By Robert McCarthy
Capt. Grant Story taxied Federal Express jet N268FE toward the cargo terminal at Buffalo Niagara International Airport at 10:08 a.m. Wednesday – not unlike the plane’s previous 39,448 landings.
But when Story powered down the plane’s engines just a few minutes later, it marked the end of the 33-year-old aircraft’s journeys around the world and the beginning of a new career in Buffalo.
N268FE, with the nickname “Ginger” emblazoned under its cockpit window, has dodged the scrap heap and been donated by Federal Express to the airport firefighting forces as a major addition to its training capacities.
After the Boeing 727 tipped its wings in one final low pass over the assembled crowd, and as fire truck water cannons greeted the newest piece of air/rescue/firefighting equipment to the airport, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority celebrated the arrival of its own 727 to train its firefighters and those of fire departments throughout the region.
“FedEx sure knows how to deliver,” said Kimberley A. Minkel, NFTA executive director, during morning ceremonies. “Our fire department has long wanted a real plane so our fire drills could be more realistic and true.”
“So please know we will put this aircraft to good use,” she added, “and help our firefighters and police save lives going forward.”
The FedEx donation stems from a program dating to 1995, when the world’s biggest air cargo carrier began retiring its fleet of aging 727s. The first went to the Federal Aviation Administration’s research facility in Atlantic City, N.J., and the next to the Children’s Museum of Memphis, Tenn., where Federal Express is headquartered.
The arrival of N268FE at Buffalo Niagara International marks the 59th plane the carrier has donated, with many serving the same airport training functions planned by the NFTA’s firefighting personnel. Airport firefighters, other professionals and volunteers from throughout the area are expected to train on the plane several days a week, practicing through synthetic smoke or puncturing holes in the roof to master ventilation techniques. FBI agents, counterterrorism agencies and even bomb-sniffing K-9 dogs also plan to regularly drill on board.
“It’s going to be great,” said airport Fire Chief Chris Putney. “What wouldn’t we use this for?”
Putney explained that the plane was acquired through the efforts of Firefighter Brian Powers, who began researching how the department might acquire a practice aircraft back in March.
When authority officials ruled out the almost $10 million price tag on some available aircraft for sale, Powers discovered the FedEx program by trolling through the Internet.
“Brian comes to my office and says: ‘Chief, we’ve got all these training videos but nothing we can touch.
How much money do we have?’ ” Putney said. “ ‘We don’t have any,’ I told him. Next thing I know he’s come up with a plane.”
Powers said that after a Google search produced the needed information, it took two weeks for FedEx to agree to make the donation.
FedEx officials said they remain enthusiastic about returning airplanes to the cities they have served.
“So whether it’s an important package, or in this case an aircraft, we delivered to a community that we call home,” said David P. Sutton, managing director of FedEx aircraft acquisition and sales. “It is my hope – it is the hope of FedEx – that this aircraft provides the critical hands-on training that is essential to the skill set of the next generation of emergency responders.”
N268FE, which flew 14 years for Air Canada before logging another 19 for FedEx, is expected to reside near the Fire Department headquarters at the airport for many years to come.
Its FedEx logos will be removed, as will the engines and some instrumentation, but it will still be able to function to some extent under auxiliary power.