MIAMI – Today in Aviation, the McDonnell Douglas DC-9 took to the skies for the first time in 1965, gaining its type certificate nine months later.

During the 1950s, there was a growing demand for economic aircraft for frequent short-haul flights to small airports with short runways. In order to meet this demand, the Douglas Aircraft Company (DAC) worked on a design to complement its DC-8 family aircraft.

Initially, DAC designed a four-engine aircraft that did not attract enough interest from customers. Then, in 1960, subscribed a two-year contract with France’s Sud Aviation to support, produce and market a licensed version of its Caravelle in the United States. However, the venture did not prosper as expected, and Douglas went back to the design board once the Caravelle contract expired.

By the end of 1963, Douglas came up with a different, innovative design. The aircraft would have a five-seat abreast passenger cabin arrangement, a two-Pilot cockpit, smaller wings, a T-tail with two engines mounted on the rear of the fuselage. The reason behind these features is that would enable the aircraft to operate at lower takeoff and approach speeds. Also, the position of the engines would minimize the risk of Foreign Object Debris (FOD), particularly in small, remote airports that were the primary market of this aircraft.

a DC-9 sales brochure, showing the distinctive T-tail design and engines placed to the back of the fuselage. these last two elements are the most distinctive ones from the DC-9 family aircraft and were a constant in the design of later models such as the McDonnell Douglas MD-80, the MD-90, and the MD-95 (also known as Boeing 717). (Credits: The Airchive)
a DC-9 sales brochure, showing the distinctive T-tail design and engines placed to the back of the fuselage. these last two elements are the most distinctive ones from the DC-9 family aircraft and were a constant in the design of later models such as the McDonnell Douglas MD-80, the MD-90, and the MD-95 (also known as Boeing 717). (Credits: The Airchive)

Production Approval and First Flight


The Douglas DC-9 learned from the errors from other manufacturers. For example, back in 1963, the BAC One-Eleven lost one of its prototypes in a crash during a deep-stall test. Investigations determined that the wings blocked the airflow over the elevators on the tail. Douglas introduced in the DC-9 many of the new safety features of the BAC 1-11, including stick-shakers that waned of an approaching stall, and stick-pushers which automatically pushed the nose of the aircraft down in case of a stall.

in April 1963, the board of Directors of Douglas gave the approval to start with the production of the DC-9. The first aircraft (N9DC · MSN 45695 · LN 1) took off from Long Beach Airport (LGB), on the coast of Southern California, on its first flight shortly before 11:30 local time on February 25, 1965.

Photographed shortly before the Douglas DC-9’s maiden flight. (from left to right): Chief Engineering Pilot George Jansen, Test Flight Engineer George Walker and Pilot Paul Patten. (Photo: Terry Waddington photo via Jon Proctor Collection)

In the cockpit were Douglas Chief Engineering Test Pilot George R. Jansen, DC-9 Program Test Pilot Paul H. Patten, and Flight Test Engineer Duncan Walker, who tested the aircraft for two hours and 13 minutes. The aircraft landed in Edwards Air Force Base, where the test program would continue. Eventually, four other aircraft joined the test flight campaign that lasted nine months, and the aircraft entered into passenger service with Delta Air Lines (DL) in November 1965.

DC-9 Variants


Besides the short DC-9-10 and DC-9-20, Douglas developed other stretched variants of the aircraft, which became the actual best sellers of the family aircraft. The DC-9-30 had a longer fuselage and extended wingtips. The first of them flew on August 1, 1966, and its launch customer was Eastern Air Lines (EA) a year later.

A Douglas DC-9-40 wearing the colors of Northwest Airlines (NW). (Photo: Cory W. Watts)

The DC-9-40 and DC-9-50 were the last family members of the family. The DC-9-40 entered into service in March 1968 with Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS), and the DC-9-50 entered into revenue service in August 1975 with Eastern Air Lines.

DC-9 Deliveries and Last Flight in the USA


Between 1965 and 1982, Douglas delivered 972 DC-9s in 11 different variants and configurations, catered to the needs of civilian, military and VIP customers around the world. Today, just a handful of DC-9s are still in service.

Ameristar is among the last DC-9 operators in the world. The Dallas-based airline has four of the type dedicated to cargo flights. (Photo: MIsael Ocasio Hernandez/Airways)

Delta Air Lines flew the last Douglas DC-9 passenger flight in the USA on Monday, January 6, 2014. Appropriately tagged as Delta flight DL2014, the final flight departed from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Atlanta just before sunset, marking the end to a 48-year career of flying scheduled commercial flights in the United States.

A ‘BulletProof’ Aircraft


Captain Rand Pack flew the Douglas DC-9 for Northwest Airlines for nine years, logging approximately 8,000 flight hours. At the time of the type’s last US passenger flight, Pack referred to the DC-9 as a ‘bulletproof’ aircraft.

The classic cockpit layout of a Douglas DC-9-50 (YV139T · MSN 49765 · LN 806). While Delta Air Lines (DL) was the world’s largest DC-9 operator, Venezuela’s Aeropostal (VH) operated nearly all types built, including the DC-9-20. (Credits: Roberto Leiro)

According to Peck, these aircraft would fly five to six flights a day, and Mechanics, Cabin Crews, and Pilots were able to get to know the aircraft really well. According to Peck, the aircraft was a “fabulous training ground, as it made lots of take-off and landings.”


Featured image: N9DC (MSN 45695 · LN 1) was the first DC-9 ever built. After a colorful career serving half a dozen airlines, the jetliner was scrapped sometime in the late 1990s. (Credits: DAC)