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Delta Bids Goodbye to its Last DC-9

12/31/2013

How do you measure the impact of an airplane? By how many people it brought together, by the routes it pioneered, perhaps by the sheer number built?

By any of those standards the original Douglas DC-9 was a winner. Now comes word the Delta Air Lines, the carrier that launched the distinguished line of airplanes back on December 8, 1965 is lofting its last DC-9 flight on January 6. Flight 2014 (that’s the way Delta designated it) is scheduled to push back from the gate at Minneapolis/St. Paul International at 4:20 p.m. Central Time in the U.S. and head southeast to Atlanta.

Over the years Delta’s operated a total of 305 DC-9s. In all, according to Bill Yenne’s book The Story of the Boeing Company (into which Douglas successor McDonnell Douglas merged), 976 of the classic rear-engine twinjets were minted over the years. The idea behind the DC-9 was to bring pure-jet service to smaller cities, on shorter routes. Consider, the original 90-passenger DC-9-10 possessed a range of 1,565 miles. By comparison the larger, older DC-8 was, in its time, an ocean-spanning giant.

Delta used its first DC-9s on such southern-U.S. city-hopping routes as Dallas-Shreveport-Jackson-Birmingham-Atlanta. This sort of scenario prevailed in an era prior to airline deregulation. Now, most routes are operated on a “hub-and-spoke” basis, with nonstops radiating from hubs such as Atlanta

This AirlineRatings’ reporter was one of millions of flyers whose life was touched by the airplane. On a cold March day in 1969 I boarded a Continental Airlines DC-9 for the 564-mi/907km flight from Dallas Love Field to El Paso. I as on my way to train for war, a trip that a few months later would be continued aboard a Flying Tigers DC-8-73 bound for Cam Ranh Bay in a country they once called South Vietnam.

While the original DC-9 has all but exited the arena, the craft’s descendents remain viable players. The rapier-like MD-80 series is a workhorse for U.S. leisure carrier Allegiant, and Delta is taking delivery of what will be a fleet of 88 Boeing 717-200s – the re-engined, fuel-efficient DC-9 look-alike. Delta is getting the seven-one-sevens as U.S. discount carrier Southwest Airlines sheds its non-737 fleet. Southwest inherited the airplanes when it purchased AirTran.

What we all inherit with the disappearance of the last of the classic DC-9’s are suitcases full of memories, remembrances of the days when jet travel was shiny and new, and the skies a clear cerulean blue.

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