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. There were, however numerous delays with assembly, 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.

JAT Yugoslav Airways (JU) was the intended launch customer but due to the Yugoslav war, these were instead delivered to Finnair (AY). (Photo: The Archive)

Poor Performer


During these initial months of service, issues regarding the aircraft’s performance 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 was short on 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.

American Airlines had retired all their MD-11s by 2001 with most going to Fed-Ex. (Credits: The Archive)

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. In 2020, there were 115 MD-11s still flying, albeit in a cargo capacity.


Featured image: Lufthansa Cargo D-ALCD McDonnell Douglas MD-11(F). Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways