The ubiquitous C-2 that the has become a welcome sight on carrier decks – Photo: Paul Carter
Since 1966, the United States Navy has employed the venerable Grumman C-2 Greyhound as its main source of supplying their fleet of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers with a vital connection to the outside world. Known as the CODs (for Carrier Onboard Delivery), these aircraft transport personnel, spare parts, mail, and other necessities to the carriers from land.
The C-2, based on the Grumman E-2 Hawkeye AWACS platform, can carry up to 26 passengers or 10,000 pounds of cargo to and from an aircraft carrier. The mission of the C-2 has been considered one of the most important in the operations of an aircraft carrier. With the first of 17 C-2s delivered in 1966, and the last in 1968, by the early 80’s, the fleet was beginning to show its age and limitations.
KC-130 flown by Lt. Flatley departs the USS Forrestal after one of its 21 landings – Photo: US Navy
So, what does the C-2 have to do with airliners? In the early 1980’s, the US Navy put out a request for a new COD aircraft through the MMVX program. Various manufacturers tendered proposals, including Grumman, with an improved version of the C-2. Lockheed offered a new, turbofan design derived from the S-3 Viking, and a few unusual proposals.
Fokker Aircraft, of the Netherlands, proposed a derivative of their successful F28 regional airliner, called the F28 Mk.5000. McDonnell Douglas proposed a navalized version of the venerable DC-9-10 airliner, and lastly, it appears as if Boeing proposed a carrier modification of the 737-200. While it might seem odd operating an aircraft the size of an airliner off of the small flight deck of an aircraft carrier, the concept was proven as possible nearly 20 years before the start of the MMVX program.
In November 1963, the Navy conducted tests to see if the idea of a ’œSuper COD’ was possible. These dramatic tests saw a crew, led by Lt. James Flatley, land a KC-130 on the deck of the USS Forrestal 21 times with no tailhook, and take off with no catapult assistance. These tests, while a success, proved that the C-130 was too large of an aircraft to routinely operate off of a carrier, and the Navy in the end procured the C-2.
For this story, I want to take a closer look at the proposed airliners which were made to handle carrier operations.
Delta flight 2014, the final scheduled DC-9 (reg N773NC) flight, pushed back from the gate at MSP – Photo: Chris Spradlin
It was a cold day in Minneapolis, the coldest in decades. Despite the bitter temperatures, spirits were high at Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport (MSP) as Delta Air Lines was preparing to operate their final scheduled McDonnell Douglas DC-9 flight. As the aircraft touched down after the first flight of a two-leg ceremonial routing, the sendoff began and the DC-9 would soon be history.
A small gathering of Delta pilots, flight attendants, and tech ops were on hand to say goodbye to an old friend. A banner commemorating the DC-9 was hung on the wall for all to sign as passengers and employees indulged in the decorative DC-9 cakes. Before boarding, a ground operations employee shared some final thoughts about the DC-9, slipping up and saying “on behalf of Northwest Airlines,” which really sums up the history of the DC-9 at Delta.
Born 48 years ago, the DC-9 has outlived many other fleet types since its introduction with Delta in 1965. The DC-9 was once before retired from the Delta fleet in 1993, but was introduced again in 2008 after the merger with Northwest Airlines. Northwest also inherited their DC-9s via a merger, this time with Republic Airlines in 1986. The airframe which operated the final flight, N773NC, started its life with North Central Airlines in 1978.
DC-9 “Delta Prince” in flight over wooded area, taken in the 1960’s. Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines.
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?
Delta DC-9 taxis onto Runway 18C at Charlotte, NC. Photo by Andrew Vane.
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:
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.
Delta DC-9 in updated livery. Check out the L1011 in the background. Image courtesy of Delta Air Lines.
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.
DC-9-50 at Delta’s gates in Charlotte, NC. Photo by Andrew Vane.
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 ’œon 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 ’œjet base’ for pilots in Atlanta. For now, I can postpone my farewell for at least another year or so.
Teal Anyone? No FMC here. Its old school flying for sure.
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 ’œBoy, 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 ’œwhere are you going?’ questions from ATC after straying a bit off the route. ’œIf you’re within 4 miles you’re good,’ he told me.