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Retired commercial airplanes often have nowhere to go but the desert, to be scrapped for their metal or parts. However, a half-dozen retired Boeing 737-300s have found a new lease on life.

A Southwest Airlines 737-300. Photo by Paul Thompson.

The Coulson Group has purchased six 737s formerly flown by Southwest Airlines, to be used as firefighting jets. This is the first time 737s have been used for this purpose. The planes will be able to dump 4,000 gallons of fire retardant on each run, and carry up to 63 passengers, including ground firefighting crews and rescue teams who will work in the hot zones.

Coulson currently flies four Lockheed C-130s and some Sikorski S-61 helicopters. Coulson CEO Wayne Coulson told the Puget Sound Business Journal that he seized the opportunity to buy Southwest’s gently used jets when he heard the airline was retiring the planes. C-130s are also very hard to come by, and there were none for sale when Coulson inked the 737 deal. Plus, the 737s were available for a much cheaper price than C-130s. In addition to firefighting, the company also works in helicopter logging, power-line construction, airliner passenger transport and many other industrial heavy-lift operations.

Boeing produced 1,113 of the 737-300 from 1984 to 1999. Southwest had up to 195 in its fleet, years ago, but only 75 remain. All of the remaining planes will be retired by September 30 of this year, to make room for the new 737 MAX, which Southwest will begin flying on October 1. The first plane to be converted for Coulson will be N617SW, which was built in October 1995, followed by N608SW, which was built in July 1995.

Southwest Founder Herb Kelleher chats with General Chuck Yeager at the delivery of Southwest
Southwest Founder Herb Kelleher chatting with General Chuck Yeager at the delivery of Southwest’s first 737-300 in 1984. Photo by Ken Thompson.

The 737 holds the title of the world’s most-produced commercial jet, having been in service for 50 years, starting with Lufthansa. Since that time, Airbus has come along to challenge Boeing with its A320 series of aircraft, holding a steady second place in the market. More recently, other competitors have come from China’s COMAC C919, and Russia’s Irkut MC-21.

Featured image courtesy of the author, Paul Thompson.

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