Airplanes and aviation have inspired millions since the Wright Brothers took their historic flight on December 17th, 1903. Since the Wright Flyer took off and as aviation has developed, there have been many groundbreaking examples of new technology aircraft, and fortunately for those of us who love airplanes, many of those have been preserved and are on public display.
There are numerous cases where aviation enthusiasts have banded under a common cause to save an aircraft for the benefit of many. Such a struggle is currently underway, with the power of the internet enlisted to save a Mc Donnell Douglas MD-10-30F, registration N306FE and manufacturer serial number 48287. What makes this freighter special is that it was involved in an attempted hijack attempt in 1994, but due to the extraordinary efforts of the three flight crew survived and managed to spend another 28 years operating with logistics giant FedEx.
At the end of 2022, FedEx retired the last of its fleet of MD-10 freighters, and somewhat fittingly, N306FE was one of the last of the type still operating for the airline. Based on tracking data from flightradar24.com, its final flight with FedEx was on December 31st, when it operated as flight FX147 between Canada’s Toronto Pearson International (YYZ) and Memphis International (MEM) in the US state of Tennessee.
Further distinguishing N306FE is how the flight crew thwarted the hijack attempt, using extraordinary flying skills while severely injured to get the aircraft safely on the ground at Memphis (MEM). On April 7th, 1994, the aircraft departed Memphis bound for San Jose, California, with a crew of three and FedEx flight engineer Auburn Calloway hitching a ride. Calloway was investigated by the airline for lying about flight hours and facing possible dismissal. He planned to hijack the aircraft, kill the crew using a collection of hammers and a speargun, and crash the aircraft.
The gory details of his handiwork have been portrayed in TV shows, including Mayday (aka Air Crash Investigation) and a book published in 1997. Suffice it to say here, it was a dreadfully violent series of attacks on the three crewmen whose flying careers ended due to their horrific injuries. The flight crew consisted of Captain Dave Sanders, First Officer Jim Tucker and Flight Engineer Andy Peterson. The attack started 26 minutes after takeoff and continued in waves, with Peterson and Sanders desperately trying to constrain Calloway while Tucker pushed himself and the aircraft to extreme limits.
Incapacitated by a fractured skull and other head injuries, Tucker grabbed the controls and, in various maneuvers, put the MD-10 into a sudden 15-degree climb, turned it into a left roll, almost ending upside down at 140 degrees, all the while trying to keep the aircraft flying. He then put it into a steep dive, reaching speeds of around 530 miles per hour (850 km/h), rendering the control surfaces unresponsive, before pulling the throttles back to idle and coming out of the dive.
The sudden and unexpected movements of the plane gave Sanders and Peterson a chance to subdue Calloway as all three rolled wildly around the aircraft, pinned to the ceiling at times. The attacker was eventually restrained, and Sanders managed to land the MD-10 at 35,000 pounds (16,000 kilograms) above its maximum landing weight.
Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying
Despite being pushed beyond its operational limits, the aircraft, which was a DC-10 then, was put back into service and later upgraded to an MD-10, losing the flight engineer role. Aircraft data from ch-aviation.com shows that the aircraft was delivered to FedEx on January 24th, 1986 and operated as a DC-10-30F until April 2008. It reentered service as an MD-10-30F on April 8th, 2008, retaining its original N306FE registration.
On www.change.org, enthusiast Jack Schneider has launched a petition to save N306FE as a testament to the crew’s supreme airmanship and the airplane’s capabilities to go beyond its design limits. The petition calls on FedEx to save the aircraft so it can live on in a new home.
Do you think FedEx should keep the aircraft in one piece and donate it for posterity? Let us know in the comments.