My Fellow Aviation Geeks know that Southwest Airlines retired our last 737-200 on January 17, 2005. I was one of the lucky Employees (wearing pajamas designed for the event, no less) to have been selected for the hour-long flight onboard N95SW. Our flight path that day took us down to the Waco area where Captains Jim Rice and Jeff Kilponen turned the airplane around back to Dallas for the last Southwest 737-200 landing.
As we flew across downtown Dallas and the Oaklawn area, those of us onboard were hoping for what happened next. As we neared touchdown, the Captains pushed the throttles forward, and we did a high speed flyby down the length of Runway 31 Left past the crowd of Employees waiting for us at the Maintenance Base.
Both Jim Rice and Jeff Kilponen had unique relationships with N95SW (aka Boeing serial number 23054). Jim was the Captain on the airplane’s delivery flight from Boeing to Dallas, and he served as Captain on its very last Southwest flight. Jeff was the First Officer on N95SW’s first revenue trip and was its last First Officer. With the last landing, and after the retirement ceremony, Southwest was finished with 737-200 flying.
But…we weren’t completely finished with the 737-200. For the next four or so years, passengers at Love Field would see another 737-200 in Southwest colors parked at the North Concourse.
But this was a “flight to nowhere.” Back when Southwest began retiring some of our -200s in the late 1990s, it was decided to take one of the aircraft due for overhaul and make it a ground trainer for our Ground Operations Department. That way, new Ramp Employees could learn loading and pushback procedures on the real thing.
The aircraft chosen for these new duties was N68SW, serial number 22357. Because it was no longer airworthy, all it could do was watch aircraft taxi by every day. Still, it served as a reminder of our early days when we began flying with only three of its siblings. Without the 737-200, there may not have been a Southwest Airlines, at least one that survived. So, we all owe a lot to the stubby little plane that could.
Unfortunately (for the aircraft), N68SW’s home is about to be demolished to create a new modern concourse at Love Field, and this reminder of our early days had to take a final journey to one of the hangars.
Sadly, the power for the journey came from a push back tug instead of Pratt and Whitney JT-8Ds, and the rain and the airplane's faded paint matched the somber occasion.
Somehow, I like the way N95SW ended its career better.