Browsing Tag: DC-10

An MD-11 in KLM livery at Amsterdam (AMS).

An MD-11 in KLM livery at Amsterdam (AMS).

This is a guest story by Drew Vane on the classic MD-11.

In July of this year,  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 KLM’s ongoing fleet renewal programme,” a KLM spokesperson explained to AirlineReporter.com. “The last of KLM’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.  I’d thought its time was coming to a close, but Delta surprised me by extending the DC-9’s usage an additional year, but it looks like KLM won’t be delaying their MD-11 retirements.

The flight deck of a KLM MD-11. Photo by Dave H.

The flight deck of a KLM MD-11 (PH-KCB). Photo by Dave H.

Once KLM phases out the MD-11, there will be no other commercial airline flying this widebody tri-jet for scheduled passenger service.  It’s anticipated that only few cargo and charter airlines will use the MD-11 in their fleet before 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.  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 70’s and 80’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.

KLM MD-11 at AMS with Northwest DC-10s in the background. Image taken in 2001 by Ken Fielding.

KLM MD-11 at AMS with Northwest DC-10s in the background. Image taken in 2001 by Ken Fielding.

New technological advances had a major impact on what led to the DC-10 Super 60 project, what would eventually become the MD-11.  Boeing’s website best describes what exactly made the MD-11 better than its predecessor.  Specifically it states that the MD-11 has “advances in aerodynamics, propulsion, aircraft systems, cockpit avionics and interior design.”  What does all the mean? Well, a leaner and meaner version of the DC-10.  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.   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.  To make things apples to apples, I’ve chosen versions that were the best of each aircraft type.

DC-10-30

MD-11 ER

Cockpit Crew

3

2

Passengers (3-class)

255

293

Passengers (2-class)

285

323

Maximum Range (full load)

6,600 mi

7,240 mi

Maximum Cruise Speed

Mach 0.88

Mach 0.88

Maximum Takeoff Weight

572,000 lbs

630,500 lbs

Maximum Fuel

36,650 gallons

38, 615 gallons

Engines  – Thrust

PW4462 – 62,000 lbf

PW JT9D-59A – 53,000 lbf

Fuselage Length

170 ft

192 ft

Wingspan

165 ft

169 ft

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 “Mighty Dogs” after KLM retires their 9 remaining aircraft, short of buying your own, you’ll have to fly on a charter flight or ship yourself via Fedex, UPS, Eva Cargo or Lufthansa Cargo.

Ah, flying how it used to be. Although a fun commercial with a great cast of airplanes, I feel it overly beautifies the earlier years of air travel. Sure, it was a big deal at the time since it was so costly and it was still new, but even comparing to 1984’s standards it would have been a bad experience for most people.

For aviation nerds, being able to fly on an old United Airlines Ford Tri-Motor would be an amazing experience. However, for most people it would be horrid. Very loud, lots of vibrations, uncomfy seats, and lots of fuel stops between point A and point B. Your coffee might have been served on a silver platter and given a glass of chocolate milk, but that doesn’t make it worth while.

Even with the “now” portion of the video, which takes place in 1984, it is a lot different than it is in 2011. A first class seat on a current United Airlines Boeing 747 is going to be much more comfortable and probably a bit cheaper. Not to mention all that interesting in-flight entertainment available now.

Sorry, I am not trying to harp too much on this video, I really enjoy it. Who can not like a video with a Ford Tri-Motor, Boeing 747-200, DC-10 and DC-8? I think it just supports the idea that flying used to be so much more glamorous, where I think it is just as glamorous or even a bit more than it used to be (not to even mention safer) — it is all about perspective.

What has the room of the Boeing 747-100, but can land at more airports? Well, the DC-10 of course. This 1971 American Airlines shows how the DC-10 had a lounge in first class and economy. Those were the good ‘ol days right? Wonder how much one of those tickets cost from Los Angeles to Chicago. Today you can do it for about $150 each way. Try doing that back in 1971. Either way, enjoy this classic video.