“You’re never, ever, ever going to fly on a MD-11 again.”
Avgeeks can cue the Taylor Swift song because there’s a good chance that you’ll “never, ever, ever” going to fly on a beloved three-engined airliner again. The last commercial operator of the MD-11 aircraft retired their passenger fleet on Oct 25th. This retirement means that for the first time since the introduction of the DC-8 way back in 1958, no passenger versions of Douglas/McDonnell Douglas ‘heavy’ airplanes will be plying the skies. KLM had been the sole remaining passenger operator of the MD-11 series. Prior to KLM, World Airways also flew charter passenger flights until they ceased operations earlier this year due to economic difficulties.
While the MD-11 was loved by avgeeks everywhere, it never really lived up to expectations. A derivative of the venerable DC-10 series, the MD-11 was supposed to extend the range and payload of the DC-10 and add modern features like a two person cockpit (eliminating the engineer), winglets, more powerful engines, and passenger enhancements like larger windows and better in flight entertainment. The problem was that the MD-11 failed to meet initial performance targets meaning that some airlines had to either bump passengers to take on extra fuel for the journey or make technical (fuel) stops in order to reach their intended destinations. Further hurting MD-11 sales was the fact that the Boeing 777, which had only two engines but better performance, entered service less than 5 years after the first MD-11s rolled off the line. Still, the MD-11 eventually found a niche as a freighter aircraft. As airlines offloaded their passenger versions for more modern twin-jets, air freight companies like FedEx and UPS picked up the MD-11 aircraft at reduced prices. Lufthansa Cargo even added new MD-11 airplanes all the way until Boeing closed the production line in 2001 as part of their merger with McDonnell Douglas.
This isn’t the end of the line yet for the MD-11 fleet. The cargo carrying MD-11s will soldier on for at least a few more years. If you really need to fly on an MD-11 to feel fulfilled, there is still hope though. KLM is hosting a series of farewell sightseeing flights to send off their last McDonnell Douglas product in style. They are even offering two tickets as part of their contest. The last flight will be November 11, 2014. After that, they’ll probably enjoy one last hurrah as they are ferried to the desert in the southwest United States.
For now, we’ll leave you with a takeoff video of KLM’s last MD-11 as it departed Montreal on Oct 25, 2014 (tail PH-KCE). It’s neat to see how many people turned out to wish this venerable McDonnell Douglas bird farewell.