Monday, January 17, 2005

Requiem for the DC-9

On Friday, a radio newsreader relayed the information that Boeing plans to close its Toronto manufacturing plant due to low sales for the 717 model, then she asided to her colleague that she'd never seen a Boeing 717, so maybe it wasn't such a bad idea to discontinue that line of aircraft. I can't blame her for not recognizing this former star under its latest pseudonym.

Here is a picture from airliners.net.

The airplane launched in 1965 as the DC-9, the latest addition to the Douglas Aircraft Company line of Commercial aircraft. The Douglas Aircraft Company went bankrupt in 1967, but the takeover company McDonnell Douglas continued to develop the product. A longer, quieter and more economical version carried the name DC-9 Super 80 in 1977, and in the early eighties quietly became just Super 80 and then MD-80, to disassociate itself from a number of high-profile DC-10 crashes. Development introduced a number of new model numbers between MD-81 and MD-95, but in 1998 Boeing renamed the whole program Boeing 717. (The 717 corporate page may disappear soon, as it contradicts the press release, proclaiming that "Boeing has affirmed its commitment to the 717 program and the 100-passenger market by announcing it will continue production of the airplane.")

It was a strange name choice on Boeing's part. They had already briefly used the number 717 to designate a military aircraft, so reassigning it seemed to deposit the aircraft into history, between the 707 and the 727, both already discontinued.

The press release doesn't acknowledge the history of the 717, and even this interview with Pat McKenna, director of the 717 program, doesn't reveal that he has been involved with the aircraft since 1968.

Airliners.net reports total production of 976 DC-9s and 1191 in the MD-80 series while Boeing reports 125 717s operating in passenger service, totalling a minimum of 2292 of these airplanes made. That's a lot. I wonder now whether the MD-80 figures don't include the DC-9s.

Look for two rear-mounted engines, a T-tail, one eyebrow window each side of the cockpit. Lookalikes include the Tu-135 (look for the spike on the front of the tail), and the BAE 111 (has skinnier engines, and the cockpit windows don't dip down at the side).

2 comments:

Nicolas said...

It is sad that Boeing lets such an important plane slip into nothingness without acknowledgment. Boo Boeing boo. The MD-80 is 717 if you will is a wonderful plane and a good precursor to the 737.

Of course, the 737 is still one of my favorite airplanes!

majroj said...

"Heritage airframes" are still at work, though. The USN and their Marine Corps still fly the "C-9" version of the DC-9, I will bet you the USAF still has a few tucked away, and as for the Boeing 727, at least a few cargo operations here are using them, along with the folks who transport high risk inmates by air (the real "CONAIR").

Sometimes you just need a craft that has straigt on-straight off tailend loading and goes faster than a Hercules, but not as pricey as a C17.