Flying High

into the sky

Northwest DC-9 N756NW - Anthony92931, Cr

Douglas DC-9

Northwest DC-9 N756NW

(Anthony 92931, Creative Commons license 3.0

via Wikimedia Commons)

The Douglas DC-9-10 first entered service in 1965 with Delta Airlines. Its last surviving relatives, the DC-9-95 (B-717) are still flying.

People love the DC-9 family of aircraft. They are spirited planes, sitting low to the ground with bottom-mounted wings, a soaring empennage topped by a t-tail, and fuselage-mounted engines. To this day, the lines are stylish and inspire the design of new regional and business jets. 

The DC-9 was a small plane, seating about 95 passengers. As it gained in popularity and more widespread use, larger versions were built (DC-9-15 through DC-9-50). In 1967, Douglas Aircraft Company merged with McDonnell Aircraft Company to become McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Corporation. All versions of the DC-9 built after the merger were given the prefix MD. Thus, instead of being known as, for example, a DC-9-80, the first post DC-9-50 aircraft was known as the MD-80. Of course, we diehard fans of the DC-9 will forever refer to them as DC-9-80, 82, 82, and so on. Even the latest version, built after Boeing took over McDonnell Douglas, is known to us as the DC-9-95, even though Boeing calls it the Boeing 717. Those bearing the prefix MD have become known affectionately as "Mad Dog."














A tail stair (or air stair) is seen on a Delta MD-88

(Daniel L / YouTube)



No stair truck is needed with the DC-9, for it has steps built under each front door, as well as tail stairs. With the advent of hijackings, heightened security rendered built-in stairs obsolete with jet bridges providing access to aircraft.

Interestingly, one of the things people love about the DC-9 is the self-identifying growl of the Pratt & Whitney JT8D engines that were used on the DC-9-10 through the DC-9-90 (MD-90). Go to the post that honors Donald Douglas' planes, and you'll find a link to a video that has excellent sound quality of JT8D engines as they idle, then rev up for the takeoff roll. Hear the JT8D engines growl as Delta Airlines’ last DC-9 takes off from Atlanta, Georgia. The aircraft turns onto the runway and waits for quite a while. Then, after the camera closes in on Delta's 1950s signboard "Fly Delta Jets," the JT8Ds come to life, and the aircraft races down the runway. Watch her steep climb.


Tail Stair - Delta MD-88 - Daniel L - Yo

For me, the sound of JT8D engines says "going home." I flew DC-9s during my college days, then during my Washington, DC days. Usually, when I boarded a DC-9, I was so homesick that I couldn't get home fast enough. The JT8D's growl lulled me into a sense of calmness that let me enjoy looking out the window at the passing countryside, below. On the leg of the journey between Atlanta and Baton Rouge, I could identify major landmarks. It reminded me of the days when I flew aboard DC-3s. We flew so low that we quite literally could read the town names on the water towers.


In the early days, the runway at Baton Rouge was so short that the pilots had to apply full braking with thrust reversers fully deployed. Just as I'd been thrust back in my seat on takeoff, I was thrown forward in my seat on landing -- no doubt, a hint of what landing on an aircraft carrier must be like.


In those days (and to some extent, today, perhaps for us old codgers), the Baton Rouge Airport was known as Ryan Field. It was named after an Army Air Corps pilot, Thomas Ryan, from Shreveport, who lost his life during World War II. Then, the airport was an Army air field. I can remember seeing old wooden barracks on the grounds when I was little. Now, of course, all that is gone, and the airport is a somewhat pretentious post-modern facility with the name Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport. Somehow, it just doesn't have the same ring to it.


The wildfires are starting early in California this year (2020). High temperatures, little rain, and lots of wind are contributing factors. When grass fires started in the San Bernardino area last week, the aerial firefighters set to work.


Aerial firefighting is no simple work. Imagine flying through dense smoke in hilly terrain. Not only are you supposed to find the area to discharge your load of fire retardant, but you have to do it without slamming into a hillside. More than one plane has gone down that way. In fact, it’s how Kobe Bryant’s helicopter went down last year; only, instead of smoke, it was fog that obscured his pilot’s vision.


Originally, slow-moving aircraft were used: helicopters with water buckets swinging from ropes beneath them and propeller-driven planes flew low over lakes and rivers, scooped up water, and headed to the fire zone to drop their loads.


Today, jet aircraft are being used. They are outfitted with large tanks to take on loads of fire retardant at retired military bases, like Mather and McClellan Air Force Bases in California. Then, off they go. They fly endless sorties (missions), stopping only to refuel, refill, and rotate flight crews, until the job is done.


A group of us, who are particular fans of Donald Douglas and his DC-9 family of t-tails with their Pratt & Whitney JT8D fanjets,* are delighted to see Erickson Aero Tanker taking on ten retired MD-87s (DC-9-87s) for use in aerial firefighting. Here’s a video showing one of them at work:


Nor are those ten alone. Air freight companies are buying the retired DC-9 successors [MD-80 (DC-9-80) through MD-90 (DC-9-90)] for use in their operations.



They say Mad Dog’s too old to work. Wanna bet? You tell ‘em, Mad Dog!


Southern Airways DC-9 -1978_RuthAS - Cre

Southern Airways DC-9 (1978)

(RuthAS, Creative Commons license 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)