Military Aviation

‘Flying the Boeing 737 Next Gen is like going back in time 3 decades.’ Former USAF C-17 pilot and now airline pilot explains why despite being constantly updated the Boeing 737 remains a 1960s jet

‘I went from flying a C-17 (heads up display, fly by wire, glass cockpit) to a 737 Next Gen (glass cockpit) and felt like I went back in time about 3 decades,’ John Tringali, former USAF C-17 pilot and now airline pilot.

The Boeing 737 is a twin jet narrow-body airliner built by Boeing. At first, Boeing was making it to be a shorter, cheaper airliner than its 707 and 727. However, the 737 has become a family of nine different models. The number of passengers it can carry ranges from 85 to 215.

The 737 is the only narrow-body airliner that Boeing is making. The only types of 737 that Boeing is still making are the -700, -800 and -900ER.

Moreover, a version of the 737 with new engines and a new design, the 737 MAX, came into service in 2017.

But despite being constantly updated, the Boeing 737 remains a 1960s jet John Tringali, former USAF C-17 pilot and now airline pilot, says.

‘I went from flying a C-17 (heads up display, fly by wire, glass cockpit) to a 737 Next Gen (glass cockpit) and felt like I went back in time about 3 decades. The 737 is a garbage jet, and I flew it for years. It’s like a new 1960s plane with a modern instrument panel slapped on. The overhead panel still has cutouts from where the round-dial mechanical instruments used to be,’ Tringali says on Quora.

‘Airline training is nothing like military training. In the Air Force, we have tons and tons of simulators and ground classes, in the airlines you get a take-home exam and start getting evaluated in the first of only a few sims because “they don’t have time” to train in the simulator. Literally, I was learning landing techniques from 737 friends on Facebook because the sim instructor didn’t do it.

‘On the C-17, and really any modern plane with an electronic overhead panel, the word “auto” means automatic, as in, it will automatically do what it needs to do. For example, in the C-17 running pneumatics off the APU, when you press the engine start button the associated A/C pack shuts itself down automatically to provide more air to the engine. Pretty standard for a jet, usually if you’re trying to run more than just the engine starter off the APU air you’ll get a hot or hung start. The C-17 APU was a beast, so it could run 2 sources simultaneously, like 2 engines starting together, 2 A/C packs together, or 1 of each, so if you had both packs running for cooling and started an engine on the left side, the left pack shut off by itself. Auto.’

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. C-17A Globemaster III 60th Air Mobility Wing / 349th Air Mobility Wing, 21st Airlift Squadron, 06-6160 – Travis AFB, CA

Tringali continues;

‘The 737 has pack and isolation switches on the pneumatic panel that say “auto” but they really only sort of mean that. I’m sitting in the sim and go to start an engine, but there’s no bleed air. “You have to shut off the pack.” says the instructor “But the switch is in auto.” I say. “Yeah, but you have to manually take it from auto to off.” Okay, still no pressure “You have to open the isolation valve now.” “But it says auto!” “Yes, but you have to manually move it from auto to open.” So I’m like “What the f**k does auto mean in this jet?”

‘Same thing with going from generator to APU power. The C-17, and the 757/767, just auto-connect the busses when the APU gets up to speed. 737? Nope, after it starts you have to manually connect it.

‘Also, the 737 is incredibly loud in the cockpit. Just constant fan and air noise.

‘Everyone who flies it for a while can’t hear out of one ear.

‘It can’t hold more than one altitude worth of wind aloft data, unlike the 757/767, so if you want to look for better tailwinds at altitude you have to refer to your paper flight plan and manually do it. In other words, while cruising, the other jets monitor the fuel weight, density altitude, and 4 different wind levels to calculate the optimal flight level to cruise at. 737? Nope.

‘The controls are super sloppy and lag, which was a huge problem for me coming from a C-17 where the controls are sharp, crisp and responsive. Even the 767 is snappy compared to the 737.’

Tringali concludes;

‘I could go on… but I’ll eventually be flying it so I shouldn’t keep bashing it but… what a POS. Boeing should have buried it and tried to restore the 757 before going down the whole Max fiasco.

‘The jumpseat also sucks.’

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force, Riyad Filza and Bernal Saborio from Costa Rica via Wikipedia

3-in-1 of 737 Next Generation’s Family From left to right : Boeing 737-800 Lion Air leaving for Makassar UPG as JT746, Boeing 737-800 Garuda Indonesia arriving from Perth PER as GA727, and Boeing 737-900/ER Lion Air leaving for Jakarta CGK as JT17.
Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

View Comments

  • Here’s the problem:

    The airlines dictate what Boeing or Airbus builds and what features the planes have. They also dictate how much and what kinds of training their pilots receive. The 737 is a workhorse used around the world. Expanding the seating via lengthening the fuselage or even upgrading the engines doesn’t change the fact that airlines don’t want to spend huge amounts of money on retraining their flight crews especially in todays markets where margins are razor thin. It’s all about the money. The 757, 767, 777 are all great planes but have limited usefulness in short to medium haul routes and require pilots trained on legacy aircraft to undergo extensive and very expensive retraining to get certified on those platforms. Whereas the various configurations of the 737 retain the exact same (or very close) controls and characteristics as the previous generation requiring little to no retraining. This philosophy worked well right up until the 737Max and it’s MCAS system which as we all now know threw some pilots for a loss resulting in disaster.

    In contrast the US military is much less concerned about costs of upgraded flight controls and characteristics as well as pilot training as there is constant turnover in the pilot/flight crew roster. So it doesn’t surprise anyone that the C-17 has the best of everything and flies like a racehorse compared to legacy civilian fleet Like the Boeing 737 or Airbus 320.

    It’s probably like anything else that requires time to get used to. Once you have a few thousand hours in the 737, switching to any other AC will seem weird.

  • Blaming the jet is a an old excuse for being a lousy pilot…good luck with that

  • It's silly to compare these two aircraft, although he does have a point to some degree. First, one must realize that the C-17 is bought and flown by an operation that deals in 100% financial loss. The Air Force gets a huge budget every year to operate and at the nd of the fiscal year, their budget is reduced to zero. Boeing and the airlines who operate the various 737 models don't have that luxury. The government can afford the nice toys for its pilots (like a heads-up display) which for airline operations gets basically no increased capability. The 737 can autoland with virtually zero visibility; how does the C-17 improve on that? In order to keep the costs of purchasing a new airplane down for its airline customers, many of the mundane systems survive from model to model. If this pilot actually understood 737 systems (he obviously doesn't) he would know what the automatic functions are and why they are in they systems...it's for times when things go awry to reduce the need for immediate actions to avoid making matter worse. If he finds his airline job so difficult flying "30 years in the past", perhaps he should attempt to get back on active duty. Maybe he will be lucky enough to get assigned to a KC-135 or B-52 and learn what an antique really is, even though they get the job done because their pilots know what they are doing.

  • “The controls are super sloppy and lag, which was a huge problem for me”
    Well, maybe the problem is you then!

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