The eagle has landed at Merrill Field: FedEx donates Boeing 727 to Aviation program

FedEx Boeing 727 on approach to Merrill Field. Emergency vehicles stand by. (Photos by Tim Brown)
FedEx Boeing 727 on approach to Merrill Field. Emergency vehicles stand by. (Photos by Tim Brown)

When landing, pilots are taught to aim for the numbers. The numbers denote the beginning of the runway and they are used as a reference point on final descent. A pilot aims for the numbers, flattens the plane out and then lands somewhere further down the runway. When a 100,000 pound jet lands on the 4000 ft. runway at Merrill Field the goal is to actually land on the numbers. Instead of aiming for the numbers the pilot aims for the Northway Mall.

February 26 a Boeing 727-227 aircraft, donated by FedEx to the University of Alaska Anchorage, made its final landing on runway 25 at Merrill Field for an enthusiastic crowd of spectators. People gathered in the Carr’s parking lot and thronged the fences around the airfield. Upstairs at Peggy’s Restaurant on 5th Ave. old friends, pilots among them, gathered to watch. It was a brief midwinter air show with onlookers treated to two exciting low passes by the jet before the actual landing.

“Both passes were planned so we could plan our descent so that we touch down right on the numbers. If you get a picture out there, the marks were right on the numbers. We were really pleased with it,” Captain Timothy Powell said.

Captain Powell along with First Officer Johnny Baines and Flight Engineer Chris Higgins are all trained for landings on short runways. Powell trained in a flight simulator in Miami specifically for the landing at Merrill Field.

“He’s used to having a lot of instrumentation. It’s him flying and not the instruments.” spectator and amateur pilot Denny Sanford said.

Aircraft tug trucks were brought out to tow the plane to its permanent home immediately west of the main UAA aviation building. Use of the tugs was necessary because the turbulence or wash from the jet engines would have been powerful enough to shift around smaller aircraft parked at the field.

FedEx at one point had the world’s largest 727 fleet, according to FedEx Managing Director of Aircraft Acquisition and Sales, Dave Sutton. In 1995 FedEx began donating their retiring 727’s to various organizations around the country for educational purposes. Tuesday’s donation was the 65th such aircraft. The plane, nicknamed “Two Bears,” was built in January of 1979 and logged 42,396 flight hours and 29,240 landings.

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“The planes still had plenty of value. They could have done other things but they invested in education,” Director of Aviation Technology Rocky Capozzi said.

The donation is the culmination of a process begun last fall when Aviation Industry Advisory Council Chair and FedEx Maintenance Manager Nicholas Yale identified the opportunity. Yale worked closely with Capozzi, Tlisa Northcutt of the UAA Advancement Office and FedEx officials to suss out the details.

The final hurdle was the unanimously approved ordinance by the Anchorage Assembly allowing a one-time exception to a law restricting aircraft greater than 12,500 pounds from landing at Merrill Field.

Chancellor Tom Case and others spoke following the landing.

“Let me tell you, it’s a great day to be a Seawolf. This was a team effort. There were so many organizations and individuals who could’ve said no, who said why not, let’s give it a shot,” Case said.

UAA Aviation plans to have the plane prepped by next fall as a hands-on laboratory for its maintenance students.

“Its gonna make the whole program more realistic,” second year Aviation Maintenance Technology student Daniel Allen-Creed said.

FedEx successfully donated another of their 727 fleet to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Feb. 28.

For additional photos of the plane landing, please visit


The FedEx Boeing 727 being towed from the end of the runway back to UAA Aviation.
The FedEx Boeing 727 being towed from the end of the runway back to UAA Aviation.