An MD-80? The Truth Behind This Tiny American Airlines ‘Plane’ Parked at O’Hare

Jul 16, 2019

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Passengers with a keen eye flying out of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport might have noticed a very unusual, tiny American Airlines plane on the edge of a parking lot next to taxiways.

ORD’s Baby Bird (image courtesy of American Airlines)


This baby plane isn’t a failed experiment in basic-economy or a masquerading baggage cart. It’s a unique piece of American Airlines equipment with more than 30 years of history. It also could be the weirdest and cutest staple of the carrier’s fleet.

According to AA spokeswoman Gianna Urgo, the plane is affectionately called “Baby Bird” by staff at O’Hare, where the little plane lives. However, it’s not a Chicago native. Baby Bird was actually hatched up in Nashville before it was migrated to a flight mechanic’s school at Chicago Midway Airport in the late 1980s. It was transferred to O’Hare (ORD) after the school closed down, and has lived there ever since.

Since its move, Baby Bird has been maintained as a labor of love by members of the aircraft maintenance staff at ORD, including a full refresh in the early 2000s.

While other jets may get a few new amenities or an updated biz-class cabin during their refurbishments, Baby Bird came out of the shop looking like a brand new plane. In addition to routine repairs, the mini jet received a new bespoke aluminum body with fighter jet-style folding wings and functional lights for visibility.

If you want to see the plane in action, the airport may not be the best place. Baby Bird doesn’t operate any regular services, but it can be spotted at AA events and at parades in the nearby area. If you were in Chicago during the Pride Parade in June, for example, you may have seen it on its loop through the city. It has also made downtown appearances in Chicago’s Columbus Day parades — seen below — as well as at other public events and celebrations in the area. When out of service, Baby Bird is stored in the carrier’s service hangar at ORD.

Even though it looks bulky, the Baby Bird is fully mobile. It’s built on an E-Z-GO golf cart chassis, with a removable engine for easy transportation. Still, it is often towed behind a truck during public events.


Baby Bird at Chicago Pride, Photo Courtesy of American Airlines
Baby Bird at Chicago’s Columbus Day Parade, photo courtesy of American Airlines.


Given its age of more than three decades, Baby Bird is technically the oldest member of the American Airlines fleet. Its misshapen proportions make it hard to tell exactly its exact make and model. But, given its age and engine placement, TPG’s resident planespotter Zach Honig confidently bets it’s based on an MD-80. Let us know if you agree.

Related: American Airlines Announces Its Final MD-80 Flights

ORD’s Baby Bird is a one-of-a-kind must see for any AvGeek flying through O’Hare. While there aren’t many seats onboard — and fares are nearly impossible to come by — passengers can keep their eyes peeled near the American Airlines hangars for a chance to see this very special little plane.

Featured photo courtesy of American Airlines.

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