MIAMI — Delta is set to fly the last scheduled U.S. commercial McDonnell Douglas DC-9 flight on Monday, January 6. Appropriately tagged as Delta flight 2014, the final flight will depart Minneapolis/St. Paul for Atlanta just before sunset, marking the end to a 48-year career of flying scheduled commercial flights in the United States.

During the 1950s, there was a growing demand for an economical aircraft for frequent short-range flights to small airports with short runways. In order to meet this demand, the Douglas Aircraft Company started to work on an economical design to compliment their DC-8. Initially, they designed a four-engine aircraft to be primarily used on medium-range flights. Unfortunately for Douglas, the design did not generate strong interest.

In 1960, Douglas signed a two-year contract with Sud Aviation to help support, produce, and market a licensed version of the Caravelle. However, Douglas’ contract was contingent on the Caravelle becoming popular with the airlines. Unfortunately for Douglas, there was not a large enough demand, and Douglas returned to the design board when their contract expired in 1962.

Later that year, Douglas came up with a different design. The aircraft would have five seats across, a two-person flight crew, a T-tail, relatively small wings, and other unique characteristics. The location of the Pratt & Whitney IT8D turbofan engines, mounted at the rear of the aircraft, was one of the more unique characteristics about the design. Positioning the engines at the rear allowed the flaps longer which lowered takeoff and approach speeds. Plus, the engines reduced foreign object damage when debris was ingested, and turnarounds became much more efficient.

A DC-9 Brochure. (Credits: Airways Airchive)
A DC-9 Brochure. (Credits: Airways Airchive)

The DC-9 also helped overcome existing problems in regards to flight. The BAC One-Eleven prototype in 1963 revealed major problems of deep stalling. To overcome this issue, Douglas made several design changes. They also introduced vortilons which are small surfaces beneath the wing’s leading edge that are used to control airflow and increase low speed lift. All-in-all, the design was shaping to become a winner for Douglas.

After a year of designing, the aircraft was dubbed the DC-9, and Douglas gave approval to begin production of the first DC-9 on April 8, 1963.

The DC-9 took to the skies for the first time on February 25, 1965, and by July, Douglas had a fleet of five test aircraft. The very first DC-9 was delivered to Delta Air Lines and ferried to Atlanta on October 7, 1965. After FAA mandated certification, the DC-9 received its airworthiness certificate on November 23, 1965.

(Credits: Delta Air Lines Heritage Museum)
(Credits: Delta Air Lines Heritage Museum)

About two weeks later, Delta Air Lines flew the very first DC-9 passenger flight from Atlanta to Memphis on December 8, 1965.

A stretched variant, the DC-9-30, was also being developed. The new series boasted a longer fuselage and extended wingtips. The second variant flew its first flight on August 1, 1966 and entered passenger service with Eastern Air Lines in 1967. Since the initial design, the -20, -30, -40, and -50 DC-9 Series were introduced. Also, several freighter and military series were introduced.

The DC-9-50 variant was the last member of the DC-9 family to be introduced. It entered revenue service in August 1975 with Eastern Airlines. Five years later, the DC-9-80 Series started being developed, but the program was later referred to as the MD-80 series.

From 1965 to 1982, Douglas delivered a total of 972 DC-9s in 11 different variations to dozens of airlines and government organizations around the world. As of August 2013, there were 90 DC-9 aircraft in commercial service. USA Jet Airlines (a charter company in the United States), Everts Air Cargo, Aeronaves, TSM, Aserca Airlines, LASER Airlines, Fly Sax, African Express Airways, and a few other small operators still fly the DC-9.

Ironically, Delta was the first and will be the last airline in the United States to fly scheduled DC-9 commercial flights. In 1993, Delta retired their last DC-9-30. However, the DC-9 returned to Delta’s fleet when they merged with Northwest in 2008. Delta never itself originally operated the DC-9-50 Series. They only operated the DC-9-10 and DC-9-30 series. DL only operated the DC-9-50 following the 2008 merger with Northwest. Many of the DC-9s that Delta currently flies once flew for, North Central, Southern, Hughes AirWest, Republic, and Northwest.

For many aviation enthusiasts, it is sad to say farewell to the DC-9. The aircraft has played a significant role in not only aviation but making the world a smaller place.

Captain Rand Pack, Ret. flew the DC-9 for Northwest Airlines for nine years, and he logged approximately 8,000 hours. He referred to the DC-9 as “bullet proof.” Since the aircraft would fly five to six flights a day, mechanics and pilots were able to get to know the aircraft really well. He also mentioned that it was a “fabulous training ground as it made a lot of take off and landings.”

(Credits: Airways Airchice)
(Credits: Airways Airchive)

Monday is sure to be bittersweet for many aviation enthusiasts. However, it is also the closing of a chapter in Delta’s history. “The DC-9 has been a workhorse in our domestic fleet while providing a reliable customer experience,” Nat Pieper, Delta’s VP – Fleet Strategy, says in a statement. “The aircraft’s retirement paves the way for newer, more efficient aircraft.” Delta says it has replaced much of the flying on those aircraft types by “adding economically efficient, proven-technology aircraft such as the Boeing 777-200LR; two-class, 65 and 76-seat regional jets and variants of the 737 and 717, largely on a capacity-neutral basis.”

Delta’s DC-9 retirement comes in amidst of many Douglas aircraft retiring. ATI Airlines retired the last Douglas DC-8 commercial airliner last year, and Biman DC-10 within a month or so.

Join us for live coverage of the last two scheduled DC-9 flights on Monday, January 6. The second to last is Delta flight 1965 and the last is Delta 2014 (the years the DC-9 flew commercial flights in the US). We will have live coverage beginning at 11:45 AM EST on Facebook and Twitter.

(Delta flight 2014 is not the last passenger DC-9 flight. Two DC-9 aircraft will be kept for “some ad hoc support for the next few weeks to ensure a smooth operation.”)