October 7, 2022
What Was Boeing’s MD-10?
Boeing Featured

What Was Boeing’s MD-10?

DALLAS – During the Tri-jet era, the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and the MD-11 were each a success for decades and also the people’s favorites.

Combined, over 600 such jets were in the skies, although the MD-11 was introduced 20 years after the DC-10. As time went by, aircraft manufacturers started to make the move to a two-pilot cockpit, like that of the MD-11. The DC-10 position, with a three-crew cockpit and aging avionics, was a bit of doubt among the new entries.

In order to extend the life of those DC-10s, a hybrid model was designed that went by “MD-10”. It was a Boeing initiative and fell under the Boeing Converted Freighter program.

In brief, the MD-10 program was to upgrade the existing DC-10 with the latest technology – a glass cockpit and also a transition to a two-person flight deck, bringing it as close to the MD11 in terms of operations, specifically from the pilot’s perspective.

FedEx N307FE McDonnell Douglas MD-10-30F. Photo: Luke Ayers/Airways

So What Did Boeing Do?


They sent out an offer to all DC-10 operators back in the day about the so-called MD10 conversion program – there were some 413 DC-10s that could benefit from this modernization with the opportunity to retrofit their airplanes with the advanced common flight deck (ACF).

Upon converting the DC-10 to the MD-10, a significant cost reduction was expected in terms of operations, followed by the complete elimination of the onboard flight engineer. The conversion also replaced approximately 50 line replaceable units (LRU) with 19 state-of-the-art LRUs and also achieved a weight savings of approximately 1,000 lb (454 kg).

Due to the commonality in an MD-10/MD-11, maintenance, and labor savings were a sure by-product.

N318FE, FedEx McDonnell Douglas MD-10-30 @KSLC (Over the Jordan River. Mountains in the background are Pfefferhorn, Lone Peak, Kessler Peak, and White Baldy.)

Launch Customer, Modifications


Shipping Master FedEx (FX) was the launch customer for the conversion program. 70 of Fedex’s then DC-10s were to be upgraded into the MD-10 with its first delivery in early 2000.

The modification was to happen over two phases, the first of which focused on the Passenger-to-freight conversion. The program began in February 1997 and took about 120 days per aircraft. It included a heavy maintenance check, standardization and reliability upgrades, and the removal of passenger accommodations. Other main conversion activities included a Main deck cargo door installation and a rigid cargo barrier installation. The structure was also changed to increase the Maximum Takeoff gross weight (MTOGW).

Once this was completed, phase two brought about a flight deck retrofit. The big deal was the installation of the ACF, a liquid crystal display that was based on the integrated glass design in the MD-11. It would display all flight and systems information. Commonality with the MD-11 flight deck allowed the pilots to operate both variants under a single type rating.

Besides, some other significant changes were made to make the old bird as efficient as possible compared to the newer MD-11. An advanced airborne weather radar with a wind shear detection system was installed. Furthermore, it has Category IIIB autoland ability, satellite communications, and Global Positioning System navigation capabilities.

FedEx benefited a great deal from the program. Lower operating costs, greater reliability, reduced spares inventory, and increased payload and range. It was also one of the very few types of aircraft that made a transition in terms of cockpit crew members.

FedEx said goodbye to its last McDonnell Douglas MD-10-10 variant, which was based on the DC-10-10, last year, although it still has nine MD-10-30s (based on the DC-10-30) in its fleet, which is also expected to retire in 2023. Besides FedEx, TAB Cargo (2L) from Bolivia has one such MD-10 (CP-2791) flying in its fleet.


Featured image: FedEx N311FE McDonnell Douglas MD-10-30(F). Photo: Michael Rodeback/Airways

Commercial pilot | Flight Instructor | Aviation Journalist & writer.

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