When it comes to designing a new aircraft, the engineers usually base their designs on the previous aircraft. This was not the case with Douglas Aircraft and their DC-9. Douglas decided to have the DC-9 set out on a course of its own.
With development beginning in April of 1963, the DC-9 was built to be a twin-engine short-range companion to its bigger brother, the four-engine DC-8. Where most designers use previous models and parts for their new plane, the DC-9 was a completely new design. The DC-9 was built with two rear fuselage mounted turbofan engines, slightly angled, small wings, and a T-tail. This was also designed with a cargo transport variant, so over all, the DC-9 could carry eight cargo pallets or up to 135 passengers depending on seating styles. The first flight of the DC-9 took place on February 25, 1965 and went into service with Delta Airlines on December 8, 1965.
It is hardly a surprise that the DC-9 is one of the most successful jet airliners. With over 2,400 DC-9s built between 1965 and 1982, Douglas has given the DC-9 family a strong reputation for being reliable and efficient. The DC-9 is also one of the longest lasting aircraft in aviation history with several still in operation today.
Over the years Douglas made several variations of the DC-9, making various improvements and modifications to the aircraft’s length, wing design, and weight. All of these changes led to increases in passenger capacity and made the DC-9 even more useful. The Perris Valley Airport uses a DC-9 as a skydiving jump plane. With the ventral stairs removed from the DC-9, it is the only airline transport class jet certified for skydiving operations by the FAA. The U.S. military also had a few variations of the DC-9 with a side cargo door that they still use today. Renamed the C-9, the U.S. Air Force has the C-9A Nightingale medevac while the U.S. Navy and Marines use the C-9B Skytrain II for fleet logistics support. The Air Force also uses the VC-9C, a VIP transport used to transport U.S. Cabinet members and other high-ranking officials.
While improving on existing models often fixes problems, and therefore creating a better aircraft, it is not always the best case. Douglas and the DC-9 showed the aviation industry that it doesn’t hurt to think outside the box and start from scratch.