Perhaps you’re in Europe and you need a Corvette. And you want it in a few days, not a couple of months. How would you get it?
You might try Lufthansa Cargo, the German-based airline with a worldwide route network. Lufthansa Cargo flies three times a week to Los Angeles International Airport, and the airline recently allowed me to observe its operations here. For a couple of hours, the tarmac is bustling, with crews simultaneously loading and unloading cargo.
The Corvette is just one tiny piece of what Lufthansa Cargo transported on a recent evening. Read on to learn more about how it all works.
On this night, Lufthansa flew a three-engine MD-11 from LAX to its Frankfurt hub. The MD-11 is also tricky to load, Lufthansa officials told me, because of weight and balance issues. The MD-11 can carry about 70,000-80,000 metric tons of cargo. A 777, they told me, can carry as much as 110,000 metric tons. Lufthansa Cargo is about take delivery of a bunch of 777Fs.
Lufthansa Cargo operates a giant warehouse on the South Side of LAX, away from the terminals. Tonight, the MD-11 was able to handle 76,000 metric tons of cargo. But initially 81,000 tons was slated to go, so some stuff had to wait for another night.
Everything behind the forward-most door is allotted to cargo. But there a couple of seats just behind the cockpit. They don’t look all that comfortable.
Lufthansa Cargo’s flight usually comes in from Chicago, where it makes a stop on the way from Frankfurt. (The flight to Europe is nonstop.) As cargo is offloaded, the airplane actually rises. Initially, these stairs were at the same level as the door. As the plane is loaded, it gradually sinks lower.
What does Lufthansa Cargo carry? Pretty much anything. These peppers started in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. They first went to Germany, then Chicago and then Los Angeles. There were to sit on the tarmac overnight and be picked up the next day.
Loading a MD-11 is not easy, though much of the system is automated. Pallets have been in the right place at all times, or there is a risk that a plane will tip (That’s very, very bad, as you can see in this picture of another MD-11.) You can also see that the way the pallets are put together is important. Built correctly, they mimic the curvature of the aircraft — high in the middle, and lower on the sides.
Each area on the plane is assigned a letter, as you can see above.
This car is so big is takes up two slots ‘I’ and ‘DR.’ (A reader in the comments section informs me that the ‘I’ simply denotes the halfway mark between two spaces.) Sending the Corvette to Europe was probably not cheap. (On the same night the Corvette was leaving L.A., a Volkswagen — covered in a tarp — arrived from Germany. But the car was so secret I was not allowed to take pictures of it.)
About an hour after the MD-11 arrived, the upper deck is filling up. There’s also a small lower deck. Tonight’s cargo is relatively basic, but other nights feature such stuff as aquarium fish and German Shepherds.