Fedex MD-10-30CF N303FE Gemini Jets GJFDX1150 2014

So, here I am back from Easter and at home, and I now have two new aircraft to lookout for as A380’s have started to fly in and out of BHX for Emirates, and a less conveniently timed 788 for Qatar, also makes an appearance. I just looked up the first week of ops for Emirates and they’ve only used two brand new aircraft, A6-EOP and A6-EOR, the new two class 512 seat versions. However, this isn’t about them. They may be new but this amazing aircraft is far from that, so read on….

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It had generally escaped my notice that FedEx still operated the type in such numbers, but one afternoon, walking over the Golden Gate a few months ago, (something I find endlessly fascinating), this very aircraft flew out of Oakland and banked North West. A few weeks ago, the model came onto eBay and I had to have it. There wasn’t a lot of interest in it at first but it sold for new retail as the bidding ended!  I didn’t mind.

This is one of those Gemini’s in the white box and FedEx Express all over it. I’m not going to apologize for the fact this is a longer article, but this aircraft is old and it’s had a fascinating history, one that most of you probably aren’t old enough to remember! Even I was in junior school when this bird rolled off the assembly line!

Imagine 1973…Nixon was still President, Watergate was on everyone’s lips, Vietnam was still in the middle of war, it’s a few months before the Arabs attack Israel and bring the world to Cold War nuclear crisis, possibly the worst since Cuba 11 years before.  The cost of a gallon of gas in the US averaged 40 cents, average pay was $12,500 and a month’s rent $175. The average house price in the UK was £9,800 – now its 30 times that! This DC-10-30 flew into service on 2nd July 1973, as N103TV for Trans International Airlines, in a rather splendid TIA blue, white and bare metal livery. At the time of writing she’s now 43 years old.

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DC10-30  N103TV   ©KenFielding 1974

TIA kept her until 1st October 1979 when she joined Transamerica Airlines.

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1979 – By now the western world was in another major economic decline with a full blown recession caused by yet another oil price hike – Iran fell into revolution and Iraq and Iran were on the brink of an 8 year war that became known as a “modern World War One”. Global cargo contracted and Transamerica leased the aircraft to Air Florida in December 1981, but they gave her back in October 1982 and she was technically retired.

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There are no credits for this image but the blue-green seems to be a popular theme of the period!

There was every possibility that she could have gone for scrap at this point but FedEx were looking for larger more economical aircraft, and bought her up as the recession started to ease in early 1984. Re-registered after conversion as N303FE on 29 February 1984, she’s been with Fedex ever since.

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And today she still looks amazing in the current FedEx livery…5983902-Photo-1020473.jpg

Now for the sad part of this article. I got this model on 10th March this year (2016), so with an article in mind I started doing my research, I usually have about 6-10 on the go at any one time. I went online to see where she usually flies to and from, which over the last few months has been Memphis and various US and Canadian destinations. On 27th February she arrived at LAX and then didn’t move until she was started up and pushed around LAX on 6th March. She hasn’t moved since, and I’ve got the feeling she’s being dismantled at the Fedex facility at the airport, there’s certainly indications others have gone the same way. And this satellite photo taken in the last two weeks from Google Earth is exactly where her last track puts her. If anyone knows anything, please let me know!

Note 9th August 2016: I just checked and she’s still flying! Heading towards 44 years of age…

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Taken late March 2016 Google Earth. Is this the end? If it is what a testament to the engineering and quality of the DC-10 series, and to Fedex engineers for keeping her flying for so long.

This is the only MD-10 in my collection and I’m delighted to have it. So now to the model!

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1)Fuselage

Now usually when Gemini embark on a FedeEx authorized model, they tend to keep the standards fairly high, certainly a lot higher than they do usually. Indeed I’d say UPS, FedEx and Emirates get the very best treatment. Generally this is still true here, but there are a few small lapses.

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This model has no aerials, even though it was produced in 2014. I suppose that would have meant an expensive modification for a less than current model, not that I mind. The general appearance and detail are first class, not that there is vast amounts on a cargo aircraft generally. Being so old she still has bare metal underneath which has been done well enough. As fuselage go, it’s more than acceptable.

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One notable is that she is later model than the recently reviewed MD-11F and this has the newer livery, making her technically more current in appearance than her newer cousin.

2)Wings and landing gear

The weak point is as usual, the cradle for the wing system. It’s not quite as tight a fit as on some, but well above average. It just looks like a few low level gaps have cropped up when they might not necessarily have done so.

The landing gear is also slightly disappointing. The nose wheels for whatever reason are white, while all of the main gear wheels are actually a really good used metal look, in colour and finish. There are also a few gaps in the metal outer casing of the gear which look mildly unsightly but, not the end of the world. They can be done better as Gemini have shown before and since.

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Note the gap between body and wings and the gap in the rear of the landing gear casing

The wings themselves are short on much detail, the paint is good though. You have to remember that this MD-10 mould is far from new, but that’s not an excuse. The underwing is heavily over-glossed.

3)Engines

The wing mounted GE CF6-50C2’s are excellent but the third one in the tail is, very visibly and rather annoyingly nothing more than a bright silver blank. The rims may be well painted on the wing engines but not quite as good in the centre.

1400Reviews-FEDEX-MD10F-N303FE-Gemini-CpywrtJonChamps2016 9.jpgThe lack of a fan is a glaring omission and looks particularly silly. They do the same on MD-11’s but on the MD-10 the flat panel is a lot further forward, so shows up all the more.

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Centre engine blanking plate is incongruous and disappointing; should be a fan.

4)Nose detail

Generally excellent with all the right bits visible. You can even make out the aircraft’s name, ‘Macy’ (on the port side). Pretty good all round!

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White nose gear wheels? They’re not like that on any photo of the real thing I’ve found.

5)Tail detail

The vertical tail seems fine, and the horizontal stabilisers at first glance look way to high. However that seems to be a characteristic of the DC-10/MD-10 – I’m not an expert on the type as they’re a little dated for my personal collection criteria, but photos and a few tech diagrams I’ve seen seem to bare this assumption out., so I’m happy with them.

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6) Colours

Flawless.

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7)Score and conclusions

  • -4 for gaps in the cradle fit
  • -2 for nose gear white wheels
  • -2 for main gear gaps in fitting
  • 92% is characteristically high for one of the ‘special treatment’ brands Gemini produce.

The starling fact is that despite is extraordinary age (and she still has sisters operating for FedEx), in the current livery and without the wing fences of the MD-11, she seems extraordinarily modern and current. In fact she looks more aerodynamic (and there will be pilots who will tell you that’s a fact anyway, compromises were made to make the MD-11 work and aerodynamic oddities had some serious consequences in later years), and she just looks perfectly in tune. I’d love to see a refurbished one in a modern livery, say like Virgin Atlantic!

I’m delighted with it, all the more so that she operated for so many years, across such a huge swathe of modern history. While her days may be over, (and if not they soon will be as FedEx have committed to remove old aircraft as fast as possible), something makes me think she deserves a bit more than being broken up. Everything ends though, the circle completes. To the men and women of the McDonnell-Douglas Corporation who brought her into the world, it’s a testament to your engineering and manufacturing excellence. Thank you.

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