1/10/1990: The Prototype MD-11 Takes to the Skies

1/10/1990: The Prototype MD-11 Takes to the Skies

DALLAS – Today in Aviation, the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 took to the skies for the first time from Long Beach, California, the US, in 1990.

McDonnell Douglas had been looking for a replacement for its popular DC-10 tri-jet since 1976. Research began under the designation of the ‘Super 60.’ This developed into the MD-11, formally launched in December 1986. Ten airlines placed 52 firm orders, plus 40 options.

Construction of the prototype commenced on March 9, 1988. However, there were numerous assembly delays, which subsequently delayed the jet’s first flight. Entry-in-to-service came on December 20, 1990, with launch customer Finnair (AY). US launch customer Delta (DL) introduced its first MD-11 into service on February 5, 1991.

A special ceremony was held at Long Beach to mark the handover of the first MD-11 to Finnair. Photo: McDonnell Douglas.

Poor Performer

During these initial months of service, aircraft performance issues began to arise. These issues led Singapore Airlines (SQ) to cancel its 20-aircraft order, choosing the rival Airbus A340-300 instead. American Airlines (AA) had initially been one of the biggest customers, with 50 on order. It would go on to operate just 19 examples for less than eight years.

Despite promises that the MD-11 would be a clean-sheet, next-generation airliner to compete with the Boeing 777 and Airbus A330/A340, MD needed more cash during the development. This meant that compromises were made, leading to the initial performance flaws.

The type failed to meet its targets for range and fuel burn. AA cited problems with the performance of the engines and airframe, while Singapore Airlines (SQ) stated that the MD-11 could not operate on the airline’s long-haul routes.

Several MD-11s of various operators on the production line. Photo: McDonnell Douglas.

End of Production

Four models of the MD-11 were offered: passenger, freighter, convertible freighter, and a “combi” variant capable of carrying both passengers and cargo.

Production of the MD-11 ended in 2000 after Boeing’s takeover of MD. The last jet was delivered on February 22, 2001, after 200 airframes had been built. The type was eventually retired from passenger service by KLM on October 26, 2014. 

KLM was the final operator of the passenger variant. Photo: KLM.

Featured Image: Fed Ex took on many ex-passenger MD-11s and had them converted to freighters. Photo: Daniel Gorun/Airways.

European Deputy Editor
Writer, aviation fanatic, and Airways European Deputy Editor, Lee is a plant geek and part-time Flight Attendant for a UK-based airline. Based in Liverpool, United Kingdom.

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