Another long post but one I felt impelled to share.
A few things in your (very nicely done BTW) well summarized round up of your experience with the mystery plane in post #628 got me thinking again. So here’s a bit more food
It hit me that the impression you had that the aircraft appeared “to long and pointy to be a cargo plane…”
and “The black trail seemed more obvious, and at this stage I wondered if it’s too much or too little oil in the mix that makes the exhaust black”
may not be unrelated phenomena. Another minor AHA moment if you will…
The combination of those two observations tends to describe the now aging (and getting fairly rare to see in active duty) Boeing 727 (introduced in the 1960’s), and the later (1980) but beginning to get less common McDonnel Douglas MD-80 series. Both generally appear in profile as “long and pointy” because they have engines mounted at the rear of the fuselage, rather than wing mounted, have a generally narrower width to length ratio (and thus a “longer looking”) fuselage compared to most of the more recent wider bodied aircraft. The 727’s primarily differ from the MD-80 series in that have 3 engines at the rear (one center mounted at the base of the vertical stabilizer) while the MD-80 family
(which includes the similar looking MD-81, MD-82, MD-83, MD-87, and MD-88) only have two engines. The later generation MD-90 (1995) and the MD-95/Boeing 717 families (1999) are also similar in appearance.
All these aircraft, by virtue of their rear mounted engines and more aft set wings, are vastly different in profile than the 777 family
of which MH370 belongs to. The MD-80’s have a particularly long looking forward fuselage and more pointed nose that the 727’s:
Are the two lower profiles more like what you saw than the 777-200 (MH370) one?
If so, this could very easily tie in with the BLACK SMOKE you saw. Most 727’s and MD-80’s were originally fitted with the now aging Pratt and Whitney JT8D engines. They’re notoriously SMOKY. Now several generations old in engine
design, they’re much less efficient than modern engines, and due to excessive amounts of fuel
carburization are often seen in today’s skies trailing THICK BLACK SMOKE. Not just at take-off. Always.
My next thought was: “OK then, who still operates any 727’s in the region?” As it turns out Transmile Air Services who fly from the Cargo Complex of Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport
in Subang, Selangor, Malaysia
have nine 727-200 CARGO AIRCRAFT in their current
fleet. (See: Transmile Air Services - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
) From what I can gather these appear to be the only 727’s still being operated in the region. All U.S and most international commercial
airlines, have completely retired the 727’s from service
I then discovered that all nine of these Transmile 727’s are currently operated in association with DHL Aviation - and ONE of them (up till recently that is, see below), has been operating for many years painted in FULL DHL COLORS.
number is 9M-TGH and she trails so much black smoke that it’s been mentioned a few times on aviation photo
sites and blogs I found with photos of her. The black smoke from 9M-TGH’s old P&W JT8D’s is apparently so persistently noticeable it prompted one observer to note: “You could see this coming from a mile away with its smoke trails....” (See: Reaching for the Skies: DHL 727
You can watch her leaving her black trails all over YouTube - check it out:
~ 9M-TGH - Landing in Subang on November 4, 2011:
~ 9M-TGH - Landing in Subang on May 7, 2007:
…and two more videos of her TAKING OFF that show the same smoke trails:
~ 9M-TGH - Taking off from Subang on December 21, 2012:
~ 9M-TGH - Taking off from Subang (date not noted):
…and here are few MD-80’s with P&W JT8D engines doing the same. The last video below shows a later generation MD-90 (with International Aero Engines V2500 engines) also leaving ca considerably noticeable smoke trail. You can forward to the take-offs to get to the smoky parts
If you feel the profile of any of these aircraft more closely matches what you saw then - bada-bing - it could easily be the slam-dunk answer for the black smoke issue too.
Another interesting point about these aircraft (727’s, MD-80’s, etc…) is that many of those now serving as cargo freighters began their lives as passenger jets. You observed ”I decided it had formerly been a passenger plane, but had its windows blocked out to act as a cargo plane”
. Look closely at the photo
of 9M-TGH above (or this one here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/796917...31961/sizes/o/
The windows and emergency
doors can still easily be seen below the paint
. In 1979 9M-TGH started life as a passenger plane for Western Airlines in the USA (registry N289WA, See a picture here: AirlineFan - Western Airlines 727-247A N289WA 21484 high quality photo
), was converted to a freighter for UPS in 1985 (registry # N208UP) and joined Transmile in 2002 (registry # 9M-TGH).
So my next questions were obvious:
1. Where was 9M-TGH on March 7th, 2014?
2. Was 9M-TGH still painted in DHL colors on March 7th, 2014?
The first question, like most other cargo flight histories couldn’t easily be found (thus far anyway) in any web database. What I DID find was that 9M-TGH has made lots of runs in the past to China
, and domestically, as Cargo Flight TH380 from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore
, and then onto Labuan on Malaysian Borneo. I tried to find more info on Transmile’s web site (Transmile.com - Malaysia's National Cargo Carrier
) but it’s apparently in a perpetual “Under Construction” state throughout 2014. I WAS able to find their previous web site incarnation from 2013 in the Wayback Machine’s internet archives
though (See: https://web.archive.org/web/20130802...transmile.com/
) and they state in their “Air Services” section that they will charter
most anywhere upon demand, offering:
“Aircraft charters, wet leases specialist with experience operating in Malaysia
, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Canada
, Macau, China
, Hong Kong
, USA and the Philippines
So where was 9M-TGH on March 7th,2014? If she were on her regular runs she was clearly nowhere near the northern reaches Malacca straits. That doesn’t mean she wasn’t on a charter
run though. Without contacting the company, there’s likely no way to know.
The answer to the second question though may make the first a moot point. She apparently NO LONGER is painted in DHL colors. She’s now wearing Transmile’s standard Burgundy and White….
See the photo at the top of this page, dated April 26, 2014: Photo Search Results | Airliners.net
Ah, but when did the repaint occur?
The OLDEST photo I could find on the web of 9M-TGH in her new Transmile colors is November 24th, 2013 (See: Transmile 9M-TGH B727F SIN - pinkfroot
) so that seemed to rule
her out as having been seen by you in her DHL colors. Unless the person posting
mixed up a photo with another’s time stamp? I ask that because the only "next" photo I found of her was dated March 21st 2014 – (See: http://www.flickr.com/photos/119604264@N05/13305248833/
) - and then I found a reference of her in her OLD DHL colors as late as February 27th, 2014. (See this blog page: Singapore: 27-Feb-2014. | Smiley's Spotting Blog
So which was right?
The textual reference in the February 27th blog states that the aircraft pictured (9M-TGH in DHL colors) was at the Singapore airport
on THAT day. The blog author (“Smiley”) is apparently a gentleman named Steven Byles whose Flikr account (https://www.flickr.com/photos/sjbyles/
) contains a variety of photos from around the region. In his Flikr gallery houses the photo he used on his blog dated February 27th, 2014 of 9M-TGH. But the Flickr site indicates that the picture was actually taken on October 26th, 2012. Since he doesn’t mention anywhere in that short blog post that it had new colors on the day he saw it in Singapore, it makes me wonder why he’d have posted a photo of it in IN DHL COLORS had he not seen it IN DHL COLORS on the day in question. Hmmm. My feeling is, based on the seemingly robust date of the other gentleman’s November 24th, 2013 post, 9M-TGH was probably already in her new colors well before your sighting. I’ll admit I felt I’d found the smoking gun for a while there (no pun intended).
Moving on to possible MD-80 related CARGO aircraft that regularly run in the area, a cursory search hasn't immediately revealed anything robustly notable yet but I’ll look around as time allows from my day job. One thing of interest concerning MD-80’s is that many airlines that up to recently had regularly run them are selling them, which has apparently left a increasingly good surplus of them lying around. One Miami
, FLA based company has taken advantage of the surplus by buying
them up, converting them to FREIGHTERS and selling them to clients abroad. In and article dated February 18, 2013, Robert Convey, their VP of sales and marketing
“...two more customers for the new conversion operate in the U.S., said Convey, while others hail from Mexico
, Uruguay, Ecuador
, Kenya, South Africa
Who knows, they could have been delivering a newly converted (and thus with NO MARKINGS) MD-80 to the last customer on the list above on March 7th, 2014.
Certainly none of the above yet explains an odd orange glow, no running lights, and a flight elevation unusually low for that type of aircraft in that general area at least, but if the shape, type, and more than plausible smoke explanation can more closely define the type of aircraft you saw, the answers to the other questions might fall more easily into place.