The DC-9 is credited with being one of the most successful aircraft in aviation history. This winning design for a medium range passenger aircraft made its debut in 1965. Many of its descendants still fly in various liveries throughout the world.
Like its ancestor, the legendary DC-3, the military services saw the value of this aircraft and adopted it into use as the C-9. The C-47 was the original go-anywhere, do-anything transport. The C-9 followed in its footsteps like a little (but bigger) brother. In both the Pacific and European theaters of war, the C-47 had a tremendous impact. The C-47 was even fitted with large floats for water landings and takeoffs; it helped save Berlin during the Airlift. The C-9 would emerge as a more than capable jet flying in Vietnam, Gulf War, throughout the Cold War, and even post-Cold War era well into the 21st century.
The C-9 emerges as a simple DC-9 conversion
The C-9 is a development of the popular DC9-30 series. Shortly after the DC-9 series launched, the jet established itself with a reputation for dependability, quality and competitive operational costs.
The C-9 was adopted by the military to replace transport and medivac aircraft, all of them propeller-driven. These included the C-131 Samaritan. The increased speed, improved accommodations and other benefits provided by the C-9 were a serious improvement in providing the best medical care for personnel. The interior was readily adaptable for transport of personnel and cargo. The C-9 filled a niche for mid-sized transports. It fulfilled missions for which the larger aircraft like the C-133 and C-141 were too large or not properly equipped. The speed of a jet and adaptable interior space made the C-9 an excellent choice for many missions where the airfield could not accommodate larger aircraft.
Air Force’s C-9 for DV Transport and Medivac
The USAF employed the C-9A Nightingale primarily as a medivac transport was a small fleet of VC-9s for DV transport. The C-9A was specifically designed to accommodate ambulatory and litter-borne patients. Features such as high speed, reduced engine noise, and a rear loading ramp made this an ideal choice for moving personnel in need of specialized hospital care. It had the capacity for 40 litter (stretcher) patients and 40 ambulatory patients of combinations thereof. The last USAF C-9A was retired in September 2005.
The Air Force’s fleet of VC-9C jets flew senior governmental leaders to various places. The C-9 also served as an executive VIP transport. Three VC 9C served as Air Force II until being replaced by the C-32 (modified Boeing 757). The interior was outfitted for use by First Ladies, Vice Presidents and other dignitaries with appropriate decor and features for official duties and visits. The VC-9C was utilized for official visits by Executive Branch members to places where larger aircraft could not be accommodated. It had enhanced communications capabilities and was operated by the 89th Airlift wing and later the 932nd Airlift Wing at Scott Air Force Base. The VC-9C even occasionally served as Air Force One when the Commander In Chief needed to fly to a small field instead of a larger airport. The VC-9Cs were finally retired in 2011 as seen in this video posted by the AMC Museum.
Marine Corps and Navy Loved Their Sky Train II’s
The US Navy and Marine Corps adopted the C-9B as the Sky Train II in honor of the C-47 multi-role transport that served well into the 1970’s. The interior was readily adaptable for personnel seating or cargo loads and could operate from smaller airports. The last C-9B was retired by the US Navy in July 2014. The Marine Corps operated 2 C-9Bs for executive transport purposes. They finally retired their jets in 2017. Below is a video of a C-9B from the 2011 NAS Oceana Air Show posted on Youtube by airshowfansh.
While the C-9 was never a big foreign seller, two were supplied to Kuwait as the C-9K with the last being Douglas jet retired in 2005.
The intended replacement for the C-9 and variants is the Boeing C-40 Clipper. This variant of the proven workhorse 737 series will pick up where the C-9 left off. The C-40 will be filling big shoes and inheriting a host of duties where the dependable Boeing 737 airframe will be useful. The C-9 earned a place in the history books as an all-around workhorse that performed well, serving faithfully on the demanding missions it faced with an enviable service, safety and reliability record.
Although the military has replaced the DC-9 derivative fleet, the original design of the DC-9 lives on. The DC-9 continued to be stretched throughout the 1970s as the -50 model and later the MD-80 and -90 models emerged. After the McDonnellDouglas merger with Boeing, Boeing continued production of the MD-95 airframe and redesignated it as the Boeing 717. While the 717 was never a runaway commercial hit, production continued until 2006. Thus ensuring that the same basic design that was first delivered to an airline in 1965 will continue to fly over our skies for at least a few more years.
You can still see a C-9 at museums across the country
While the days of the C-9 flying have come to an end, you can still see a few of them at museums across the country. While most are on military bases, they can be seen at museums at Scott AFB, Dover AFB, Lackland AFB, the old Castle AFB museum, Evergreen Museum, and Pensacola, FL at the Naval Aviation Museum.