MIAMI – Today in Aviation, the narrow-body airliner Douglas DC-8 enters service with Delta Air Lines (DL) and United Airlines (UA) in 1959.

While Pan Am was the first airline to order the DC-8 in October 1955, it would be rivals DL and UA that would first put the aircraft into revenue service.

Both DL and UA chose the jet-powered airliner in order to keep up with their competition and replace their Douglas DC-6 and 7 fleets. Indeed, UA was pivotal in the design of the DC-8 with the airline’s then-President William A. Patterson being a big advocate of the six-abreast seating chosen for the jet.

Delta used the arrival of the DC-8 into the fleet to introduce the now iconic ‘widget’ livery, designed to represent the swept wings of a jet airliner. (Photo: Jon Proctor (GFDL 1.2 http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html or GFDL 1.2 http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html, via Wikimedia Commons)

Inaugural Flights


United was the first airline to receive the DC-8. N8004U, a -21 model joined the fleet on June 3, 1959. But it would be DL who would pip UA to the post of the inaugural flight when DL823 departed New York (JFK) bound for Atlanta.

United’s maiden flight departed San Francisco (SFO) a few hours later bound for JFK. 119 passengers were on board the jet under the command of Captain Floyd Addison.

By the end of 1959, UA was operating 16 DC-8s. They would go on to operate the following variants: -10, -20, -30, -50, -60 and -70. The airline retired its final DC-8, a -70 on October 31, 1991.

Delta meanwhile retired its last two -71s on May 1, 1989, after 29 years of DC-8 service. The airline operated the following variants: -11, -12, -33, -51, -61 and -71.

United DC-8-21 pictured at SFO from where the carrier made both its maiden and final flight with the type. (Photo: Jon Proctor (GFDL 1.2 http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html or GFDL 1.2 http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html), via Wikimedia Commons)

Featured image: United Airlines was the first airline to receive the DC-8 on June 3, 1959. (Photo: Bill Larkins, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)