Forgive John Roper if he flashes a big grin when he talks about the latest aircraft the Airline History Museum has acquired.
The former American Airlines Boeing 727-223 will be a perfect fit, especially because of its condition.
“When American Airlines retired the aircraft, they left it complete,” said Roper, vice president of operations for the museum, which is at Wheeler Downtown Airport in Kansas City.
Most airlines pull out items, including the engines, that they still can use or that have value.
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“On this one, they didn’t,” he said. “Everything in the interior is still there — the seats, the coffee makers, the aisle carts.
“We have this gorgeous airplane that is straight out of the airline service, which is perfect for the airline museum.”
The 727 played a significant role in airline history. The first plane rolled out Nov. 27, 1962, and it was designed to serve smaller airports with shorter runways.
“They became the first original regional jet aircraft and filled the hole where the (Boeing) 707 was just too big to fly in and out of airports,” Roper said.
The plane, however, was a risky undertaking. Competition for the smaller markets was fierce, with several U.S. and international companies developing aircraft, according to Boeing.
The company still was dealing with the startup and production costs of the 707, according to Boeing. Many at Boeing advised against going forward with the new plane.
Originally, Boeing planned to build 250 of the planes. The plane, however, became the first commercial airplane to break the 1,000 sales mark, according to Boeing’s website.
The last of the 1,832 built was delivered to Federal Express, now known as FedEx, in September 1984.
The plane that the Airline History Museum acquired is a second-generation 727. Built in 1978, it flew only for American Airlines.
When American Airlines retired its 727 fleet in 2003, it donated the aircraft to the Museum of Flight in Seattle. That gave the museum two 727s, one of which was the first one off the assembly line.
“Recently, they have been doing remodeling, and they really don’t have enough space for both of them,” Roper said. “They were looking at actually scrapping the airplane.”
When the Airline History Museum learned of the possible fate of the plane through one of its volunteers, museum officials contacted the Museum of Flight. The museum donated the plane in March.
The airplane, which is still in Seattle, is being readied to fly to Kansas City. Despite sitting for 13 years, the plane is in good shape.
“We’ve had all three engines started and idling so far,” Roper said. “All of the systems have come to life. So it looks like the ferry flight to get it back to Kansas City is coming up quickly.”
The museum doesn’t expect any major hurdles to get it flyable, Roper said. He said the airplane has been performing beyond expectations.
Roper will head back to Seattle in early July for high-power engine runs and landing gear tests to make sure the gear swings into place and doors close when they are retracted.
The Airline History Museum is trying to reach out to former 727 flight crews to invite them to see the airplane in both locations. The museum plans to have boards they can sign.
Once here, the plane will go on display at the museum, which will develop a program to keep it safe to fly. The museum plans to keep the plane in the American Airlines paint and logo scheme. The museum also plans to fly the aircraft to air shows.
The aircraft also will be used for science, technology, engineer and mathematics educational programs to get children and teens interested in aviation.
“That’s one of our biggest problems in the aviation industry today,” Roper said. “Kids don’t have access to these airplanes. We want to give them that access.”
The goal is to bring the plane to Wheeler Downtown Airport on Aug. 13. The museum has created a Facebook page under the plane’s tail number of N874AA to update people about the plane’s progress.
“It takes a little time to get through all the paperwork and inspect everything,” Roper said. “You still have to prove to the FAA that it’s airworthy. We hope to do a couple of maintenance test flights up in the Seattle area before we do the final ferry flight coming here.”