Delta Retires the Northwest Compass

Delta, Northwest

Another milestone was reached in Northwest’s integration into Delta on January 3 and 4 when the last six airplanes in Northwest colors left the fleet. This also marked the airline’s retirement of its small remaining fleet of DC-9-40 airplanes. The airplanes were all sent to Orlando’s Sanford airport, and a friend was able to fly one of those airplanes down.

Northwest DC-9-40s Retired

The Northwest compass logo was always one that I loved. It was simple, clean and highly descriptive. It also just looked good. I imagine Delta’s skyward-pointed widget got some inspiration from this design.

The DC-9-40 was one of many stretches of the original version. It sat in between the -30 and -50 in size but with only 71 examples produced, it wasn’t one of the most popular variants. It did, however, serve Northwest well.

Northwest DC-9-40s Retired 2

As you can see, this example was built in 1968. I imagine it could have kept flying for many more years. Douglas used to build tanks in that sense. These things can fly forever. And Delta continues to fly them in the form of the larger DC-9-50 but only with Delta colors. So now the -40 is gone and so is the compass logo. Delta has made quick work of this transition from a painting perspective, and that’s good. But a little nostalgia is well-deserved.

[Photos via Sara Gradwohl]

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32 comments on “Delta Retires the Northwest Compass

  1. I flew on a DC-9-50 on January 4. They are the best. So much legroom and the ride is amazingly comfortable, much more than an A319 (granted, the A319 has more ground clearance). Delta is maintaining these birds beautifully (and the -50 even has wifi!)

  2. David, they’ve already been sold by Delta to GA Telesis (an aviation leasing & parts company). GA will have another company at Orlando-Sanford break the planes up for parts. This arrangement has already happened on well over a dozen DC-9-30’s and a handful of 757-251’s from the former NWA fleet.

    One more point not mentioned in the original blog…these were the last DC-9-40’s flying anywhere in commercial service.

  3. As an airplane geek, I understand some of the nostalgia here–but on the flip side, these were noisy, gas guzzling, inefficient airplanes. You could always follow a DC-9 for miles from the ground after watching it take off, because it laid down such a nasty brown trail of exhaust. Always sad to see an airline disappear, especially one as old as NW, but I will not miss the ear splitting noise or pollution from one of these birds flying over my house.

    1. Sad indeed … it’s a beautiful airplane with a distinctive silhouette, overpowered and therefore climbs like a fighter jet, can operate fully loaded in and out of white knuckle airports with ease. And if you’re in first class on CO or a few other carriers that use the second forward door for boarding, the effect is like a 747 F/C cabin … nobody headed for the back is traipsing thru, making for a quiet and comfortable experience. (Sorry to be elitist.)

      1. So true. Took off from SNA in a 57 once–ran up the engines on the blocks, and then shot out of there like we’d been catapulted off a carrier. Hard climb at what felt like 40 degrees to about 7,000 feet over the ocean, then leveled and turned to the east, toward ATL. SNL has a short r/w, some serious noise abatement procedures. I have always loved the t/o on a 57, especially since, as a formerly nervous flyer, I loved the feeling of being pinned to the seat on the t/o roll–felt that it would fly on momentum alone!

  4. As someone who lives in the Twin Cities, I can’t believe how fast the Compass disappeared. It’s kind of sad. While service has improved dramatically (I don’t agree with Twin Cities folk who think NWA was better than Delta) it is sad how quickly the history of the Red Tail disappeared. There is no sign of it any more at MSP. Then again, I think the Republic Duck Tail disappeared almost as quickly around here. It’s just a sad part of the airline business.

  5. Sad to see the -40s go.

    When the -30s were retired by Delta a few months back, we lost the last active DC-9s in the NW/DL fleet which had originally been operated by Southern Airways, an Atlanta-based NW/Republic predecessor.

    Check out this (somewhat outdated) list:

    In a sense, the retirements of the NW/DL DC-9-30s were also one of the last breaths of good old Southern, too.

    Still, you can still fly an ex-Eastern Air Lines DC-9-50 on Delta these days! I flew aboard one from Atlanta during October of last year. Long live those Whisperjets!

  6. Sad, sad, sad –that is, for the NW employees who lost employment when Delta made all those promises which seems like a long long time ago now. That is progress….

  7. I wonder what type of aircraft has replaced the DC-9s? Probably contracted the flying out to those miserable little lawn dart operators. I hate flying in an airplane that you can’t fully stand up in and has no room onboard for carry-ons. The ERJ-145 is truly a nasty piece of equipment to stuff 50 people into. The DC-9 was a real airplane. It will be missed.

    1. Well, they did get the A319 from NW, which I think has 139 seats. It’s arguably better cost-wise than the 737-700 which Delta had. Check the RFP that Delta just put out. My feeling is we’ll see C-Series – the 100 seat version, and then later they’ll go for the 130 seat version. They’re also getting used MD-90’s.

      Don’t you wish AA was as adventurous? :)

      1. I don’t know about “adventurous,” but AA is the only carrier still operating twin-aisles (767s) on JFK & MIA to SFO & LAX transcons. Despite being long in the tooth, the -200s and -300s I’ve been on are well-maintained and of course wonderfully spacious compared to the 737s and 757s of the competition, especially in Y-class. I’m surprised they don’t hype this advantage in their ads.

        (UA has a single daily 777 LAX-IAD but otherwise it goes down to a/c as small as the A319.)

    2. While the DC9 was big, it was also loud and a gas guzzler. The EMB 145 is kind of nice for short flights because of the 1-2 seating (I always try to get the one), which is sort of like the 2-3 on the 9.

      But it looks like DL’s regionals are flying a few more EMB 170-series planes. I have a flight on a 175 from DTW-RDU next month. I love the 170. 2+2 seating, lots of underseat room, quiet, a nice ride in sketchy wx. Sorry to see the 9 go–it was and is a beautiful plane–but the newer planes have advantages too.

  8. I’m not sure I ever flew a DC-9-40 but I knew I used to fly DC9s into BGM all the time, before that airport went all RJ.

    I was thrilled to fly a DC-9-30, N8932E, on flight 1739 between DTW and BNA. My notes on the experience: “Got the boarding pass from the woman unable to use verbs. Sat in the Exit row with the annoying bifurcated arm-rest. Still in NWA colors.”

    I’m gonna miss this plane. They were good and solid and did their job well.

    1. For what it is worth, DC-9-30 N8932E is an ex-Eastern bird, Nicholas (the “E” stands for…you guessed it). Delivered in 1967.

      Here’s your old friend at Orlando in the early 1980s:

      Although she is gone, I am glad there are still some ex-Eastern DC-9-50s flying for Delta.


      1. This does bring up an interesting question. How do airlines decide their tail numbers. I know Continental has a very simple N-then numbers scheme. JetBlue ends every tail with “JB”, the same with Alaska and “AS”. Northwest just seemed to leave things as is for whatever the tail was when they got the plane. USAirways tries to end them with “US”, “AW”, or “AU”, although they’re not quite consistent..

        You’d think they’d want some consistency in tail numbers…

        1. Northwest didn’t seem to care too much. Many of the DL/NW DC-9-50s have tail numbers which end in NC– as in North Central!

          Herman the Goose still flies!

          Delta has some tail numbers all over the place, including older 767s ending in MH. I am assuming that they were financed through the old Manufacturers Hanover Bank, but someone brighter than me probably knows the answer to that!

          And over at US, the AU tail numbers are a legacy of the old Allegheny.

        2. It varies and usually has to do with what’s available. As JM hints, I think sometimes the leasing company wants a tail number that anyone will like regardless of who leases the aircraft. Sometimes weird coincidences happen, like ValuJet buying DC-9s from US Airways that happened to have -VJ registrations.

          The Delta Connection carrier with which I am most familiar has three basic categories in this regard. The ATRs, Brasilias and the first batch of CRJ200s all have/had NxxxAS tail numbers. The CRJ700, 900 and the newer 200s have NxxxEV (EV is the IATA identifier for Atlantic Southeast). The company apparently thinks it isn’t worth the expense to re-register the aircraft it buys from other carriers, so there are examples like N600QX (700 purchased from Horizon, QX), N317CA (700 owned by Delta and transferred from Comair), N606LR (900 owned by Delta and transferred from Freedom, ICAO FRL), N653BR (200 formerly owned by Atlantic Coast/Independence, call sign “Blue Ridge”). One special case: N761ND (a 700 dedicated to Nelson Debardeleben, a chief pilot who was killed in a general aviation accident).

  9. Strangely over here in Southeast Asia, we never had the DCs in the last 20-30 years. I think back in the sixties there were a few but now Airbus and Boeing seem to have taken over the markets here. As a collector of Plane Safety Cards, I would love to have had one of these before they are all gone.

    1. Not sure how you’re defining Southeast Asia, but McDonnell Douglas had an agreement with the PRC dating back to the early ’80s for the production of MD-82s which were operated by China Northern and China Eastern. Maybe they never reached the country(s) where you were living.

  10. It would be interesting to know who first bought this airplane. I used to fly on Southern Airways which had a fleet of DC9s. Southern and North Central airlines combined to form the airline Republic which later was merged with Northwest. Could this aircraft at one time have belonged to either Southern or North Central? Or was it bought directly by Northwest Airlines?

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