United Airlines’ 45-year long association with the Boeing 737 comes to an end this week with the retirement of the carrier’s last aircraft. United is second only to Lufthansa in terms of historic associations with the 737, being the airline that led the development of the first stretched variant, the -200. At the time, Boeing was far from convinced about the 737, and was actually on the verge of selling the program – lock, stock and barrel – to Japan. So unsure was it about the ‘baby Boeing’ it even built the first few examples using portable production jigs for ease of disposal.
United was equally unsure about the 737 at first, and in April 1965 narrowly chose the untried twin over the DC-9, when Boeing agreed to tailor it to the airline’s needs by making it slightly larger than the -100 variant launched by Lufthansa only two months earlier. Sweetened with a ‘give-away’ lease deal on 25 727s, United’s order for 40 737-200s began a dynasty that continues to this day. The numbers make incredible reading. To-date Boeing has taken close to 8,290 orders for all models of 737, of which some 6,170 have been delivered. It delivered 1,095 737-200/200Cs of which United operated some 75.
A familiar but soon-to-vanish sight. Credit: Caribb/Unitedairblog.blogspot.com
The final aircraft is the last of 101 United-owned later generation 737-300s. United also flew the short-bodied 737-500, owning 57 over the years. Known affectionately as the "Guppy,” “Fluf (fat little ugly f****r)” “Tin Mouse,” “Maggot,” “Pocket Rocket,” “Fat Freddy” and “Pig” – to name but a few – the 737 served millions of United customers well for more than 41 years. The final 737-322 has been specifically numbered "UA737" for its final journey which starts tomorrow (Oct. 28). United says the flight will depart Washington Dulles at approximately 6 a.m. with stops in Chicago, Denver and Los Angeles, then on to San Francisco for the decommissioning work at the maintenance base before being transported to Victorville, Calif., for storage. Mini-celebrations are planned at each stop along the way, and no-doubt plenty of good stories will be told!