This is a guest story by Drew Vane on the classic MD-11.
In July of this year,Â KLM started retiring their fleet of MD-11s with plans to replace them with more fuel efficient aircraft. “Phasing out the MD11 forms part of KLMâ€™s ongoing fleet renewal programme,” a KLM spokesperson explained to AirlineReporter.com. “The last of KLMâ€™s ten MD11s is expected to leave the fleet by the end of 2014.” For the long term, KLM plans to replace the MD-11s with 787-9s, but until then, they will Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s.
In my last article, I highlighted the DC-9 and its impending departure from the commercial skies.Â Iâ€™d thought its time was coming to a close, but Delta surprised me by extending the DC-9â€™s usage an additional year, but it looks like KLM won’t be delaying their MD-11 retirements.
Once KLM phases out the MD-11, there will be no other commercial airline flying this widebody tri-jet for scheduled passenger service.Â It’s anticipated that only few cargo and charter airlines will use the MD-11 in their fleet beforeÂ disappearing from the sky forever.
The MD-11 came about when the aviation engineers at McDonnell Douglas decided an upgrade to the DC-10 was warranted.Â Instead of inventing a new aircraft, McDonnell Douglas took an already existing popular wide-body aircraft, whose biggest user and launch customer was American Airlines, and made it better.
The DC-10 was plagued with poor media attention due to some catastrophic failures in the 70â€™s and 80â€™s, including the worst commercial air disaster in US history, the loss of American Airlines Flight 191. With that flight, a DC-10 rolled over following takeoff and crashed in Chicago on May 25, 1979 which resulted in 270 deaths.
New technological advances had a major impact on what led to the DC-10 Super 60 project, what would eventually become the MD-11.Â Boeingâ€™s website best describes what exactly made the MD-11 better than its predecessor.Â Specifically it states that the MD-11 has â€œadvances in aerodynamics, propulsion, aircraft systems, cockpit avionics and interior design.â€Â What does all the mean? Well, a leaner and meaner version of the DC-10.Â Here is a summary of the modifications:
- Advanced Cockpit: Fly-by-wire technology, CRT displays, dual flight management system computer (eliminates need for a flight engineer), hydraulic fuses to prevent loss of control in catastrophic conditions, central fault display system, GPS, and Cat III automatic landing capability for extremely bad weather.
- Composite Materials: Usage of light weight composites reduced overall weight and allowed for a fuselage 40 feet longer than the DC-10.
- Aerodynamic design: Added winglets produce 2.5% more efficiency in drag as well as wing and tail improvements.
- More efficient engines: More efficient aircraft engines were developed by Pratt & Whitney, GE and Rolls Royce. Â Â New engine types resulted in greater thrust as less fuel usage and longer range.
The table below highlights how these improvements directly related to a longer range and more efficient aircraft.Â To make things apples to apples, Iâ€™ve chosen versions that were the best of each aircraft type.
|Maximum Range (full load)|
|Maximum Cruise Speed|
|Maximum Takeoff Weight|
38, 615 gallons
|EnginesÂ – Thrust|
PW4462 – 62,000 lbf
PW JT9D-59A – 53,000 lbf
So, what we have is a longer range aircraft that is capable of carrying more passengers with less crew and a state-of-the-art cockpit.
If you want to catch a ride on one of these â€œMighty Dogsâ€ after KLM retires their 9 remaining aircraft, short of buying your own, youâ€™ll have to fly on a charter flight or ship yourself via Fedex, UPS, Eva Cargo or Lufthansa Cargo.