Fight or Flight – The History of the Douglas DC-8
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Fight or Flight – The History of the Douglas DC-8

January 23, 2020


The first jet airliner from the legendary
Douglas Company, and one that would become a staple of many major airlines, the DC-8
was the embodiment of sleek design, incredible performance, and was, at the time, a pinnacle
of early jet air travel. In direct rivalry with the Boeing 707, the DC-8 would be instrumental
in bringing commercial aviation to the masses, thereby helping to make the world a smaller
place. At the end of World War II, Douglas was the
undisputed champion of commercial aviation. Prior to the conflict, the Douglas DC-2 and
DC-3 had rewritten the book on air travel by combining a sturdy, utilitarian design
with reliable powerplants and mechanics. The result was an incredibly successful airliner
that was sold the world over, and was easily adapted into its wartime configuration as
the C-47 troop transport. In contrast, the company’s main competitor,
Boeing, hadn’t released a commercial airliner since the Boeing 247 of 1933, and was instead
busying itself with military contracts that came to pass as the B-17 Flying Fortress and
the B-29 Superfortress bombers. Following the end of hostilities in 1945,
both Douglas and Boeing lost a large chunk of their business as military supply contracts
dried up, with Douglas forced to lay off 100,000 workers in the unstable post-war market. However,
the company was able to survive the storm thanks to its development of commercial airliners
during wartime, with the Douglas DC-4 of 1943 being a noted success in a time when civilian
transport requirements were practically non-existent. Then, in 1946, came the DC-6, a larger replacement
for the DC-4 that would also secure massive success across the globe. Boeing, meanwhile,
had to make do with reworking existing military models into hastily constructed civilian designs,
resulting in the likes of the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser – a development of the B-29 bomber. Come 1949, a new player had arrived at the scene in the form of De Havilland of Great Britain, which created the world’s first jet
airliner, the famous but ill-fated De Havilland Comet. At the time, jet technology wasn’t seen as a potential threat to the lead held by Douglas, with tried and tested
propeller powered aircraft continuing to sell in droves while many carriers gave the Comet a sceptical eye. This didn’t mean that Douglas was ignorant to the progress of jet aircraft,
and in the background Douglas designers considered the creation of a jet transport utilizing
the Pratt & Whitney JT3 engine, a civil variant of the J57 engine used on the B-52 nuclear
bomber. The story of what would eventually become
the Douglas DC-8 began in earnest in 1951, when American Airlines chief, Cyrus R. Smith,
put pressure on his long-time friend and Douglas Company founder, Donald Douglas Snr, to build
a longer-range version of the highly successful DC-6, with a view to launching non-stop operations
between the east and west coasts of America while providing better performance than the
rival Lockheed Super Constellation. The result was an order placed by Smith for 25 of what
would become the Douglas DC-7 in December 1951, a scaled-up version of the DC-6 with
improved range and capacity. Things changed, however, when in June 1952,
USAF Secretary Harold Talbot asked for proposals for a jet-powered refuelling tanker of about
250,000 pounds gross weight to replace the B-29-based KC-97. As such, Douglas established
a design office in June of that year to study the possibility of meeting the USAF’s requirement,
officially taking up the mantle on February 1st, 1953, when it announced to stockholders
that over $1m had been spent on the project. This project, though, was overshadowed by Boeing’s
efforts, in which the company chairman, Bill Allen, gambled the entire future of the manufacturer
by investing $16m into the project. As a prototype was assembled during 1952, the De Havilland
Comet finally entered commercial operation with British national carrier BOAC, and it
was quickly illustrated that the Comet was no flash in the pan. With reliability, speed
and performance, the aircraft was onto what appeared to be a winning streak, and Boeing
was quick to pick up on this while Douglas remained complacent – still convinced propeller
powered flight would remain the norm. By this point, Boeing had the inside line
when it came to developing jet aviation as it had already built two, swept-wing nuclear
bombers in a configuration not too dissimilar to commercial airliners, the B-47 and the
B-52. It was around this time that Douglas finally entered into serious discussions regarding
a potential jet transport, openly meeting with airlines to develop the principles of
the airliner. In contrast, while Boeing had announced the development of a jet-powered
military tanker, the technical details were a closely guarded secret. Chief engineer on the Douglas project was
Ivor Shogran, though the main incentive behind developing the scheme was the urging of Don
Douglas Jnr – the son of founder Don Snr – who feared that resting on their laurels
too much would put the company behind Boeing. Initially, a number of designs were considered,
all of which had five-across seating and a capacity of between 80 and 110 passengers.
Long-range models for the transatlantic or transpacific routes were designed with pod-mounted
fuel tanks for extra range, capable of travelling 4,000 miles. By the end of 1954, Douglas had
spent in excess of $3m on the project, and expended 250,000-man hours in its development,
resulting in a scale mock-up. While Douglas was busy building its mock-up,
Boeing unveiled on June 14th, 1954, the 367-80 prototype, better known as the Dash-80, immediately
winning the hearts and minds of the aviation industry as America’s first jet aircraft
that resembled a commercial airliner. Douglas, however, was unfazed by the Dash-80’s release,
speculating that the USAF would likely order tankers from multiple manufacturers to complete
the contract. This is something that Don Douglas had manipulated before, whereby in order to
sell military versions of the DC-6, known as the C-118, he convinced Secretary of the
Air Force Harold E Talbot to buy a similar number of Lockheed C-121 Constellations to
make the proposal seem fair, to which Talbot agreed. Don Douglas’ confidence then took a massive
blow, when Talbot announced in February 1955 that he would only order 21 of Boeing’s
proposed production models for the USAF tanker, designated the KC-135. The notion outraged
Douglas, and he appealed to the highest levels of power, including the White House, to have
the order shared between Boeing and his company, but to no avail. The loss of the contract was a major hit
to Douglas, but not a crippling one. For 1954, the company had earned the highest revenue in
its entire history, being able to pay all bank loans and having robust $100 million
line-of-credit and a backlog of just over $2 billion. As such, the DC-8 project continued,
being officially launched on June 7th, 1955 with an estimated development cost of $450m.
The aircraft was to be powered by four JT3L engines rated at 11,000lbs thrust, and would
fly 125 passengers over a range of 3,700 miles. Much of the enthusiasm behind the DC-8 came
from the idea that it was the only aircraft manufacturer in America considering a commercial
jet transport – Lockheed having bogged itself down with an order for the L-188 Electra turboprop
with American Airlines, and Boeing now too busy working on the KC-135 to design a passenger
airliner. Orders for the DC-8 were quick to arrive,
starting in August 1955 with six units for Miami-based National Airlines. On October
13th, things became serious when legendary carrier, Pan Am, officially announced that
it would order 25 Douglas DC-8s, and 20 of what Boeing was calling the 707 – the passenger
variant of the KC-135. Excitement further built when United Airlines ordered 30 DC-8s,
due mainly to Boeing’s insistence on not widening the 707’s fuselage to accommodate
six-across seating. Douglas appeared to be convinced he was laying
a winning hand with the DC-8, but that winning hand quickly soured into a losing streak when
his long-time friend, Cyrus Smith of American Airlines, swapped his order for the upcoming
DC-7 to Boeing 707s. Despite pleas from Douglas to reconsider, Smith was convinced by the
fact that Boeing had already presented a working jet transport in the form of the Dash-80,
while Douglas continued to plug away with mock-ups. This was solidified through an assessment
by American Airlines engineers, who noted that the 707 was $500,000 less per unit than
the DC-8, and that the swept wing of the 707 at 35 degrees – five degrees more than the
DC-8 – meant it was able to fly up to 20mph faster. The final act to seal the deal was
when Boeing agreed to widen the fuselage by 10-inches to match the DC-8. The problem with the DC-8’s wing would eventually
prove to be a large part of its downfall, primarily due to the presence of three chief
engineers on the design team with contrasting ideas that went unsupervised by the Douglas
management. Essentially, the design team was given free reign to come up with the airliner
but without any input or criticism from their superiors, which is why the DC-8’s wing
configuration was based on unproven research into a blunt-nose variant of the airfoil wing
design by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). NACA’s research
suggested that the conventional airfoil design kept the airflow over the upper surface of
the wing below the speed of sound in order to avoid the formation of “shock waves”,
reducing overall drag. The intention therefore was to design a blunt-nose airfoil wing that
could achieve a 30-degree swingback but still maintain a speed of Mach 0.85, while also
demonstrating lower wing weight and better low-speed characteristics. The problem was
that the blunt-nose airfoil design had never been proven in flight, and rudimentary wind
tunnel tests failed to correlate with actual in-flight experiments. As such, when in-flight
testing of the DC-8 finally commenced, it was discovered that the drag from the blunt-nose
airfoil was higher than the drag of a conventional airfoil, and thus the drag rise on a 30-degree
swept wing would start as low as low as Mach .75. The problem was, Douglas had already
promised their customers an in-flight performance of Mach .84 at the minimum. To put a shine on this dark situation, though,
the wing configuration did allow for landing, take-off, and ground handling characteristics
similar to the latest DC-7, with a stall speed only 4 knots faster than its propeller predecessor.
Therefore, the transition training costs for pilots from DC-7 to DC-8 could be reduced
while maintaining a minimum degree of safety. Again, the situation wasn’t all bleak for
Douglas, despite the design flaws of the DC-8’s wing. Airlines were still lining up to buy
units, and in late 1959 the company boasted 19 carriers willing to order the upcoming
aircraft, outdoing the likes of the Boeing 707 and the more recent Convair CV880. The creation of the Douglas DC-8, though,
resulted in concerns for production. In 1958, the main Douglas assembly plant was at Santa
Monica Airport in California, but this field was only suitable for the creation of propeller
airliners. As such, Douglas proposed extending the runway by 5,000ft to allow DC-8s to comfortably
use the strip and filed a request to the City of Santa Monica for approval. However, once
word got out of the proposal, residents objected vehemently against the scheme, complaining
of noise and possible safety concerns. Therefore, the city refused the proposal, and Douglas
was forced to construct a new facility elsewhere, eventually settling on the Long Beach Municipal
Airport down on the Pacific coastline. This was an additional $12m investment that Douglas
didn’t need, on top of the DC-8’s development costs overall, and presented a logistical
nightmare as all construction materials and equipment, as well as 44,000 employees, had
to be transferred en masse, delaying production further. To compensate for this setback, Douglas
introduced a frantic production rate in order to present its customers with aircraft on
time, which would bring about further headaches later down the road. Finally, on April 9th, 1958, the first Douglas
DC-8A, N8008D, was rolled out of the production facility at Long Beach, and on May 30th, undertook
its first flight in front of 95,000 employees and their families. During the two hour and
seven-minute voyage, the problems with the drag on the DC-8’s wing design became dramatically
evident – 13% above the estimates gathered during wind tunnel testing, and 10% above
the drag guaranteed to customers. As such, the maiden flight of the DC-8 meant that the
aircraft could only yield an economical cruise speed of Mach .798, far below the stated cruise
speed of Mach .84. Therefore, Douglas quickly ran back to the drawing board and introduced
a series of modifications that included wing slots, wingtip extensions and altering the
nose profile of the wing. These alterations didn’t solve the overall drag problem, but
did help to mitigate it. By this point, though, Douglas, in its drastic
bid to keep up with the now launched Boeing 707, had already up to Ship 148 before the
modifications to the wing were finalized, with this initial batch of DC-8s severely
underperforming and putting a dim light on the aircraft from an early stage. In the end,
Douglas offered to refit these units with the modified wing design at $230,000 per aircraft,
paid to the airlines by the Douglas Company, but due to a lack of space inside the hangar,
the refurbishment work had to be done outside on the apron at Long Beach. In the end, all
of the original series DC-8s, known as the DC-8-11, were modified with the new wing,
becoming the DC-8-12. The original Series 10 DC-8 was 150ft long,
147 inches wide, and could seat 177 passengers. Fitted with four Pratt &Whitney JT3C turbojet
engines, the aircraft had a cruise speed of 559mph, and a range of 4,350 miles, making
it perfectly suitable for domestic operations within the United States. In all, 30 units
in the Series 10 range of DC-8s were built, 23 going to United Airlines, 6 to Delta Airlines,
and one prototype. The shambolic entry of the DC-8 into service
was a blow to Douglas, one that would cost the company its significant lead over Boeing.
Regardless, despite calls by various company executives to abandon the DC-8 and focus solely
on their military contracts, both Don Douglas Jnr and Snr refused to give up that easily.
The DC-8 was company policy, and Douglas Jnr, who had become President of the firm in October
1957, was willing to sack anyone who disagreed with him, including 10 company Vice Presidents
in his first five years of control. This policy was further cemented when he brought about
a sweeping change to the management structure in 1961, strategically positioning is close
friend Jackson McGowan as Vice President of the Aircraft Division, and Charles Able as
Vice President of the Missiles and Space division. Following the DC-8 Series 10 came the Series
20, which was identical in terms of dimensions, but upgraded the original 13,500-pound thrust
JT3C engines to 16,800-pound thrust JT4A engines. While cruising speed remained the same, the
range of the Series 20 increased substantially, with this new variant of the DC-8 capable
of flying 4,687 miles. In the end, 33 of the Series 20 would be built, although United
Airlines would later convert 16 of its 23 Series 10 units to Series 20 configuration
by the middle of the 1960s. The DC-8 Series 20 would initially be known as the DC-8B,
until the launch of the DC-8 Series 30 variant in March 1960. The Series 30 was the first of the DC-8 variants
to be built for the lucrative intercontinental market between the west and east coasts of
the USA, utilizing the same JT4A powerplants as the Series 20, but increasing the fuel
capacity by one-third and strengthening the fuselage and landing gear. Six months after
the March 1960 launch of the original DC-8-31 and -32, a further modification in the form
of the DC-8-33 was provided, which substituted 17,500 pound-thrust JT4A-11 turbojets, a modification
to the flap linkage to allow a 1.5° setting for more efficient cruise, stronger landing
gear, and a 315,000-pound maximum takeoff weight (MTOW). MTOW is the maximum weight at
which an aircraft can safely takeoff when factoring in the mass of the plane’s structure,
cargo, passenger and crew compliment, and fuel. In all, 57 of the Series 30 were produced. Following this was the Series 40, which replaced
the Pratt & Whitney JT4A engines of the Series 30 with 17,500 pound-thrust Rolls-Royce Conway
509 turbofan engines from the Vickers VC10, which proved to be highly efficient, quieter,
and produced less smoke. The Series 40 came in three versions, the DC-8-41 and -42 having
an MTOW of 300,000 and 310,000lbs, respectively, and the -43 adopting the 1.5° flap setting
of the -33, while also introducing a 4% leading-edge wing extension to reduce drag and increase
fuel capacity slightly. The new wing design also improved the range by 8%, lifting capacity by 6,600 lbs,
and cruising speed by more than 12 mph. Despite these improvements, the Series 40 failed to
sell in great quantities with only 32 units built. This was especially apparent in the
USA, as American carriers were reluctant to buy foreign products. Instead, they held out
until early 1961, which is when Pratt & Whitney introduced the upgraded JT3D turbojet engine. The JT3D powerplant was a huge improvement
over the preceding JT3C, and was implemented on a variety of military and civilian aircraft,
ranging from the rival Boeing 707 to the B-52 nuclear bomber. The main attraction of the
JT3D was the fact it was much more efficient than its predecessor, making it a suitable
rival to the likes of the Rolls-Royce Conway, a factor that sees many JT3D powerplants still
in use to this day in the likes of the B-52 and the KC-135. For the DC-8, the JT3D was married to the
150ft fuselage of the preceding models, but upgrades to the seating configuration meant
the Series 50 could carry 189 passengers as opposed to the earlier 177. The Series 50
came in four variants, the DC-8-51, DC-8-52 and DC-8-53 being released in 1961, and providing
different MTOW weights: 276,000 pounds, 300,000 pounds, and 315,000 pounds, respectively. This was followed shortly afterward by a freight
version of the DC-8 known as the Jet Trader, with original considerations being to place
a fixed bulkhead separating the forward ⅔ of the cabin for freight, leaving the rear
cabin for 54 passenger seats. This was eventually changed to a movable bulkhead that allowed
between 25 and 114 seats with the remainder set aside for cargo. A large cargo door was
fitted into the forward fuselage, the cabin for 300,000 pounds, and 315,000
pounds, respectively. floor was reinforced and the rear pressure
bulkhead was moved by nearly 7 feet to make more space. Though the option of a windowless
cabin was made available, only United Airlines took up the offer, ordering 15 in 1964. The
MTOW for the DC-8F-54 ranged from between 315,000 and 325,000lbs, and a total of 62
aircraft were built. The final variant of the Series 50 range was
the DC-8-55, which was launched in June 1964 and married the JT3D-3B engines of earlier
Series 50 models with a strengthened structure from the freighter versions, increasing the
MTOW to 325,000-pound. The result was the Series 50 reversing the early misfortunes
of the airliner, with 142 units built. Furthermore, up to twenty of the earlier DC-8-10s, -30s,
and -40s were converted to Series 50 standard by implementing the JT3D engines. Following on from the Series 50, the Series 60 The Series 60 was designed for high capacity,
medium range flight, maintaining the same wings, engines and pylons as the -55 but increasing
capacity at the expense of range. The fuselage of the airliner was increased by 6.1m ahead
of the wings and 5.1m aft, extending it to 187ft and providing a capacity of 259 passengers.
The added length required strengthening of the structure, but the basic DC-8 design already
had sufficient ground clearance to permit the one-third increase in cabin size without
requiring longer landing gear. The first variant of the Series 60, the DC-8-61, first flew
in March 1966 before entering service with United Airlines in January 1967. The -61 was
also available in a cargo configuration known as the DC-8-61CF, and a total of 88 -61s were
built – 78 passenger and 10 cargo. The -61 was supplemented in April 1967 by
the -62, which stretched the previous -55 by 1m fore and aft of the wing, providing
an overall length of 157ft. Modifications were primarily in order to extend the range
of the airliner, with 3ft wingtip extensions added to reduce drag, together with a revised
pylon and engine pod design, while fuel capacity was increased and add fuel capacity. The DC-8-62
could carry 189 passengers, but presented a range of 6,000 miles, equivalent to the
previous -53. Again, a cargo variant named the DC-8-62CF (Convertible Freighter) and
the DC-8-62AF (All Freight) were available as well. In total, 51 DC-8-62s, 10 -62CFs,
and 6 -62AFs were made. The last of the original Douglas DC-8 designs
was the Series 63, also known as the Super DC-8. The -63 entered service in June 1968,
and essentially married the best attributes of the other Series 60 models, incorporating
the longer fuselage of the -61 and the range and flying performance of the -62. As before,
the airliner was available in an All Freight and Convertible Freight configuration, and
a total of 107 DC-8-63s were built – 41 passenger, 53 Convertibles, 7 All Freights,
and 6 special order DC-8-63PFs for Eastern Airlines, which strengthened the fuselage
like the freight versions, but didn’t fit a large cargo door. As you can imagine, the DC-8-63 was the aircraft
that truly helped bring the project out of the mire of its early faults and get it back
on track, becoming the second best-selling international airliner behind the ever-present
Boeing 707. The design still wasn’t perfect, though, as one major drawback endemic to the
DC-8’s design was its large, panoramic, 40-inch windows. While implementing such giant
windows may have helped improve the view for passengers, there were important technical
reasons for this choice. Following the Comet disasters, and the commonly-held theory that
the fitting of square windows to that plane helped exacerbate its fatal case of metal
fatigue, Douglas engineer Ed Harpoothian fitted the fuselage of the DC-8 with titanium strips
between every frame of the hull that would stop propagation of fatigue cracks from one
frame to another. These spacing’s were fitted at 40-inch intervals, with one window per
frame. Meanwhile, the Boeing 707 had spacing’s fitted at 20-inch intervals, again, with one
window per frame. Though such a choice was approved by the Douglas
management, other members of the design team were quick to point out that 20-inch spacing’s
were perfectly suitable for the DC-8, but Harpoothian wouldn’t budge on his design
choice. As such, when the standard seat pitch for commercial airliners was reduced to less
than 40 inches, it was found that many passengers aboard the DC-8 would have no window alongside
their seat, which made the airliner highly unpopular among customers. Nevertheless, DC-8 orders were pouring in
for the Super 60 series, and with the arrival of the regional Douglas DC-9 in December 1965,
the company was onto a winning streak against the Boeing giant. Building capacity for the
DC-8 especially was at 118%, and a severe backlog
meant the company had to implement a waiting list for customers wishing to purchase the
airliner. The sixties quickly became a two-horse race for both short- and long-range airliners,
the Boeing 707 and DC-8 duking it out for glory at the top on the international market,
while the DC-9 did battle with the Boeing 727 trijet for the lucrative regional sector.
Other than the Douglas and Boeing crop, there was no other competition of which to speak,
the Convair 880 and 990 Coronado stuttering to a halt after its dreadful fuel consumption
ruined its commercial chances, while Lockheed was still developing its turboprop L-188 Electra. One notable distinction of the DC-8’s career, was the fact that it was the first commercial airliner to break the Sound Barrier – long before the Tu-144 and Concorde did in the 1970s. During a test conducted on August 21st, 1961, a Douglas DC-8 broke the sound barrier during a controlled dive through 41,000ft, maintaining a speed of Mach 1.012, for 16 seconds. This would later be broken by the Tupolev Tu-144 nicknamed ‘Concordski’, which first went supersonic on June 5th, 1969, attaining a speed of Mach 2.29. The running streak of success, sadly, had to end
somewhere, and 1966 was the year that broke the Douglas Company’s chance at clawing
back its lead. Despite being a very successful year in terms of sales, with 112 DC-8s and
181 DC-9s pushed out the factory door, the excessive production rate of Douglas was suddenly
derailed when America began its intervention in Vietnam – the start of one of the world’s
most brutal conflicts. The beginning of the Vietnam War resulted in a variety of detrimental factors
against Douglas, including the rapid production build-up of a multitude of models, the shortage
of skilled labour and a chronic shortage of parts. Supplying demand was already stretched
to its very limits with the company, but this was truly the straw that broke the camel’s
back, one that the firm couldn’t easily bounce back from. Even Douglas Jnr admitted
that in their drive to recapture their market share from Boeing, they had become far too
gung-ho and exuberant. In the end, some DC-8s were completed with up to 250,000 hours of
invoicing unfilled. Rocking the Douglas Company to its very core,
the various cash flow problems and a loss of supply meant that the firm was forced into
a merger with the McDonnell Aircraft Company of St Louis, an extremely successful military
and space manufacturer. The merger was announced on January 1967 and the “first” McDonnell
Douglas (MDC) aircraft – the DC-8-63 – was rolled out on March 6. The merger to form McDonnell Douglas saved
the company, and money was soon flooding back in, much of which went into developing the
company’s next major international model, the DC-10 wide-body trijet. Regardless of
the upcoming DC-10, expected for launch in 1971, the DC-8 maintained a minimum level
of sales, with 35 units bought in 1968 and 102 planes delivered every two weeks – all
deliveries either being on time or ahead of schedule. As the release date of the DC-10
approached, though, and with the focus of major carriers now being on wide-body concepts
to suit the mass-market, DC-8 orders tailed off, and at the end of 1971, McDonnell Douglas
announced that the last of the 556 DC-8s (a -63) would be delivered in mid-1972 to SAS. This wasn’t completely the end of the DC-8
story, as there was yet one more variant developed even after production had ceased. In the face
of upcoming noise legislation threatening to curtail the careers of DC-8s in the mid
to late 1970s, Jackson McGowan, who had retired from McDonnell Douglas in 1971, organized
a reengaging program in conjunction with General Electric in 1975 to give DC-8 Super 60 series
aircraft a new lease of life, these being by far the most popular members of the fleet. Though initial plans considered the creation
of a downsized, de-rated version of the DC-10’s GE CF6-6D turbofan engines, General Electric
instead proposed fitting the DC-8 with newer, quieter CFM-56 turbofan engines producing
22,000 pounds-thrust, developed by GE’s new subsidiary brand CFM International. This
project was stalled, however, as by 1975 the proposed requirements of this new legislation
were still fluid, and it wouldn’t be until March 1977 that the US Congress outlined new
regulations for compliance with the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO, Stage
3 by 1985. The ICAO noise regulation staging was based on the loudness of airliners and
their average MTOW, ranging from Stage 1, the loudest aircraft, to Stage 5, the quietest.
The DC-8, as well as the Boeing 707, were both sat firmly in Stage 1, and were
required to reduce their noise output to Stage 3 by 1985 or be withdrawn. Faced with the legislation, McGowan formed
Cammacorp in 1977, taking the position of a private management contractor for refitting
Super DC-8s with the upcoming CFM-56 engine. Matters were complicated, however, by proposals
made by McDonnell Douglas to provide their own retrofitting service for airlines, and
that they would use the upcoming Pratt & Whitney JT8D-209 turbofan engines, producing 19,000
pounds-thrust. McGowan’s private venture appeared to be sunk, that was until major
DC-8 cargo operator, Flying Tiger Line, stepped in with a concern regarding its night cargo
operations, with the Pratt & Whitney engine considered unsuitable for the airline if regulations
came in requiring thrust cutbacks after take-off to reduce noise. In the face of this, McDonnell
Douglas abandoned its retrofitting scheme, and McGowan was able to take on 78 orders
for his retrofit project by May 1979. Dubbed the DC-8 Series 70, the program was
a straightforward conversion of the Series -61, -62 and -63 airliners of the original
production run, replacing the factory-fitted JT3D engines with the more fuel-efficient
CFM56-2 high-bypass turbofans with new nacelles and pylons built by Grumman Aerospace, while
also fairing the APU air intakes below the nose. While DC-8-62 and -63 aircraft were
easy to convert, due to the DC-8-61 still maintaining the high drag wing configuration,
further modifications had to be made to ensure a noted improvement in efficiency. In all,
the Super 70s were about 70% quieter than the Super 60 Series and between 18% and 25%
more efficient than the JT3D, depending on the model, with MTOW ratings remaining
the same, but with a slight reduction in payload because of the heavier engines. The result
was the DC-8-71, -72 and -73, all of which were certified by the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA) in 1982, with 110 units converted by the time the project ended in 1988. With their
work done, Cammacorp was disbanded upon completion of the program. Despite its design faults, the DC-8 did prove
itself to be a largely reliable airliner, but no aircraft is free from incident. As
of 2020, the DC-8 had been involved in 146 incidents, including 83 hull-loss accidents
and 46 hijackings resulting in 2,258 fatalities. The very first incident involving the DC-8
was perhaps its most notable, while also being a truly unqualified tragedy. On December 16th,
1960, United Airlines Flight 826, flown by one year old Douglas DC-8-11 N8013U Mainliner
Will Rogers, was approaching Idlewild Airport (Now John F. Kennedy International Airport)
in New York when it was struck in mid-air over Staten Island by TWA Flight 266, a flight
from Columbus, Ohio bound for LaGuardia Airport operated by Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation
N6907C Star of Sicily. Lost in the fog, and twelve miles off course, one of the DC-8’s
starboard engines struck the Constellation just ahead of its wings, tearing the fuselage
apart and sending the TWA airliner spiralling downward, crashing onto land belonging to
the USAF facility at Miller Field, as well as into the New York Harbour. All 44 people
on the TWA flight were killed, with reports stating that one passenger’s body had fallen
from the fuselage before impact with the ground and landed in a tree. The DC-8 struggled on for another minute and
a half, despite having its engine ripped off, before crashing down into the streets of Brooklyn,
landing in the district of Park Slope at the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Sterling
Place. The impact tore apart the airliner, dousing the street in aviation fuel and turning
ten apartment buildings, the Pillar of Fire Church, the McCaddin Funeral Home, a Chinese
laundry, and a delicatessen into an inferno. In the chaos, six people on the ground were
killed, together with all of the 84 passengers and crew aboard the DC-8. Most tragic of all was the initial survivor
of the crash, 11-year-old Stephen Lambert Baltz of Wilmette, Illinois. Stephen, a plucky
sixth grader and devoted Boy Scout, was travelling alone aboard Flight 826 in order to spend
Christmas with his extended family in Yonkers, New York, and was meant to have flown with
his sister, Randee, and mother, Phyllis, a couple of days earlier. However, a sore throat
had grounded him, and a few days later his father put him aboard the fateful United Airlines
flight, with his mother planning to pick him up at the New York end. For an 11-year-old,
the idea of flying alone appeared frightening, but Stephen was brave enough to make the journey. During the crash, he was thrown clear from
the wreckage and landed in a snowdrift, protecting him from the blast while also softening his
impact. Sadly, he was still drenched in flaming kerosene, and aside from his skin being burned
and severely disfigured, the heat of the explosion seared his lungs, and despite the best efforts
of doctors, he passed away the next morning from pneumonia – the last survivor of what
was the worst aviation incident in history at that time. Also among the dead was Doctor
Jonas Kamlet, famous for inventing the glucose-based pregnancy strip that is commonplace today. On March 4th, 1966, Canadian Pacific Air Lines
Flight 402, operated by Douglas DC-8-43 CF-CPK Empress of Edmonton, crashed while landing
at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport with a flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver. The airliner,
approaching in thick fog, came in below the glideslope and struck the sea wall at the
end of the runway, killing 64 of the 72 passengers and crew aboard. This crash came during a
cluster of deadly air crashes to befall Japan during 1966, with five occurring that year,
one of which happened only 24 hours later. BOAC Flight 911, a Boeing 707 bound for London,
taxied past the smouldering remains of Flight 402 on its way out, before it too crashed
after being torn apart over Mount Fuji by severe turbulence, killing all 124 people
aboard. On July 5th, 1970, Air Canada Flight 621,
operated by McDonnell Douglas DC-8-63 CF-TIW on its way from Montreal to Los Angeles via
Toronto, exploded and crashed near Brampton, Ontario, killing all 109 aboard. It was later
found that during a botched landing by the First Officer at Toronto International Airport,
the plane hit the ground with such force that the number four engine and pylon broke off
the wing, exposing the fuel lines. As the pilots proceeded to go-around, fuel was trailing
from the hole left in the wing which, two and a half minutes later, exploded, blowing
the plane from the sky. At the time, this was Canada’s worst aviation disaster. On June 14th, 1972, Japan Airlines Flight
471, flown by Douglas DC-8-53 JA8012 on its way from Tokyo to London via Hong Kong, Bangkok,
New Delhi, Cairo, Rome and Frankfurt, crashed in the River Yamuna while on approach to Palam
Airport, India; killing 82 of 87 on board and three on the ground. The cause was disputed,
with Japanese investigators claiming a false glide path signal lead to their improper descent,
while Indian investigators claimed the crew disregarded procedure. Another notable Japan Airlines crash occurred
on January 13th, 1977, when JAL Cargo Flight 8054, operated by Douglas DC-8-62AF JA8054
from Grant County Airport in Washington State, USA, to Tokyo Haneda via Anchorage, Alaska,
stalled and crashed shortly after takeoff from Anchorage due to the Captain being drunk,
an autopsy revealing he had a blood alcohol level of between 298 and 310 mg %, far beyond
the legal maximum of 100 mg %. On December 12th, 1985, Arrow Air Flight 1285,
a military charter bringing home personnel of the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division
from Cairo to Fort Campbell, Kentucky via Cologne and Gander, operated by DC-8-63CF
N950JW, struggled to climb away from Gander after leaving the runway and crashed less
than one mile from the airport, killing all 256 people aboard. The cause was found to
be a mixture of icing conditions and pilot error as a result of weight and reference
speed miscalculations. The latest crash of a DC-8 occurred on February
7th, 2006, when UPS Airlines Flight 1307, operated by McDonnell Douglas DC-8-71F N748UP
on a flight from Atlanta, Georgia to Philadelphia, suffered an in-flight fire during its final
approach from one of the cargo containers in its hold. Though the plane landed without
injury to the crew, the aircraft was gutted by the blaze and subsequently written off. In addition to crashes, the DC-8, as one of
the most popular airliners of its time, was subject to dozens of hijackings during a period
when airline piracy was at its peak. In all, the aircraft was involved in 46 hijack incidents,
resulting in two fatalities. The first hijacking of a DC-8 was on February
21st, 1968, when a Delta Air Lines flight was hijacked by Lawrence Rhodes, a mentally
unstable man who demanded the flight from Tampa, Florida, be diverted to Cuba. Upon
landing, a three hour standoff between Rhodes and Cuban authorities ended with the hijacker
surrendering, and all passengers and crew being released unharmed. As they waited to
be returned to the USA, the aircraft’s compliment was provided lemonade, coffee, cigarettes,
and pictures of Che Guevara before the DC-8 was allowed to fly home. Perhaps the most notable hijacking of a DC-8
was on September 6th, 1970, as part of the infamous Dawson’s Field hijackings. Swissair
Flight 100, operated by Douglas DC-8-53 HB-IDD Nidwalden from Zurich to New York JFK, was
hijacked by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine or PFLP. While
flying over France, the crew were ordered to divert to Dawson’s Field, a remote landing strip
in the Jordanian desert. There, it was joined by TWA Flight 741, a Boeing 707 from Tel Aviv
to New York hijacked after its stopover in Frankfurt, and BOAC Flight 775, a Vickers
Super VC10 from Bombay to Heathrow hijacked after its stopover in Bahrain. For a tense
week in the blistering September sun, the three airliners and their 429 passengers and
crew were held captive by the PFLP in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners.
In the end, most of the hostages were freed, but flight crews and Jewish passengers remained
captive until September 28th. Fearing a possible counterstroke by Jordanian forces, the three
empty airliners at Dawson’s Field were blown up with dynamite. DC-8s remained a staple of the commercial
aviation scene until the end of the 1970s, when a mixture of noise regulations and newer
models, as well as the prevalence of wide-body replacements, saw large numbers withdrawn
by the middle of the 1980s. Though it maintained a niche as a narrow-body airliner, the arrival
of the Boeing 757 in 1982 was the nail in the DC-8’s coffin for mainstream work,
and by 1990 most had been retired from frontline passenger service. Cargo operations, meanwhile,
continued well into the 2000s, even beyond the post-9/11 aviation market crash, with
most surviving units being the converted DC-8 Super 70 Series. DHL, through franchisee Astar Air Cargo, would
operate the DC-8 until 2012 when Astar ceased trading, while BAX Global, a cargo airline
operating King County, Washington, used DC-8 Super 70’s until it was acquired by DB Logistics
and ceased flying in 2011. As of 2020, there are only two DC-8s known to be in commercial
operation, 9Q-CJG, and 9Q-CJO. 9Q-CJG is a DC-8-62H, and was delivered to United Airlines
in September 1969, while 9Q-CJO is a Douglas DC-8-73CF delivered to World Airways in March
1971, both of which continue to lead busy working lives across the heart of Africa. In addition, Skybus Cargo Charters has three
DC-8-70s on its books, these three units based out of the company’s home of Lima, Peru,
while disaster relief organization Samaritan’s Purse operates a DC-8-72. Another DC-8 is
used by NASA for archaeology, ecology, geography, hydrology, meteorology, oceanography, volcanology,
atmospheric chemistry, cryospheric science, soil science, and biology missions, and there
are also known to be several examples still in the employ of private operators. Overall, the Douglas DC-8 was a capable airliner. Unfortunately, due to its various design flaws, and due to a frantic production process undertaken by Douglas, which ultimately led to its financial difficulties, the Douglas DC-8 was never allowed to thrive in the manner it was hoped, and would spend its entire career in the shadow of the Boeing 707. Thanks again for watching this video. If you enjoyed it, why not leave a like, and be sure to subscribe for more great content. Also, why not help the channel grow? And support me on Patreon. As always, take care, and I’ll see you next time.

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