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Legacy of Number Two U.S. Aircraft Manufacturer Ends

October 26, 2014

The last remaining legacy of the former number two U.S. commercial aircraft manufacturer came to a close this week. The MD-11 widebody jet had made its commercial debut in 1990 and was expected to be the aircraft that would save St. Louis-based McDonnell Douglas from bankruptcy.  Instead the MD-11 became the company's swan song as it was acquired in 1997 by rival Boeing. Boeing eventually dismantled McDonnell Douglas and ended production of all its aircraft.


McDonald Douglas' demise was assured by the U.S. military, which was motivated to reduce the number of airframe designers in the U.S. from three (the third being Northrop Grumman) to two. The French commercial aircraft manufacturer Airbus also proved to be a lethal global competitor with the backing of the English, French, and German governments. 


The last MD-11 flight was operated by KLM Airlines out of Amersterdam. The aircraft was unique in its triple engine design--the third engine was mounted high on the tail.


The venerable McDonald Douglas DC-10 made its last flight back in February. The DC-10 had been placed in service in 1971. It is normal for commercial aircraft to have long service lives as they move from tier 1 passenger carriers to tier 2 and tier 3, and from industrialized countries to developing countries. Airframes also often extend their service lives as air cargo freighters.


The Washington D.C. area was once home to Fairchild Aircraft, the maker of the A-10 Warthog gound combat support operations fighter. The A-10 is still in service, although Fairchild, like McDonald Douglas, could not match Boeing's formidable political connections--essential for winning military and large international commercial contracts.

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