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Alaska Airline Classic B737 (Combi) Milk Run flight

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[Note: I've always found the so-called Milk-Run flights of Alaska Airline rather fascinating...so, here is some of my collected notes about this unique mode of air operation - along with 20 SIM pictures.]

We have heard of the term "Milk Run", in connection with Alaska Airline. Below are (two) definitions of it:

  1. Milk Run refers to the daily circuit of Alaska Airlines flights that hop between towns in Southeast Alaska, serving as a lifeline for the communities that aren't always connected by roads to the outside world.
  2. Milk Run is a delivery method in logistics which ensures that different deliveries from different vendors can be handled with maximum capacity utilization and minimal costs.

The Milk Run flights have been living up to their nickname for decades, with Alaska Airlines delivering milk and other vital supplies to the towns it serves - many such towns in Alaska being solely reliant on air service, due to the lack of roads transportation (so, there is an admirable humanitarian aspect to this operation). The Milk Run flights reflect the airline’s heritage in the state where it earned its name, and of the resilient bush pilots (unsung heroes) of the 1930s who transported mail, medicine and furs to (and also patients, in need of critical care, from) all kinds of (hard-to-reach) places through most kinds of adverse weather and terrain.

Alaska Airline's Milk Run B737 (customized) Combi planes have a novel and functional design. The Milk Run routes have been typically flown by 737-400 Combi aircraft – the cabin divided in half, with cargo up front and 72 PAX seats in the back. On each Combi, there's room for four cargo containers known as igloos. A wall divides the people from the cargo. As a passenger, imagine the oddity of having to board only via the rear entry door, and not seeing a forward galley and especially not seeing the flight deck (instead there is just a big black wall, in front, with an access door). And, these pilots have the extra worry about the (atypical) complexities and issues associated with location of "CG" and weight distribution in such 737 Combis...!

In case you're wondering what kind of cargo have been shipped over the milk-run routes, here are some examples:

  1. Milk (of course, but that's not why the route is named as such - so, it's not called a milk run because they deliver milk!)
  2. Automobiles (e.g a Toyota Truck, a small BMW etc.)
  3. Animals (e.g. Cow, Horse, Walrus, Reindeer etc.)
  4. Misc. (e.g. Mail, Medicines, Diapers etc.)
  5. Seafood (e.g. Famous Alaskan Salmon, Lobsters etc. - The "Milk Run” could just as easily be known as “The Salmon Run”. You may have seen the Alaskan Salmon-Thirty Livery - a huge Salmon painted on the 737 (Side Note: The Salmon-Thirty paint has 3500 detailed fish scales, and took experienced crews 27-days straight with 21 uniquely different colors to complete the intricate paint job!)

The Milk Run route tracks along southeastern Alaska (the disjointed segment of Alaska sandwiched between Canada and the Pacific Ocean). The Northbound Flight Numbers are (61/65/67) and the Southbound Flight Numbers are (62/64/66). For example, the Milk Run route, Flight 65, starts in Seattle and stops in Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg and Juneau before landing in Anchorage. “These are the fights that built Alaska Airlines,” says a flight attendant for 32 years. “The scenery is beautiful and the people are wonderful. I wouldn’t want to fly anywhere else.” Of course, there’s also the added twist of a multi-stop flight, (just like the milkman's milk run route - not any more, though, now we go to the grocery store!). One may like such a multi-stop flight or hate it, but it's something rarely seen in US mainline air service.

Alaska Airlines has now retired its uniquely configured Boeing 737-400 Combis. As the last combined cargo-passenger plane made its final round of "Milk Run" southbound to Seattle in Oct., 2017, it marked the end of an era for Alaska Airlines. Back in 1981, Alaska Airlines had acquired the first of what would eventually become a fleet of nine Boeing 737-200QC Combis (also called "Mud Hen" - the beat-up (but sturdy) Boeing birds roaming the harsh Alaskan bushlands) – (also the subject SIM aircraft model of this post) - the QC stands for “Quick Change” because it featured a movable partition for pax and cargo. Pilots were especially fond of the -200 Combi for its powerful engines and ability to get in and out of airports with short runways. Eventually, however, high fuel prices, increasing maintenance costs and declining reliability led to their phase-out between 2005 and 2007. Alaska then replaced its fleet of -200 Combis with 737-400 Combis, which began service in 2007, till they were also retired 10 years later in 2017.  

For this post, I've, used a partial "Milk Run" flight from Seattle (KSEA) to Juneau (PAJN) (i.e. not the (usual) all the way up to Anchorage), with the help of a simple/default Route output from the (excellent FW) "SimBrief" Flight Planner (see screenshot), and then uploading the FLTPLN into the B737-200's FMC (via the FMC's (easy) XFILL Menu option). For choice of SIM aircraft, today, I'm flying the (nice and enjoyable) Milviz 732 after a very long break, and I've performed cold & dark engine start-up, as best as I could, being a little rusty in that procedure for this plane (need more practice flights)! Still, these images, below, will hopefully help re-live a bit - this interesting piece of Alaska Airline's history. BTW, in the Wing view shot, below, on approach to Juneau Airport, you may spot the (nearby) famous Mendenhall Glacier at top RHS of the screenshot...

Thanks for your interest, and hope you enjoy. Comments are welcome. [Milviz/Orbx/REX]

If further interested, please search Youtube for the following two (1-3) minute videos (among many others available on the internet):

  1. Title: Approach & Landing Juneau Airport, Alaska, Alaska Airlines, Boeing 737-400 [Flying so close to those mountains...! In this video, you may also spot the Mendenhall Glacier on the landing approach.]
  2. Title: Alaska B734 Combi Unload [On its last-ever Northbound Milk Run, an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-400 Combi being unloaded at Juneau International Airport (JNU).]

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Great post. I flew the milk run aboard a -200 Combi Seattle-Juneau-Yakutat-Cordova in real life back in 1998. Front of the plane was reserved for fresh salmon, we were told.

John

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Avidean:

Appreciated the comments! Yes, in my hurry (couldn't delay "call-for-dinner" much longer...🙂...), I see I've mixed up an image or two from my two attempts at landing...(was too high the 1st time...underestimated those mountains, although I'd seen, beforehand, the video I've referenced in my post...). This plane and this route is such a wonderful fit, will sure repeat to get it right next time...Thanks!

John:

Great recollection of an Alaskan flight experience, that's no longer....! I also recall you're familiar with that unique and scenic Alaskan route, as pleasure-traveler, all the way to Anchorage!

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Nice pics but time to ditch the FMC and fly it the fun way with the INS! 

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Need to fix the bulb in the ADI. Love Alaska, love the 732, love the pics! 

Alaska......732...... rings a bell.🤔  From 8 years ago.  😀

Regards

Ed

 

 

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What the heck! Is it just me or is that one of the realist looking Flight sim videos I've seen?

The only reason I could tell that wasn't a real flight deck was because of the mouse pointer.

Its that the Milviz?

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2 hours ago, Avidean said:

What the heck! Is it just me or is that one of the realist looking Flight sim videos I've seen?

That video was 8 years old. I hope my vids have got better since then. 😁

2 hours ago, Avidean said:

The only reason I could tell that wasn't a real flight deck was because of the mouse pointer.

I keep the mouse pointer in so people can see what I'm doing. 

2 hours ago, Avidean said:

Its that the Milviz?

Nope, it is one of my own creations. 

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What an awesome report! Thanks for the pics and for the inside look into the AK airlines history! 👍

I wish there was a good 737-400 model for P3D.

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Ed: Wonderful video! Great ambience of clouds and sky, here, to match your perfect looking 732!

Ilya: Thanks for the kind words! I’ve been following Alaska Airline since many years...their pilots have pioneered custom approaches and procedures to enhance safety of air operations in Alaska...(quite fascinating along with the rich history of Alaskan Bush pilots)...

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How times change. Some years ago (some? 13!) I was passenger in a 737-200 (LAN Chile) and found nothing with it. At this time, a DC-6 was a classic plane to me, perhaps a Tu-134, too; but a 737? Now I see this great shots and think: wow, what a venerable old plane...

And of course, your historic background text is in a class of its own... Thank you!

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   Harald Geyer
   Gründer der Messerschmitt Freunde Dresden v. V.

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