This Story was Written by Andrew Vane for AirlineReporter.com:
Last summer I had the pleasure of writing an aircraft highlight article on the Mad Dogs and their history which began with the DC-9 and has brought us to the Boeing 717. About a year ago, Delta Air Lines, one of the last US airlines still operating the DC-9’s, announced that they would be retiring the last remaining 35 DC-9-50’s over the next 12-18 months. As of September 2011 the number of DC9’s in use was down to about 27.
In Fall 2011, I realized that I had to plan a business trip to Nashville from Charlotte for a national conference related to my work. While air travel is not usually a part of my work, I really enjoy choosing flights based on aircraft within my travel window, not only for comfort but for the experience. What I realized for this trip is that the Charlotte to Atlanta flights and Atlanta to Nashville flights afforded a wide selection in aircraft type from the telephone booth sized CRJ’s to the A319 and MD-88’s. What’s this? There are DC-9’s on that route?
This means I have an opportunity to actually fly in what’s likely to be a museum piece in the near future. I suddenly realized I had to jump on this opportunity to ride this workhorse of the short range market before the opportunity is gone. As it turns out, I managed to book 3 of my 4 flight legs on the glorious DC-9-50. Only my Atlanta to Nashville flight would be on a different aircraft; the Airbus 319) The table below highlights the aircraft I was privileged to fly in for this trip:
|Flight Leg||Aircraft Type||Registration||Year Built|
The DC-9 first entered service in 1965 with Delta as the launch customer. Delta eventually phased out the DC-9’s but reacquired them (along with Boeing 747’s and Airbus A319, A320 and A330’s) when it merged with Northwest Airlines in 2008.
I’ve been excited about this trip ever since I booked it last month with my company’s travel agent. If you’re looking for a luxurious flight experience, this aircraft is not the place to find it. Hopefully this article will contrast with the web site founder’s exotic meal laden VIP trips the rest of us common folk can only dream of taking. J My previous story on the Mad Dogs drew some comments regarding the smell of the lavatory wandering throughout the cabin. I sat right over the wing and couldn’t even smell a hint of the lavs. I could see every single rivet and bolt on the wing though.
As I strapped myself in, I couldn’t help but notice how modern the interior of Delta’s DC-9’s look. They’ve spared no expense in making you feel business as usual on all their aircraft, whether they’re 10 years old or 30. The captain came on and told us he was going to be starting the engines at the gate and that the lights would flicker a bit while he ran through some electrical checks. I almost expected to see some guy come out with a hand crank. I’m not sure if the gate startup is because they need ground power or for some other reason.
The DC-9 uses Pratt & Whiney JT8D turbojet engines with about 16,000 lbs of thrust each, the same type used by the 727, MD-88 and early versions of the 737. By contrast, the Airbus 319 uses European made CFM engines each are rated at 25,000 lbs of thrust each. I was thankful Charlotte has a 10,000 foot long runway because I figured we’d be needing all of it that day.
As expected, as we began our takeoff roll, I noticed it was taking quite a long time to get down the runway. It took a good 40 seconds to go from a rolling start to the hind wheels leaving the pavement. By comparison, the similarly sized A319 took 30 seconds to takeoff, but that was from a dead stop. The difference between engine thrust in the two aircraft was obvious. Still, the rumble in the DC-9 was definitely more fun an experience.
The flight went smoothly, the air conditioner worked, and we arrived right “on time,” although I think the airline adds to the official travel time to allow for ground traffic and taxiing.
At the time of my travel in March, Hipmunk.com (an airline travel web site I frequent) showed Delta’s last DC-9 flights between Charlotte and Atlanta ending June 6th (being replaced with its longer MD88 cousin) and DC-9 flights from Atlanta to Memphis ending sometime in early October (being replaced with MD88’s and A319’s). However, one Delta pilot who took a lot of time after my first flight answering my questions told me Delta plans to fly DC-9’s at least for an additional year and plans a DC-9 “jet base” for pilots in Atlanta. For now, I can postpone my farewell for at least another year or so.
Some of you fliers may enjoy the comfort and luxury of the newer aircraft. As I get older, I’m becoming more nostalgic and appreciating the older classics in life like a fine Merlot, Vivaldi and the DC-9.
I want to express my sincerest thanks to the Delta pilot Mark who took time to talk with me following each flight. My former landlord, a Delta 757 pilot, told me once after sitting in the jump seat of a DC-9 “Boy, those guys sure do work!” Unlike the MD-80 series, the DC-9’s never received a cockpit upgrade. The pilots use nothing but the original steam gauges and fly VOR to VOR. While the newer aircraft with FMC’s let the aircraft fly the needle during cruise, the DC9 pilots often don’t know they’re off course until its too late. One pilot shared this with me and said he’d sometimes received “where are you going?” questions from ATC after straying a bit off the route. “If you’re within 4 miles you’re good,” he told me.