With the mad dog now retired, we remember the good ol’ days of MD-80 and DC-9 powerbacks from the gate. Watch this AA Maddog skillfully back up and then swing around on his way with ease.
Back in the day aircraft with tail mounted engines and bucket style thrust reversers (727, DC-9, MD-80, Fokker 100) regularly powered themselves up and deployed those reversers to back out of the gate and simply turn around with no pushback tugs. The procedure saved time, ground personnel, and tugs. Powerbacks continued all the way up until the mid-2000s. As jet fuel prices climbed, airlines ceased the practice with American and Northwest being some of the last US carriers to do so. While time efficient, powerbacks proved fuel inefficient. Additionally, many airports banned the practice due to the extra noise and jet exhaust, but as we #Avgeeks know, there’s no sweeter sound than jet engine noise!
If you want to see a powerback today, one aircraft still does them regularly. In particular, Boeing C-17 crews in the U.S. Air Force regularly practice aircraft backing with thrust reversers as a part of their tool kit to use at confined or unimproved airstrips. So if you ever get the chance to go to an airshow with a C-17 performing, you’ll see some backing!