by the Kansas City museum for parking the 727, the county said in court documents. It said that “despite ample opportunities to do so,” repairs and moving the plane to Kansas City were “always close,” but never happened.
The case wound its way through court. This being about saving an old plane, things got complicated.
In May, the Kansas City museum sold the 727 for $1 to Antares Aviation, of Boca Raton, Florida, which said it would get the 727 moved.
In exchange, Antares could remove any parts that “didn’t affect the airplane’s aesthetic appearance,” after it arrived at the museum, says Mark Miller, manager of operations.
John Roper, president of the Kansas City museum, says the deal also allowed for Antares to fly the 727 commercially for about five years before turning it over to the museum.
With Antares in the picture, the King County Prosecutor’s Office said in a court filing that it “became concerned” that the registered agent and manager of the company was someone named Scot Spencer.
This was the same Scot Spencer, said the court filing, that the U. S. Department of Transportation said in 2005 had operated “an indirect air carrier without the requisite authority” and engaged in “an unfair and deceptive practice.” Spencer was ordered “banned from the aviation industry.”
The court document also said that in 1997, Spencer was convicted of bankruptcy fraud and sentenced to 51 months in prison.
Kerry Kovarick, a Seattle attorney representing Antares, said his client is Antares “and this other stuff is ancillary.”
Efforts to contact Spencer were not successful.
Meanwhile, until last week, followers of the old plane’s fate held out hope despite the warnings from the county over many months.
“Can’t keep a good 727 down. Glad she has some more years in her,” said a comment on the N874AA’s Facebook page.
Bogash remembers this 727 very well, and can recount how it ended up at Boeing Field.
The 727 had been a workhorse, clocking 65,011 hours of flying time and 39,038 landings by the time American Airlines donated it in 2003 to the Museum of Flight.
But meanwhile, at Paine Field in Everett, for 25 years there had been sitting another 727, this one of considerably more historical significance.
It was the first Boeing 727 built. The No. 1.
Accommodating 131 passengers, these midsize planes could land on shorter runways and serve smaller hubs. The 727 became “one of the greatest selling commercial jets in history,” with 1,832 of them produced in Renton between 1962 and 1984, says Boeing on its website.
When that No. 1 plane was finally restored, with Bogash leading the effort, it was flown in 2016 to be displayed at the Museum of Flight.
Now, what to do with that American Airlines N874AA already at the museum?
“I did everything to keep it from getting scrapped,” Bogash remembers. Then he happened to connect up with the Kansas City museum.
“Snatched victory from the jaws of defeat,” he says.
Still, it appears that time and money ran out for the 727, he says.
On the plane’s Facebook page, a posting by the museum to the 7,400 followers of the plane said, “We are staying radio silent right now because the truth will come out in court and we would not wish to compromise the case by making statements that can possibly get twisted into rumor.”
Kovarik emailed that the 727 could have been readied with not many hours work: “An FAA Designated Airworthiness Representative had determined that the aircraft would meet the requirements for a ferry flight with an anticipated scope of work of less than 75 man hours.”
The county counters in an email for this story that neither the museum nor Antares “entered into an agreement with the airport to relocate the aircraft or provided the required registration, payment and insurance certificate to keep the plane” at Boeing Field.
The court-approved demolition went ahead.
Antares and the museum both say they are weighing their legal options.
The 727 is gone, though.
Bogash says that in saving old airplanes, for all the people who love them, it’s a bit like going to an animal shelter and looking in the eyes of all those dogs.
“You’d take them all home with you,” he says.
But you can’t.