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Pony Express.....

Some airlines are just iconic…………….’Flagship carriers’, around since the golden days of aviation, building upon a stellar reputation, one that precedes them. In aviation, attributes such as safety, reliability, value & quality are all hard-earned, over time. One European ‘legacy airline’, instantly recognisable is KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. A globe-spanning airline with a granite-like reputation.

Through the years, KLMs fleet always held an interest for the enthusiast. There certainly were some ‘gem’s’ on offer, whether viewed through the lens or the entire expanse taken in, full view. A proud operator of DC-10’s and MD-11’s, classic airliners if ever there was. Looking back slightly further to the days of the DC-9 and DC-8, both operated by the Dutch carrier.

The stand-out aircraft of the KLM fleet was the Boeing 747. The airline had 46 of the type pass through their hands, a mixture of ‘200, ‘300 & ‘400 series, including 17 or so B747-400M’s and up to ten B747-200M’s, the combi version accommodating passengers and freight on the main deck. A real treat for aviation aficionado’s. Unlike some ‘combi’ versions of other aircraft, KLM B747-200M’s carried cargo in the rear and not to the front in this arrangement.

And what of its livery, it could be described as simple but effective. Realistically it’s changed little over decades but why meddle when it’s not necessary. A recent revamp has brought a softer edge to the overall scheme but still ties it back to earlier times.

In more recent times, KLM made the decision to retire it’s B747’s due to uneconomical operational costs associated with the type. This included their B747-400’s, ‘400F’s & ‘400M’s. A disappointing moment for enthusiasts and passengers alike. However, one of the few positive’s to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic has been the return to service of three B747-400F’s by KLM, in response to the surge in air-cargo requirements the world is facing.

KLM operated a fleet of B747-400F’s transporting freight to all corners of the world. Those enormous letters, “CARGO” adorning the sheer sides of the forward fuselage and plastered on the tail fin, making sure the public knew exactly the aircraft’s purpose. The blue square inside the “O” of the word cargo always intrigued – do you view it as a blue square or as squared off internals of the letter “O”?

While Dublin continues its Amsterdam link with both Aer Lingus A320’s and KLM B737-800’s or occasionally KLM Cityhopper E-190’s, the Irish capital was not on the radar for KLM B747’s. However, the times we are experiencing at present are far from normal and with these unusual times comes unusual visitors to our shores. A fortnight ago on the 7th of April, KLM B747-406F(ER) (PH-CKC) arrived at Dublin Airport, not for painting and not in conjunction with PPE.

The previous day, the 6th of April, PH-CKC was a busy Boeing. Beginning its day with an 8hr flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam, before continuing onwards for 9hrs to Miami, then a 3hr flight to Bogota before returning to Miami. During a brief period at Miami, the B747 freighter took on its delicate cargo of race-horses. Provided with levels of comfort to rival a First Class passenger, the animals were safely on board and the flight readied for a 03:02 departure from Miami.

Flight MP6122 climbed out over the Atlantic to a cruising altitude of 33,000ft at a steady 474 kts. That’s getting on for 545mph in ‘old money’, brisk it certainly is. To be expected with additional ‘horse-power’. This flight was a return to home-base in Amsterdam for PH-CKC but the precious cargo necessitated a stop-off at Dublin. Touch-down was at 15:37 – the arrival of such an iconic aircraft to Dublin and a first visit by PH-CKC, spread rapidly through the enthusiast community.

The unmistakable B747 silhouette on short-finals, lifts the spirit. Still has the ability to overcome an enthusiast with emotion. Magic really. Down she goes, onto RW28L. What an entry, KLM CARGO ‘is in the house’. On the ground for 2hr 15min, shouts from the loadmaster…… ‘Nags are off’…… and it was once again on the move for PH-CKC. A short flight this time saw the ‘Jumbo’ back at Amsterdam after a little over an hour.

KLM Cargo – operated by Martinair Holland is like most air-cargo companies, witnessing a spike in activity for their services. For PH-CKC, a 2004 year aircraft, with the airline since new, it was hard at it again the following day with a return flight from Amsterdam to Miami. Titled “Orange”, we’d like to think this B747 looks ‘juicy’ wearing its iconic blue livery…………..

Image by Andreas Muhl


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