Avgeek Rents Helicopter To Get Perfect Footage of Retiring American Airlines Mad Dogs

With American retiring their MD-80s, we knew that there would be some interesting stories of fans who would take that extra step to see the Mad Dog one last time before her retirement. We came across Andy Luten, a dedicated avgeek and travel blogger who had a story we just had to share. He went to great lengths to put together a great video about the MD-80 that included an amazing air-to-air shot of the jet. Here’s our chat with Andy and how he got that unique photo.

Thanks for joining us. So tell us a little bit about yourself and your passion for the MD-80. Why are you such a fan?

I’m a part-time travel blogger, part-time photographer, and have a full-time job in financial software for a big conglomerate, which takes me all over the world. When you spend as much time on airlines as I do, you can’t help but become a bit of an avgeek, so it took me a while to build up my avgeek chops but now I’m proud to be one! When it comes to the MD-80, I’m a bit of a dork when it comes to origin stories. I enjoy reading etymology dictionaries to see the histories of word definitions, for example. I love the MD-80 because it connects us directly back to the beginnings of the jet age of aviation, since it’s just a stretched DC-9. It’s not as quick as the newer birds, it doesn’t fly as high or as far, but it’s just a workhorse that puts its head down and gets to work. I identify with that a lot.

What was your earliest memory of the MD-80?

The MD-80 was always something that kind of happened to me, since I became based in Dallas and back in the mid-aughts when the MD-80 was seemingly all American flew. But when I started flying a lot for work in 2009 and began the Status Life I really began to appreciate the unique seating configuration and the old school design of the MD-80, if for no other reason than it was different from the ho-hum boringness of the 737/A320.

How do you feel about American Airlines retiring the plane?

Is it possible to agree with and hate a decision at the same time? I’m not privy to any inside info here so this is just speculation, but I imagine American had been deferring costly and intense C checks on the MD80 fleet for years and it would cost an insane amount to keep them in the skies. Many of the airframes are only 30 years old, so there’s still some value to them on the used market (and indeed American sold many of theirs to other airlines). Newer jets are more efficient and generally the fewer aircraft types you have as airline the better off you are from a maintenance standpoint, since you have to stock parts and hire mechanics for fewer types. Overall it’s just cheaper for the aircraft to get rid of them than keep them in the sky, so I get it…but I hate it.

Ok, so you have to tell us this story of how you RENTED a helicopter to get the perfect air-to-air video of a Mad Dog departing DFW. How did it all come together?

Well, I’ve been working on content for the MD-80 retirement for my blog (Andy’s Travel Blog) for a while and I really wanted a picture of an MD-80 that nobody else could get. I’m a semi-professional photographer and have quite a bit of aerial photography experience so I thought a helicopter could get me there. I’ve previously flown over DFW to get some terminal building shots but the picture I have of the MD80 on that flight was ever-so-slightly out of focus and very far away. I knew I could do better. While I was at Founder’s Plaza at DFW Airport doing some planespotting on Saturday, I saw a helicopter flying very low over the field at DFW. I know enough about the airspace at DFW and what the towers generally allow to know that the pilot had some special access. Luckily I have a very high resolution camera, which I pointed at the helicopter so I could get the tail number. I looked up the tail number, found the phone number for the owner, had a chat with him to see if he could get me where I needed to be, swallowed nervously when he told me the price, and up we went yesterday morning! We managed to go up between two banks of flights so initially there were no flights departing (and those that were departing weren’t MD-80s). We had about 10 minutes left before we needed to leave and head back to the hangar when I saw an MD-80 being pushed back from the gate. We received ATC clearance to remain on-site until the MD-80 departed and followed the jet as it taxied, lined up, and then rocketed down the runway. My pilot got me in the perfect position for an epic air-to-air shot of the MD-80 taking off, and the resolution was absolutely flawless!

Once the Mad Dog at American is retired? What’s next for you to follow?

Well I’ll go through the normal 5-step grieving process then will have to find a new normal and move on. I really think what’s next will be boredom when I get on a jet, because unless I’m flying Delta’s lovely new A220 everything will just be another boring 3-3 jet. What won’t change are all the amazing memories…not only of the jet itself but where it took me and the memories I have because of it.

Enjoy this beautiful video tribute to the American Airlines MD-80 by Andy. You can read more about his passion for the MD-80 on his blog here.