Friday, May 8, 2015

Flashback Friday: The McDonnell Douglas MD-80 Family

By Luis Linares / Published May 8, 2015


TWA McDonnell Douglas MD-83:  Photo by Luis Linares / AirwaysNews

The nicknames “Mad Dog” and “flying wind vane” can only mean one airplane in the rich history of aviation – the McDonnell Douglas MD-80.  From 1980 to 1999, Between 1980 and 1999, McDonnell Douglas delivered 1,191 variants of this second generation of the original DC-9 family.  The Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families proved to have superior economics with their current offerings, but the MD-80 family remains popular in the AvGeek community and continues to fly the skies.  On this Flashback Friday, we look back at the entire MD-80 family.

EXTRA:  The McDonnell Douglas MD-80: A History


Between 1965 and 1982, McDonnell Douglas built 976 of its narrow-body DC-9s, which seated between 80 and 135 passengers, depending on the series.  Its key characteristics were a T-tail design with two rear-mounted turbofan engines.  In addition, typical economy class seating had a five-abreast (2-3) seating configuration.

In the 1970s, McDonnell Douglas began to look into improving the DC-9-50.  Since the target year for entry into service was 1980, the aircraft received the “DC-9-80” designation, which also became known as “DC-9 Super 80”.  The key differences with the DC-9-50 included a longer fuselage, higher fuel capacity, increased maximum takeoff weight (MTOW), and an upgraded and larger version of the Pratt & Whitney JT8D engines that powered the DC-9 family.  Other improvements consisted of aerodynamic and flight deck avionics upgrades and a longer range.

EXTRA:  McDonnell Douglas MD-80 sales brochures

Swissair became the launch customer for the new aircraft in October 1977 with 15 orders and five options.  The DC-9-80 was 14 ft 3 in (4.34 m) longer than the 133 ft 5 in (40.67 m) DC-9-50.  In addition, the redesigned wing was 28% larger than that of the DC-9-50.  The maiden flight of the Super 80 took place on October 19, 1979 in Long Beach, California.

MD80 Sales Brochure McDonnell Douglas MD-80 Sales Brochure: Image courtesy of Airways News

Testing lasted consisted of three aircraft and totaled 795 flights with a total of 1.085 hours.  It lasted 10 months and officially ended when the FAA certified the airplane on August 25, 1980. After certification from aviation authorities in the U.S. and Europe, Swissair received its first example on September 13, 1980.  In July 1983, McDonnell Douglas changed the designation of the new family from DC-9-80 to MD-80 for marketing purposes.

The MD-80 family

All five members of the MD-80 family share common characteristics that include a cruising speed of Mach 0.76 (435 kt, 504 mph, or 811 kmph) at a typical cruise altitude of 33,000 ft (10.058 m).  The wingspan is 107 ft 8 in (32.82m) and the tail height is 29 ft 7 in (9.02 m). Furthermore, the fuselage has a width of 11 ft (3.35 m).

The MD-81, MD-82, MD-83 and MD-88 models have the same 147 ft 8 in (45.01 m) fuselage length.  These four members of the MD-80 family are only different in terms of the JT8D engine variants that power them, fuel capacity, and weight.  The MD-87 is the short member of the family, measuring 130 ft, 4 in (39.73 m) in length.  The specifics of each variant are as follows:


SWR MD-81 - Wikimedia Commons

Swissair McDonnell Douglas MD-81: Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The MD-81 is the first production model of the MD-80 family. Entry into service (EIS) with Swissair occurred on October 10, 1980.  In a typical two-class configuration, the aircraft can seat 135 passengers.

The MD-81 is powered by JT8D-209, -217, or -219 engines, which produce 18,500 lbf (82 kN) of thrust.  Its MTOW is 140,000 lb (64,000 kg) with a range of 1,570 nmi (1,810 mi or 2,910 km).  Of note, McDonnell Douglas developed a MD-80T version with a four-wheel double main landing gear bogey to reduce pavement loading for Chinese carriers.  The last delivery of the MD-81 was to JAL Domestic, the national subsidiary of Japan Air Lines.



Continental Airlines McDonnell Douglas MD-82: Photo by Luis Linares / AirwaysNews

McDonnel Douglas launched the DC-9-82 (later MD-82) on April 16, 1979 with the main goal of improved operations at hot and high airports. This meant more powerful JT8D engines with 20,000 lbf (89 kN) of thrust.  The MD-82 also has a higher MTOW of 149,500 lb (67,800 kg) with a maximum range of 2,050 nmi (2,360 mi or 3,800 km).  The first aircraft flew on July 29, 1981 and had its EIS with Republic Airlines in the next month.

Noteworthy facts about the MD-82 include American Airlines at one point being the largest operator of the type with over 300 examples in the fleet.  In addition, McDonnell Douglas granted Shanghai Aviation Industrial Corporation a license in November 1986 to finish sub-assemblies of the aircraft in Shanghai.  U-Land Airlines of Taiwan received the last MD-82 on November 17, 1997.

EXTRA:  What’s Left of American Airlines’s MD-80 Operations?


Thanks to increased fuel capacity from two auxiliary tanks, the MD-83 increased the range of the MD-80 family to 2,500 nmi (2,900 mi or 4,600 km) with a 160,000 lb (72,600 kg) MTOW.  It is powered by JT8D-219 engines capable of delivering 21,000 lbf (93 kN) of thrust.  The aircraft also has strengthened landing gear to cope with the higher weights.

American Airlines and Allegiant Air McDonnell Douglas MD-83s: Photos by Luis Linares / AirwaysNews

McDonnell Douglas launched the MD-83 on January 31, 1983, and the airplane first flew on December 17, 1984.  Alaska Airlines received the first example in February 1985 and introduced it into service that same month.  TWA was the last airline to receive the MD-83 on December 28, 1999.


The MD-87 is visibly different from the rest of the MD-80 family because of its short fuselage. This variant launched in January 1985 and had its maiden flight on December 4, 1986.  It seats 130 passengers in a typical two-class arrangement and can fly up to 2,370 nmi (2,730 mi or 4,390 km).

Customers could choose from the JT8D-217 or -219 engines that delivered 20,000 lbf (89 kN) and 21,000 lbf (kN) of thrust respectively.  Two other visible changes were the introduction of a fin extension above the tailplane and the “beaver” tail cone, which was more aerodynamically efficient than the original pointed DC-9 cone.  Moreover, the “beaver” tail cone became standard with all future MD-80 family deliveries.

SAS MD87 Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) McDonnell Douglas MD-87: Photo courtesy of Airways News

McDonnell Douglas designated the aircraft with the -87 because it planned to introduce it into service in 1987.  The company also offered customers the option of two auxiliary fuel tanks that raised the range up to 2,900 nmi (3,337 mi or 5,400 km).  Austrian Airlines received the first MD-87 on November 27, 1987, and Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) received the last one on March 27, 1992.


The MD-88 is the last variant of the MD-80 family and was launched on January 23, 1986 with 80 orders and options from Delta Air Lines.  It is visually identical to the MD-81/-82/-83 and retains all the performance characteristics of the MD-82, plus it can fly the MD-83’s range with the use of two optional fuel tanks.  What separates the MD-88 from its siblings can be found in the interior.

The cockpit incorporated an electronic flight instrument system (EFIS) to replace the traditional analog instruments from the DC-9 days.  Moreover, McDonnell Douglas went on to offer EFIS as standard on all future MD-80s and also as an upgrade for existing ones.  The flight deck also came with windshear detection and in later production received a traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS).

DAL MD88 - DCA - LFL Delta Airlines McDonnell Douglas MD-88: Photo by Luis Linares / Airways News

McDonnell Douglas flew the first MD-88 on August 15, 1987, and Delta received its first example on December 19 of that year.  EIS with Delta took place on January 15, 1988.  Finally, Onur Air took delivery of the last MD-88 on June 25, 1997.

Flying into the sunset

Production of the MD-80 family at the Long Beach plant peaked at 12 aircraft per month in 1991.  During this period, McDonnell Douglas considered developing an improvement package, called the “MD-80 Advanced” featuring new and quieter JT8D-290 engines, with a target delivery in mid-1993.  Lack of customer interest led to further proposals, such as adding winglets, improving the passenger interior, and new flight deck instruments.  However, this failed to garner much interest, leading the company to set its sights on developing the MD-90 family.

A major factor that led early MD-80 retirements was its use of the JT8D engines, which could not compete with the more efficient engines of the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 families, which typically burned almost 20% less fuel per hour.  Furthermore, the post 9/11 environment and 2008 financial crisis resulted in airlines seeking more efficient aircraft, which were cheaper to operate.  In October 2012, the MD-80 family experienced a life extension for retired passenger models when Aeronautical Engineers, Inc. introduced the first converted freighter.


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The post Flashback Friday: The McDonnell Douglas MD-80 Family appeared first on Airchive.

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