June 13, 2011

A Brief History of the DC-9/MD80 Series Aircraft

The DC-9:

  • July 1921:  The Douglas Aircraft Company was founded by Donald Wills Douglas, Sr. in Santa Monica, California.  He served as President from 1921 to 1957, Chairman of the Board from 1957 to 1967 and Honorary Chairman of the Board from 1967 to 1981.
  • July 1939:  The McDonnell Aircraft Corporation was founded by James Smith McDonnell and operated next to Lambert Field in St. Louis, Missouri.  He served as President of McDonnell from 1939 to 1962, President and CEO from 1962 to 1967.  At McDonnell Douglas he served as Chairman of the board and CEO from 1967 to 1972 and Chairman of the Board from 1972 to 1980.
  • The two companies did not merge until April of 1967.
  • April 8, 1963:  The Douglas DC-9 was launched with no orders on the books.
  • April 25, 1963:  Delta Air Lines placed the first DC-9 order for 15 aircraft with options for an additional 15.
  • February 25, 1965:  First flight of the DC-9-10 twinjet airliner.
  • November 23, 1965: FAA certification granted for the DC-9-10.
  • December 8, 1965:  The DC-9-10 enters service with Delta Air Lines.
  • August 1, 1966:  First flight of the DC-9-30.
  • December 1966:  DC-9-20 announced.  The DC-9 series 20, although numbered second in the sequence of models, was actually the fourth member of the family.
  • February 1, 1967:  DC-9-30 enters service with Eastern Airlines.
  • April 28, 1967:  The McDonnell and Douglas companies merge to form the McDonnell Douglas Corporation with headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri.
  • November 28, 1967:  First flight of the DC-9-40.
  • March 12, 1968:  DC-9-40 enters service with SAS.
  • September 18, 1968:  First flight of the DC-9-20.
  • December 1968:  First DC-9-20 delivered to SAS.
  • Mid 1973:  DC-9-50 announced.
  • December 17, 1974:  First flight of the DC-9-50.
  • August 1975:  DC-9-50 enters service with swissair.
  • October 1982:  Final DC-9 delivered.
  • Total Aircraft built:
o   DC-9-10:  137
o   DC-9-20:  10
o   DC-9-30:  662
o   DC-9-40:  71
o   DC-9-50:  96

·         Douglas and McDonnell Douglas produced 976 DC-9s from 1965 to 1982.

The MD-80:

  • October 1977:  The DC-9-80 was launched.  The aircraft was initially known as the DC-9-55 and later as the DC-9-80…the Super 80.
  • October 24, 1978:  President Carter signed the Airline Deregulation Act.  The act became Public Law 95-504.
  • October 18, 1979:  First flight of the DC-9-80.
  • May 2, 1980:  During certification testing, the first DC-9-80 built (N980DC) breaks apart upon landing on runway 22 at Edwards Air Force Base.  The aircraft was on a test flight to determine the horizontal distance required to land and bring the A/C to a complete stop as required by 14 CFR 25.125.  NTSB Report #:  NTSB-AAR-82-2 dated 2/9/1982.

  • August 1980:  The DC-9-80 was certified by the FAA.
  • September 13, 1980:  swissair took delivery of the first DC-9-80.
  • October 1980:  DC-9-80 enters service with swissair.
  • January 8, 1981:  First flight of the DC-9-82.
  • August 1981:  The first DC-9-82 enters service with Republic Airlines.
  • November 1982:  A new designation system for McDonnell Douglas commercial aircraft combines the “M” of McDonnell and the “D” of Douglas.  The first aircraft to use the new designation was the DC-9-80 which became known as the MD-80.
  • April 18, 1983:  TWA took delivery of its first MD-80, an MD82.
  • May 12, 1983:  American Airlines’ first MD-82 delivered…N203AA.
  • February 29, 1984:  American Airlines places the largest single aircraft purchase order in U.S. aviation history at the time when it ordered 67 MD-82s with options for 100 more.
  • December 17, 1984:  First flight of the MD-83.
  • February 1985:  The first MD-83 enters service with Alaska Airlines.
  • December 4, 1986:  First flight of the MD-87.
  • June 3, 1987:  American Airlines’ first MD-83 delivered…N562AA.
  • November 1987:  The first MD-87 enters service with FinnAir.
  • August 15, 1987:  First flight of the MD-88.
  • January 1988:  The first MD-88 enters service with Delta Air Lines.
  • November 14, 1989:  MD-90 program launched when Delta Air Lines orders 50 MD-90s with options for 110 more.
  • February 22, 1993:  First flight of the MD-90.
  • February 1995:  First MD-90 delivered to Delta Air Lines
  • October 1995: The MD-95 program is launched with it’s first order.  The aircraft is later renamed the B717 after the Boeing merger in 1997.
  • August 1, 1997:  McDonnell Douglas and Boeing merge.
  • December 21, 1999:  TWA takes delivery of the last MD-80 to come off the Boeing MD-80 production line.
·         McDonnell Douglas and Boeing delivered 1,194 MD-80s from 1980 to 1999.
·         At one time, American Airlines owned 325 MD-80 series aircraft.  Although they are currently retiring the MD-82/83 at the rate of 2 per month, American is still the largest DC-9 / MD-80 operator in the world.

N237AA, an MD-82, in the Roswell, New Mexico graveyard
American Airlines MD82s in the Roswell, New Mexico graveyard

There were a total of 2,442 DC-9, MD-80 and B717 series aircraft produced…611 more than the Boeing 727 series aircraft!


  1. How fun! Thanks for the summary, and for the memories! I shall be sorry when AA takes the last one out of service, the B737 has only 25% of the soul of an MD80, and twice as many middle seats.

  2. D.B. I love your comparison between the 737 and the MD80...I hope you don't mind if I use that. Perfect!

  3. I've got a lot of time in "Nines", great synopsis of a wonderful airplane.