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It is a Sad Day

American Airlines MD-82 (Dylan Ashe. Creative Commons 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

It's a sad day in the aviation world. American Airlines is retiring the last 20 of its Mad Dogs. That is the nickname fans have given the DC-9-80 through DC-9-88. They entered service in 1980 and have been flying hectic schedules ever since.

Tomorrow morning, the last MD-88 (also the newest) will take off from Dallas-Fort Worth filled with fans, who reserved their tickets months ago. They will fly to Chicago. There will be no return flight, for the aircraft will go on from there to Roswell, New Mexico, where American Airlines takes its retired planes. The Boneyard. The Graveyard. The Retirement Home. All are names for the place where the planes are stripped of anything valuable and then taken apart. Sad. So very sad.

After tomorrow, the only major US carrier using DC-9 derivatives will be Delta Airlines. Already, Delta is retiring its fleet of T-tails, although the process will continue for another year or two. The Airlines hasn't yet said exactly when their last one will be retired. I tried to schedule a flight on a Delta MD-88 in August; not a problem. The same flight in October will use B-757. So, it's happening quickly, too quickly.

Now, a bit of history . . .

The Douglas Commercial (DC) series of airplanes began life in 1933, when Donald Douglas' brainchild, the DC-1 took flight. It was a prototype, and like most prototypes, it had a few kinks that needed to be worked out. Thus, was born the DC-2. It had fewer kinks, but Jack Frye with TWA wanted a sleeper transport. Douglas stretched the DC-2, installed Pullman sleeper-like berths that converted from seats, and the DC-3 was born. Whereas, earlier aircraft took three days to travel from coast to coast, the DC-3 made it in 15 hours with only three stops to refuel.

World War II began, and the military snatched up the Douglas Commercials and converted them into cargo / troop carrier / paratroop aircraft known as C-47s. The military went on to order more C-47s, more than 10,000, in all. Still more were manufactured in other nations under lend-lease agreements. The C-47 is largely noted for its importance in the air invasion of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The plane known affectionately as "That's All, Brother" led the Allied planes, both then and at the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion on June 6, 2019. I had the privilege of flying on that plane in March of 2019, as it began its tour of the eastern United States before it set out for England and France. Beautifully restored, it was up to the task, and it performed beautifully. But I digress. The DC-3, along with the tank, the aircraft carrier, and the Merchant Marine, has been credited with contributing the most to the Allied victory in the war.

After the war, the Douglas Commercials and the C-47s once again found service with the airlines. Despite the advent of a succession of newer planes, such as the DC-4, DC-5 (namely used by the military), DC-6, and DC-7, they continued to fly passengers for nearly forty years -- and still do in remote locations, such as the Northwest Territories in Canada, and in third-world nations. They also continue to work for small air freight operations. Even so, they were replaced in the commercial aviation world by jets. Enter the DC-9.

The DC-9 began life in 1965 as a regional jet to fly routes too short for its larger DC-8. (We saw several DC-8s in the early seasons of Five-0, before the 747 came on the scene.) The DC-9 was stretched to become the McDonnell-Douglas (MD)-80 series of aircraft. All were powered by Pratt & Whitney JT8D fanjets. All featured under-mounted wings, a swept empennage, and tall T-tails.

C-9C Nightingale on static display at the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover AFB DE. Notice the C-141 StarLifter in the background . That is the very first StarLifter, numbered 612775. (Photo by Air Mobility Command Museum)

In its last years before being bought out by Boeing, McDonnell-Douglas revised the aircraft yet again, giving it updated avionics and larger, quieter, more fuel-efficient engines. It named the revamped plane the MD-95. Boeing made further updates and renamed the plane the B-717. True fans of the DC-9 family of aircraft find it difficult to accept either the MD-95 or the B-171. After all, they don't have that plaintive JT8D engine sound. Hear it here:

Here is a picture of my early ride, the Southern Airways DC-9. Southern Airways is no more, but, then, neither is the DC-9. While they were still flying, though, I had the thrill of sharing a flight between Baton Rouge and Memphis with the Beach Boys. Oh, yeah!

Southern Airways DC-9 -1978_RuthAS - Creative Commons license 3.0 from Wikimedia Commons

In later years, I flew Delta Airlines MD-80s between Washington and Atlanta and DC-9s on to Baton Rouge. I also flew American Airlines MD-80s between Baton Rouge and Dallas and Dallas and Tulsa.

And, so, we bid farewell to American Airlines' fleet of MD-80s in all their iterations. The loss takes us one tearful step closer to the end of an era, that of Donald Douglas and his remarkable flying machines.

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