Ode to the MD-11, An Airplane That Proved the Importance of Innovation (or Lack Thereof)

This week marks the final passenger-carrying commercial flight of the last of the Douglas widebody aircraft. When KLM flight 672 from Montreal touches down in Amsterdam at 635a on Sunday, the era of the trijet in airline service will officially end. I’ll miss the MD-11, but today I’m going to focus on the negative. The MD-11 was a symbol of failure for McDonnell Douglas, and there are lessons to be learned.

It’s no secret that I love Douglas airplanes. After all, the Douglas Aircraft Company built nearly every jet it produced here in Long Beach, not far from where I live. (Sure, I moved here after the last commercial jet came off the line, but that doesn’t matter.) It’s safe to say that the Douglas Aircraft Company was one of the more innovative companies building airplanes. The DC-3 was revolutionary in its versatility. Not only was it a great war transport during World War II, but it made for an excellent passenger transport as well. Airlines had long struggled to profit by flying passengers, but the DC-3 was the first airplane to carry a large enough load to make it possible.

From that point on, Douglas built some of the great piston-driven aircraft of all time. The DC-4, DC-6, and DC-7 were all important airplanes, but they were immediately rendered irrelevant when the jet age arrived. When that happened, Douglas dove right in. First was the DC-8 and then the venerable DC-9 for short haul operations. The company’s first entry into widebody flying was the mighty DC-10. That trijet was meant to provide a mid to long range option with less capacity than a 747. Fresh off its 1967 merger with McDonnell, the newly-minted McDonnell Douglas officially launched the DC-10 in 1968. It was all downhill from there.

Despite building airplanes for 30 years beyond the merger, McDonnell Douglas never created and produced a new commercial design. The DC-8 was stretched a few times until it faded into history. The DC-9 was the most successful jet the company produced. It was stretched from the original DC-9-10 into the -30, the -40, and the -50 before it was renamed as the MD-80 after another stretch. (Yes, that’s really just a DC-9-80.) It eventually was shrunk into the MD-87, stretched again into the MD-90, and finally shrunk one more time into the MD-95, an airplane you know as the Boeing 717. It was renamed after Boeing bought McDonnell Douglas. Both the Boeing 737 and the Airbus A320 families easily surpassed the DC-9 family. The last 717 rolled off the line in Long Beach in 2006, and with that, the end of the Douglas commercial aircraft lineage had arrived.

As for the DC-10, it had a few different variants and, despite some high profile crashes, was a moderately successful airplane. It proved to be quite the reliable workhorse later in life with the last one not being retired until earlier this year by Biman Bangladesh. But when the time came for McDonnell Douglas to innovate, the company failed completely.

Sure, McDonnell Douglas had its chances. In the early 1970s, the company began floating the idea of a DC-10 Twin with, obviously, only 2 engines. Boeing’s 767 wouldn’t fly for another decade. And though Airbus was about to fly the A300 for the first time, it would be years before anyone would take that manufacturer seriously. McDonnell Douglas punted, and the idea never went anywhere.

Instead, the company lumbered along by tweaking its existing products. By 1986, the writing was on the wall for the DC-10. Airbus officially named its updated version of the A300 the A330. It had been developing that for a decade. Meanwhile, Boeing’s 767 was picking up steam and the company was working on ways to expand its size and reach while still retaining only two engines. A couple years later, those efforts would become the 777. What did McDonnell Douglas do? Just before the end of the year, it opted to just stretch the DC-10 into the MD-11.

The MD-11 was a bit more than just a stretch. Sure it had room for more people, but it also had a redesigned wing, new engines, and a two-person cockpit with modern avionics. But it still had 3 engines, and in a world where efficiency matters, that was a huge problem.

The only hope for the MD-11 to really succeed was by providing great range. The A330 and 767 could fly many routes but they lacked the reach that twin engine aircraft can provide today. The 747 was still the king of the skies on long haul, but it had 4 engines and a ton of seats. The MD-11 could have found a niche. It didn’t. The airplane didn’t meet its range promises. Singapore Airlines canceled its orders. Others were not pleased.

But even if the MD-11 had lived up to its promises, it would have been rendered obsolete fairly quickly with the advent of the 777. McDonnell Douglas just never bothered to see the importance of innovation.

Every so often, there was a glimmer of hope. In the early 1990s, McDonnell Douglas put out the idea of an MD-12. Basically, it was an A380 before the A380 existed. That went nowhere, and the company went back to proposing further tweaks to the aging MD-11.

"Md-12-2" by Anynobody - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Md-12-2.png#mediaviewer/File:Md-12-2.png

“Md-12-2” by Anynobody – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Md-12-2.png#mediaviewer/File:Md-12-2.png

There was also an attempt to leapfrog the competition in the narrowbody market by playing with a new engine technology. The unducted fan or ultra high bypass looked like the confused offspring of a jet and a prop. But it was quiet and extremely fuel efficient. Oil prices started declining, however, so McDonnell Douglas abandoned that plan and instead outfitted the MD-90 with the same engines that Airbus already had on its A320.

Ken Fielding/http://www.flickr.com/photos/kenfielding [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Ken Fielding/http://www.flickr.com/photos/kenfielding [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

With so many missed opportunities to do something — anything — different, McDonnell Douglas became an also-ran in serious financial trouble. After flirting with Airbus, the end came in 1996 when it agreed to be bought by Boeing. You can still see the company’s influence in Boeing today, however. When Boeing decided to forgo building an all-new narrowbody and instead just beef up the 737 into the 737MAX? That has the hallmark of a short-sighted McDonnell Douglas-style decision. It may save money and time now, but it doesn’t bode well for the future.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed flying the MD-11. I was lucky enough to fly it once from LA to Portland on Delta as part of Delta’s failed Transpacific hub operation up there. Then I did it again as a roundtrip from New York to Helsinki on Finnair. The airplane has served KLM well for a long time, and it still has a future in the cargo world for awhile. But when I see the MD-11, all I can think about is what should have been if McDonnell Douglas had continued on the path of innovation that the Douglas Aircraft Company began so many years ago.

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63 Responses to Ode to the MD-11, An Airplane That Proved the Importance of Innovation (or Lack Thereof)

  1. Jared says:

    My first international flight was on an MD-11… LAX-DUS on LTU International Airlines. That was back in June, 1998.

  2. IO says:

    thanks for the good write-up on MD history. I never took a flight on their larger jets, only the MD-80 variations and did not enjoy the flight as much as on a boeing. I have a question for you. You mention that the M merged with D ~1967, and that the new company did not innovate as D had. Do you know why? was it that the ceo came from the M side? Why did D agree to merge if it was an innovator? anyhow, it just does not make sense.

    • CF says:

      IO – I don’t know the answer to that one. I haven’t read much about the merger itself, but maybe some elder historians here can chime in. Or if anyone has some good suggestions on reading material, I’d love to hear it.

      • Lee says:

        I was a contractor at MD and I believe the reason Boeing bought MD was to get into the military business. MD designed and built the very innovative C-17.

    • Bob E. says:

      As I recall, when McDonnell and Douglas merged, M was primarily concerned with catering to the military side of aviation while D was mostly into the civilian/commercial side. The new company tried to corner the military spending, and lost. They had spent so much time and effort in that endeavor that there was very little left in the pot to enhance the civilian side of the equation. That was the beginning of the end.

      • PA7478 says:

        They also functioned as two separate companies that were very cheaply cobbled together.

        McDonnell-Douglas. The most hero-to-zero airplane maker ever.

  3. XlF42 says:

    Hi,

    I guess you talk about the last commercial *passenger* flight operated on an MD11 by KLM :) .
    There are several Cargo Operators using the MD11F and I am not aware they retire their MD11Fs (but I might be wrong of course)

    cu
    Axel

  4. David says:

    flew NW DC10s many times, MD11s w/ AA, Swiss & KLM livery. now, remember the Eastern L1011s, the whisperliner?

  5. David SF eastbay says:

    Never flew a MD11 and never would have, but did fly an AA DC10 roundtrip LAX-HNL once and wasn’t happy about it. I never trusted it after all those accidents, I know stupid since the craft flew for years, but still it left an impression in my mind. Could also have something to do with working for TWA and loving the L1011 :-)

    • LT_DT says:

      I grew up in Europe with family in St.Louis. My first ever flight was from Amsterdam to NY on a Martinair DC-10. Every subsequent summer, we flew TWA from Paris to St.Louis and back, usually via Boston and almost always on an L1011, so I have a similar fondness for TWA’s L1011s. The advent of the 767 meant the end of L1011s for us as TWA operated Paris-St.Louis non-stop with a 767 the last two years we made the trip. My last L1011 trip was on Delta from Atlanta to Cincinnati in 1998.

      • LT_DT says:

        Actually, now that I think about it, my last L1011 flight was a military rotator operated by ATA from Rhein-Main AB (Frankfurt) to Atlanta in 2000, but I’ve tried very hard to purge that experience from memory.

  6. Ron says:

    Dang it… I missed my chance to fly the MD-11 last year — I was coming back from Amsterdam, and opted for a nonstop flight to LAX on a 747 rather tan saving $150 and connecting through SFO on an MD-11. Oh well, I guess it shows I’m not that much of an airplane geek. I did fly the DC-10 several times, all on Northwest, I believe, and I wasn’t crazy about it.

    And Cranky, you only moved to Long Beach after 2006? Somehow from reading your blog I got the impression that you grew up here.

    • CF says:

      Ron – I moved to Long Beach in 2007. I grew up in the Valley, actually. And from the Valley, Long Beach might as well have been Mexico. It was a far away land that I rarely if ever visited.

  7. Eric C says:

    There are plenty of DC-10s still flying, they just have one fewer crew than they used to and are called MD-10s.

  8. Mark says:

    Good points, Cranky. Boeing has spurts of innovation (707, 727, 747, 777), and spurts of status-quo (747-8, 737MAX, 777X). I think McD’s last innovative airplane was the DC-8-62, which targeted a niche (ultra-long range). The DC-9 derivatives worked because the DC-9 was such a rugged airframe. I still think Boeing outdid itself with the 777 more than any other airplane it built. It fell into the 767 as a transatlantic point-to-point play when the range of the airplane exceeded plans, and when 120 minute ETOPS became viable. With the 777, Boeing forced change on the industry. With the 787, Boeing is forcing change on itself.

  9. Yo says:

    Only got to fly it once, last minute non rev from LAX to ZRH on SwissAir. We pushed back, and then taxied into a hangar, and they worked on it for 3 plus hours, full flight center seat. We finally made it to ZRH, where I found a nice couch to sleep on, as they certainly weren’t giving hotel rooms to non revs!

  10. JB says:

    I’m lucky to have flown all 3 of the non communist tri-jets in my life, 4 if you include the 727. My first was on the L-1011, a SunCountry flight from MSP-MCO back in the mid 80’s. Miserable flight, probably due to the LCC SunCountry of that time. We were headed to Disney so I didn’t care!

    Flew quite a few DC-10s out of MSP to various places in the US in the 80’s and 90’s. My first international trip was on the MD-11, MSP-AMS on KLM in 1996. I wish I knew which plane it was, wonder if it was still flying for KLM recently. I remember it being a comfortable flight, despite still having a smoking section in the back of coach!

    • CF says:

      JB – You sure about Sun Country? I only remember them operating DC-10s, though I wouldn’t put it past them to do some sort of wet lease deal during peak season.

      • JB says:

        @CF You could be right, I swear it was an L-1011, but I could be wrong. Dang, maybe I never flew on a tristar! Nothing coming up on google for a Sun Country L-1011. I do remember it was a charter flight during the height of vacation season to MCO from MSP, mid march on a Saturday morning. I wonder if some other L-1011 showed up and I was confusing it with Sun Country.

    • Derm to O'Brien says:

      What about the Trident?

  11. Don Murray says:

    When working for an airline in the 1970s, I had the opportunity to fly both DC-10s and L1011s. They were both fine and I enjoyed flying in them. Some of the flights were up front, so that helped, but even in economy, they were fine. The biggest plane we had was the DC-9, but it was what we needed for our flight schedule.

  12. Gene says:

    The DC-10 Spaceships, the only widebody Western Airlines had and the first widebody I rode on as a non-rev to HNL. I was on leave in the Navy and met the ship in Pearl Harbor on the way to WESPAC.

    Then they merged with Delta (ptooey) and the Spaceships were sold in favor of the L-1011 Whisperliners.

  13. Michele McDonald says:

    Did you ever see the MD-12 mockup? It felt like a supermarket. With all the charm.

    • CF says:

      Michele – I never did. Sounds like they could have used some fancy interior design help. Why make it look like a supermarket when you could promise movie rooms and exercise facilities that probably won’t ever come to fruition? Right, Airbus?

  14. Henry says:

    Boeing’s inward turn, thanks to MD management in place, has now put them in a bind on the single aisle side, if the Airbus A320neoLR rumors are true.

  15. Eric says:

    Just to be clear, there are no DC-10/MD-10s flying passenger service (according OAG). As with the MD-11, they do still fly cargo.

  16. A says:

    Love me some airplane history. Yes, there were a lot of missed opportunities at MD back in the day but I think the ultimate missed opportunity losing Lockheed as a commercial aircraft maker. Everything I’ve read about the tri-jets and comments from pilots have confirmed the L-1011 was a superior plane to everything at the time. Imagine if the tri-star won over the DC-10…what kind of innovation would their engineers come up with for the next aircraft? We all know what amazing military stuff they do…who knows??? We might have a big-three in airplanes.

  17. canuck_in_ca says:

    Flew it back in 2000. China Eastern from Shanghai to LAX, with an overnight detour in Narita: a passenger had gotten sick. Nice enough ride. Seats were arranged 2-5-2 I believe. It was a rebook: my original plan was UA B744 PVG-SFO but it had developed a fault with the flap indicator (3rd mechanical of the trip). Finally made it home after 70 hours on the road, only to sleep 8 hours and fly to Vegas for a tradeshow. I stayed away from UA for 5 years after that adventure.

    I remember something about the MD-11 being very hard to land correctly?

    • CF says:

      canuck_in_ca – You remember correctly about it being hard to land. I believe it had something to do with a center of gravity that was further aft than most airplanes.

  18. ANCJason says:

    I wasn’t even aware than they were still in pax sked service in the Northern Hemisphere. They were a common sight at PDX during the Asian gateway years. From a cargo perspective they are a royal pain in the a$$ to unload/load.

  19. Carl says:

    Huge disappointment when due to Phil Condit’s personal problems he turned Boeing management over to ex-McDonnell executives. They are making too many shortsighted decisions.

    As a passenger, I really never much cared for the MD 80 series. They were fine in the DC9 era, but as Boeing and Airbus came to dominate with the 737 and A320 series, the MD 80’s were so much louder and less comfortable in the cabin.

    The DC8 was a great airplane in its time, and the DC10 was passable though not really innovative. The MD11 was a disaster.

    • IO says:

      Interestingly, united annouced today that they were converting their 787-8 orders to the yet-to-be build and larger 787-10. Don’t know if this corraborates your complaint about MD executives taking over.

      • CF says:

        IO – Actually, I think the stretched 787 is a natural progression on a new, efficient airplane. It should have multiple versions and it will probably end up being that the stretched ones are the preferred ones. (Think about the 767 or the 777 with the -200 vs the -300.) The 787 is really innovative. It’s the 777 and the 737 that make me more nervous.

  20. Mikeee says:

    Now you did it, Cranky. You got me teary eyed talking about the DC10.
    Having grown up in MIA I spent many many hours flying National Airlines’ -10’s and -30’s or “Tammy” &/or “Renee” as couple of them were called.

    However, I do get relief when traveling to work as I pass FedEx’s FLL terminal twice every day, There sits either a DC10 or an MD11. memories.

  21. Bob S. says:

    Brett,

    “This week marks the final commercial flight of the last of the Douglas widebody aircraft.”

    Oops. Not true. It might be the last commercial PASSENGER flight but there is another major airline which still has plenty of those aircraft: A “fly by night” outfit called FedEx. According to Planespotters.net – http://www.planespotters.net/Airline/Federal-Express-(FedEx) – There are currently 60 MD-11Fs in the FedEx fllet along with another 61 DC-10s. I took a trip from Okinawa to Mainland Japan back in 1977 on an ANA L-1011 Tristar. I really enjoyed it! The word was back then that this was part of the so-called “Peanut Scandal” but I won’t go so far as to say that was the real reason the Japanese airline bought the L-1011. I’ve also flown a lot of DC-9 variants, including the DC-9 itself and most – if not all – the MD-8X variants. By the way, when I was in the Navy and stationed on Okinawa in 1975-77, our station aircraft was a C-117, a variant of the famous tail-dragging DC-3.

  22. Sean M. says:

    Just saw a KLM MD-11 in Toronto yesterday (October 22nd). If I knew it was to be the last time seeing it as a passenger jet, I would taken a few photos!

    • Art T says:

      Sean M – You were on to something! Cranky wins by a nose! Per OAG, KL0692 flew YYZ-AMS [with an MD-11 for the last time] leaving YYZ at 5:45pm on Sat 25 Oct, and will land at AMS at 5:45am on Sun 26 Oct – 50 minutes before the MD-11 Flight KL0672 from YUL [Montreal] is due to land, also at AMS! As a matter of interest, starting Sun 26 Oct, The MD11 is being replaced by the Boeing 744-400 on the KL0692 Flight out of YYZ [Toronto Pearson] and by the Airbus 330-200 on the KL0672 Flight out of YUL [Montreal Trudeau].

  23. Daren S says:

    I used to love flying on the British Airways DC-10 (ex BCAL) from and to LGW in the 80s and 90s and miss the great sound of those engines. My first exposure to the MD-11 was when I worked briefly for Air Europe before they went bust in 1990/91 when they had a model of the aircraft in the reception of their Crawley HQ. The plan was to move into long haul using this aircraft (no idea how many they had on order). Wish I had managed to steal the model as I was leaving the building on the last day, might have been worth something! Anyway, I did fly on this jet once, on American from JFK to MIA. The flight was really empty and we took off in what seemed like a few seconds. The wonderful roar from those engines..ahhh. Great aircraft.

  24. Rob says:

    I’m surprised that with the recent volatility in fuel that we haven’t seen more development on unducted fans. It would be interesting to see an unducted attached to a newer jet. Even a CRJ or ERJ.

    • CF says:

      Rob – I am as well, but then again, I don’t know the full economics. Pratt has instead been diving into the geared turbofan idea which may very well do the same thing from an efficiency perspective. Anyone know?

      • LT_DT says:

        I think that one of the primary drawbacks of an unducted fan is that those blades are really, really loud and noise has become a bigger issue since they were tested in the 80s. An underwing integration would be a challenge due to the fan diameter and most new RJs seem to be moving towards underwing integration. It would be interesting to see an overwing integration of an unducted fan a la HondaJet.

        A geared turbofan improves efficiency from the inside by decoupling the fan, low pressure compressor, and turbine from the central shaft (via the gearbox), allowing each to operate at a more optimal speed. As far as I’m aware, the biggest concern with the geared turbofan is the long-term reliability of the gearbox that enables the decoupling.

        • Mike S says:

          They were indeed loud. There’s a video on youtube of that MD-80 outfitted with unducted fans taking off from the Farnborough Airshow and it’s not pleasant on the ears. However, 3D analysis and engineering tools have improved to the point where OEMs are claiming now that the noise footprint can be managed to Stage IV requirements, with Rolls Royce arguably as the largest proponent of unducted fans.

  25. Mike says:

    The MD-11 safety record is not great. The aft center of gravity, small horizontal stabilizer, and high wing loading make takeoff and landing more challenging, particularly in windy conditions.

  26. CF says:

    For those who mentioned that the MD-11 would continue flying as cargo, you’re right. I specifically stated that in the last paragraph and thought it was pretty clear. But, I did say “commercial” in the first paragraph, so for the sake of clarity, I changed that to “passenger-carrying commercial.” Yes, I realize that a FedEx MD-11 could have a non-revenue passengers on it, but I’m not getting any more specific.

  27. Kilroy says:

    After flying AA out of DFW on a weekly basis for a year, I just look forward to the day that American retires the last of its Mad Dogs (MD-80 series). Maybe it’s just me, but I find them to be old, cramped, loud, and inconvenient compared to a B737 or an A320 series, and would even prefer a RJ or a Dash 8 over the Mad Dogs.

  28. austinflyguy says:

    The only advantage of the DC10/11 was purchase price and operating cost compared to other wide bodies. Otherwise it was an inferior airplane to the L10 and 747. Compare it to Boeing airplanes…ORD crash when the engine fell off and the flaps went asymmetric and the plane rolled over…Boeing has asymmetric arrestors so that would not happen..The Sioux City crash when the engine blew up and cut the hydraulic lines….Boeing had a valve in the lines to stop fluid loss and retain control..Turkish freighter when the cargo door blew off and cut or trapped the control lines…. Boeing had a redundant set of lines so this would not happen. All of this when a Boeing 747 out of HNL had a cargo door blow off, tearing off the side of the airplane (and a few passengers were sucked out) but the airplane returned safely back to the airport. If it ain’t Boeing, I’m not going came out of all of this. Fedex has fixed all of these problems, but it took decades.

  29. Bobber says:

    Last flew a DC-10 on the LGW-IAH route with CO, en route to New Orleans, 16 years ago – the return leg featured a very interesting thunder storm, and accompanying lightning strike; still kept on flying:)

    Other than the mid-air pyrotechnics, my lasting memory of that flight was it was my last middle-seat experience. Got wise to SeatGuru and other tools after that…

  30. Kjell says:

    As far as I can remember, in the jet age, Douglas / McDonnell Douglas were never the market leaders. The best selling jetliner of all time is the 737, I suspect that Boeing have talked with their customers, and they have agreed that the cost of a blank slate aircraft, as far as certifications, maintenance and training is too high. Whatever systems they can carry over from the old designs, reduce cost of ownership. I suspect Boeing and the airlines see this as a good enough solution.

    I think the 787 prove that when needed, Boeing still are innovative when they want (or have) to be. Instead of focusing on ever larger aircraft, such as a A380 competitor, the market research for Boeing says that the future is in smaller and efficient intercontinental airliners, so instead of spending a lot of money they may never recoup on a 747 replacement, they made the Dreamliner.

    Being biggest and fastest are sexy achievements, but it does not seem to make economic sense. When are Airbus going to start making money on the A380?

  31. John G says:

    I’ve been fortunate enough to fly on all four tri-jets (727, L10, D10, and M11).

    When I was in college at Texas in the mid-80s, American flew one DC-10 a day from Austin to DFW…a challenge on the short runway at Mueller Airport before Austin’s airport moved to Bergstrom. I flew the plane back and forth just to fly the big boy. It was pretty cool.

    I flew on an L-1011 between Atlanta and San Juan (both ways) on my honeymoon in 1990. It was a 2-5-2 seating layout, and had a two seat by the door by ourselves. It was nice. My lasting memory of the flight? The movie was Steel Magnolias, and I wasn’t watching…but I looked up about the time the Julia Roberts character dies, and every female on the plane was sobbing.

    With regard to Boeing and current inovation, especially regarding the 737, you have to understand that Boeing was in a box. With all of the resources put into the 787 development, they simply could not put the resources into a clean-sheet 737 replacement. And their best customers (Ryanair and Southwest) were squawking loudly that they needed an upgraded 737 NOW, and they didn’t want to wait for a new product.

    Pretty much the message from both was, get us an updated 737 right now, or we are going with the A320neo. Boeing didn’t have much choice.

    The decision they made that leaves some questions is the 747-8. They spent a great deal of money and time on updating the 747, but to date they’ve only sold 118 of them. Could they have better spent that time and energy in doing a clean-sheet upgrade to the 737? We will never know.

  32. bobsmith99 says:

    Thanks Cranky, interesting stuff. My question is did the market, not just Douglas, miss the mark in the predictions for the industry? The reason I ask is that the Lockheed’s L-1011, which obviously was a larger failure, seemed to be very similar to the DC-10. (correct me if I’m wrong). Clearly, as you highlighted, Douglas’s failure to adapt was a huge issue also but wanted to get your thoughts on the market in the ’70s.

    • CF says:

      bobsmith99 – Regarding the DC-10 and L1011, I think these were built to fill demand at the time. The airlines wanted a bigger, medium haul airplane and they got it. That was a smart move (though early issues with the DC-10 cause a lot of trouble) in theory. But the MD-11 was a bad idea. It was just the best they could come up with without spending any serious money. The market had already begun moving by then and they weren’t able to see it. This was doomed to be a short term success at best.

  33. I was lucky enough to see the KL MD-11 at YYZ yesterday. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a decent picture as I didn’t bring a proper camera for a work trip. I have very mixed memories about the MD-11. I was working for AA at ORD when the MD-11 came online. It was a nightmare and dispatch reliability sucked even for a new aircraft. We nicknamed it “The Scud” as it only departed occasionally and we were never sure where it would land. However it was a beauty.

  34. matt weber says:

    Several Comments.

    The Un- Ducted-Fan and Ultra High Bypass engines were a number of things, but quiet is NOT a word that anyone would use to describe them. The blade tips are supersonic, and unlike a conventional Turbofan engine, there is nacelle to absorb any of the sound energy. The noise footprint was huge.

    It always seemed to me that the DC10 and MD11 were airplanes built to a price, and in reaching that price point, they incorporated at lof of just plain bad engineering. That bad engineering costs hunrdreds of lives.

    CF has alluded to a range problem on the MD11. That was the symptom, the disease is the aircraft was never able to make fuel burn guarantees. It isn’t unusual for an aircraft to enter service short of guarantees. It is unusal for the aircraft to never make guarantees. This is particular painful because while the guarantees cover the excess fuel burn, they don’t compensate you for the passenger and/or cargo that the extra fuel displaced. The problem was pretty clearly with the airframe itself. The same family of engines on A330’s and 767’s were routinely making fuel burn guarantees.

    Regarding the 747-8, I don’t think Boeing ever expected to sell a vast number of them. The purpose of the -8 was to make prospective A380 customers think long and hard before buying. It isn’t the only reason, but is certainly one of the reasons A380 sales are anemic.

  35. Professor Fate says:

    What really killed the DC-10 and MD-11 was ETOPS. Recall that at one time a twin engine aircraft was not allowed to fly TATL/TRANSPAC routes due to perceived safety concerns — if an engine blew out far away from land, what would they do? Of course, engine reliability is exponentially greater today than it was in the 1960’s and 70’s. With the advent of ETOPS standards, the need for a third jet (and the resulting necessary expense) was gone.

  36. Dimitri says:

    MD-11 was beautiful but not modern (or totally new aircraft) as its rilvals (Aribus A-330/340 and Boeing 777). But still: three engines (an four) make me feel better than two. Especially on a transatlantic flight. I think (as I’m a pax not an airline manager), safety is more important than a fuel economy. I would be glad if one day Boeing or Airbus, Tupolev or Ilyushin offers a new wide-body tri-jet…

  37. DW says:

    Tthe MD-11 failed, as other MD projects failed in the 80s and 90s because of poor management. The MD-11 had a weight problem and the blunt trailing edge of the wing made a significant contribution to fuel consumption. What was at least as much of a contributor to commercial failure of the MD-11 and McDonnell Douglas was the management’s inability to bring engineering, manufacturing and procurement under control.

    Solutions for weight, quality and manufacturability were available. Management did not choose implemented them. McDonnel Douglas didn’t even know what the cost of any of their planes were. They sold planes at a price the customers would agree to and hoped for a profit at yea’rs end. It didn’t happen.

    I spoke with various MD managers in the years after I left the company and after they retired. None of them were interested in the planes they had built.

  38. DON says:

    i see an MDll and my first thot was L1011…im gettin old

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