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The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 is a three-engine widebody airliner, with two engines mounted on underwing pylons and a third engine at the base of the vertical stabilizer. The DC-10 has range for medium to long haul flights. The model was a successor to the company's DC-8 for long-range operations, and competed in the same markets as the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar, which has a similar layout to the DC-10.

Production of the DC-10 ended in 1989 with 386 delivered to airlines and 60 to the U.S. Air Force as air-to-air refueling tanker, designated the KC-10 Extender. The DC-10 was succeeded by the related McDonnell Douglas MD-11 which entered service in 1990.


Following an unsuccessful proposal for the US Air Force's CX-HLS (Heavy Logistics System) in 1965, Douglas Aircraft began design studies based on its CX-HLS design. In 1966, American Airlines offered a specification to manufacturers for a widebody aircraft smaller than the Boeing 747 but capable of flying similar long-range routes from airports with shorter runways. The DC-10 became McDonnell Douglas's first commercial airliner after the merger between McDonnell Aircraft Corporation and Douglas Aircraft Company in 1967.

The DC-10 was first ordered by launch customers American Airlines with 25 orders, and United Airlines with 30 orders and 30 options in 1968. The DC-10, a series 10 model, made its first flight on August 29, 1970. Following a flight test program with 929 flights covering 1,551 hours, the DC-10 was awarded a type certificate from the FAA on July 29, 1971. It entered commercial service with American Airlines on August 5, 1971 on a round trip flight between Los Angeles and Chicago. United Airlines began DC-10 service on August 16, 1971. The DC-10's similarity to the L-1011 in terms of passenger capacity and launch in the same timeframe resulted in a head to head sales competition which affected profitability of the aircraft.

Northwest Airlines DC-10-30

The first DC-10 version was the "domestic" series 10 with a range of 3,800 miles (3,300 nmi, 6,110 km) with a typical passenger load and a range of 2,710 miles (2,350 nmi, 4,360 km) with maximum payload. The series 15 had a typical load range of 4,350 miles (3,780 nmi, 7,000 km). DC-10 Technical Specifications. Boeing. The series 20 was powered by Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines, whereas the series 10 and 30 engines were General Electric CF6. Before delivery of its aircraft, Northwest's president asked that the "series 20" aircraft be redesignated "series 40" because the aircraft was much improved over the original design. The FAA issued the Series 40 certificate on October 27, 1972.

The series 30 and 40 were the longer range "international" versions. One of the main visible differences between the models is that the series 10 has three sets of landing gear (one front and two main) while the series 30 and 40 have four gear (one front, three main). The center main two-wheel landing gear (which extends from the center of the fuselage) was added to accommodate the extra weight by distributing the weight and providing additional braking. The series 30 had a typical load range of 6,220 mi (10,010 km) and a maximum payload range of 4,604 mi (7,410 km). The series 40 had a typical load range of 5,750 miles (9,265 km) and a maximum payload range of 4,030 miles (3,500 nmi, 6,490 km).

Eventually, the DC-10 was able to distinguish itself from its competitors with two engine options, as well as earlier introduction of longer range variants than the L-1011. The 446th and final DC-10 rolled off the production line in December 1988 and was delivered to Nigeria Airways in July 1989. The DC-10 was assembled at McDonnell Douglas's Douglas Products Division in Long Beach, Californiamarker. As the final few DC-10 deliveries were occurring, McDonnell Douglas had already started production of the DC-10's successor, the MD-11.


FedEx DC-10 landing

The DC-10 is a low-wing cantilever monoplane with a conventional tail unit with a single fin and rudder. It is powered by two turbofan engines mounted on underwing pylons and a third engine at the base of the vertical stabilizer. It has a retractable tricycle landing gear. The later series 30 and 40 have an additional two-wheel main landing gear on the centerline of the fuselage. It was designed to be a medium to long-range airliner with a widebody fuselage to seat over 250 passengers. It is operated by a flight-crew of three located on the flightdeck in the nose on the same level as the passenger cabin. The fuselage has underfloor stowage for cargo and baggage.


Japan Airlines DC-10-40

The DC-10 was manufactured in a number of different variants:
  • DC-10-10 (122 built): Original version, produced from 1970. The DC-10-10 was equipped with GE CF6-6 engines, which was the first civil engine from the successful CF6-family.

  • DC-10-15 (7 built): Also known as the "DC-10 Sport", designed for use at hot high-altitude airports. The series 15 was fitted with higher-thrust GE CF6-50C2F (derated -30 engines) powerplants. Only built for Mexican carriers Aeroméxico and Mexicana. Produced between 1979 and 1982.

  • DC-10-20 : Proposed but unbuilt DC-10-10 powered by Pratt & Whitney JT9D turbofans. With minimal airline interest for the original -20, the name was initially recycled to cover the Pratt-powered version of the intercontinental-range DC-10-30. Northwest, one of the launch customers for this longer-range JT9D-powered DC-10 requested the name change to -40 (see -40 entry below).

  • DC-10-30 (163 built): The most common model, built with General Electric CF6-50 turbofan engines and larger fuel tanks to increase range and fuel efficiency, as well as a set of rear center landing gear to support the increased weight. It was the second long-range model after the -40 and very popular with European flag carriers. Produced from 1972 to 1988, the DC-10-30 was delivered to 38 different customers.

  • DC-10-30ER (6 built): Extended range version. The first aircraft was delivered to Finnair in 1981, followed by Swissair with two aircraft in 1982 and finally Thai Airways International with two in 1987 and one in 1988. The -30ER aircraft have a higher Maximum Take Off Weight of 580,000 lb (263,160 kg), are powered by three GE CF6-50C2B engines each producing 54,000 lb of thrust and are equipped with an additional fuel tank in the rear cargo hold providing an additional 700 mi of range (6,600 mi/5,730 nmi/10,620 km). In 1983, United Airlines leased three DC-10-30s from CP Air. These aircraft were modified to -30ER standards to allow the US carrier to fly non-stop on its Seattle-Hong Kong route. When returned to the Canadian operators, these aircraft were kept in that version and two more DC-10-30s were converted by Canadian Airlines to extended range specifications.

  • DC-10-30AF (11 built): The all freight version production could have started in 1979 if Alitalia had confirmed its order for two aircraft then. Thus, that variant of the trijet was only launched into production in May 1984 with the first order for five aircraft from FedEx. The express carrier ordered more DC-10-30AF in July 1985 to bring its order to twelve freighters. The last two were later canceled as the carrier was building up a fleet of second hand aircraft, and reconfigured to passenger by the manufacturer and sold to Biman Bangladesh and Nigeria Airways respectively.

KC-10 Extender during refueling

  • DC-10-40 (42 built): Produced from 1973 to 1983, this was the first long-range version, fitted with Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines. Originally designated DC-10-20, this model was renamed DC-10-40 after a special request from Northwest Orient Airlines as the aircraft was much improved compared to its original design, with a higher MTOW (on par with the Series 30) and more powerful engines, the airline's president wanted to advertise he had the latest version. Northwest Orient Airlines and Japan Airlines were the only airlines to order the series 40 with 22 and 20 aircraft respectively. The DC-10-40s delivered to Northwest were first equipped with three Pratt & Whitney JT9D-15 producing 45,700 lbf (203.3 kN) of take off thrust, before the introduction of the JT9D-25W, generating 50,000 lbf (222.4 kN) of thrust through water injection), and had a MTOW of 555,000 lb (251,815 kg), while those produced for Japan Airlines were equipped with P&W JT9D-49A that produced a maximum thrust of 53,000 lbf (235.8 kN) and had a MTOW of 565,000 lb (256,350 kg).

  • DC-10-50 (none built): This was a proposed version with Rolls-Royce RB211-524 engines for British Airways. Such an order never came and the plans for the DC-10-50 were abandoned.

  • KC-10A Extender (60 built): Military version of the DC-10-30 used for aerial refueling. The aircraft was ordered by the U.S. Air Force. Produced from 1981. It is the longest-ranged production aircraft in the world.
  • KDC-10 (4 built): Aerial refueling tanker for the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Converted from civil airliners (DC-10-30CF) to a similar standard as the KC-10. Also, commercial refueling companies Omega Air and Global Airtanker Service operate two KDC-10 tanker for lease.

  • MD-10: This was retrofit cockpit upgrade to the DC-10 and a re-designation to MD-10. The upgrade included an Advanced Common Flightdeck (ACF) used on the MD-11. The new cockpit eliminated the need for the flight engineer position and allowed common type rating with the MD-11. This allows companies such as FedEx Express, which operate both the MD-10 and MD-11, to have a common pilot pool for both aircraft. The MD-10 conversion now falls under the Boeing Converted Freighter program where Boeing's international affiliate companies perform the conversions.

Incidents and accidents

As of August 2009, the DC-10 was involved in 55 incidents, including 30 hull-loss accidents, with 1,261 fatalities.

Despite its troubled beginnings in the 1970s, which gave it an unfavorable reputation, the DC-10 has proved a reliable aircraft. The original DC-10-10's bad safety record continuously improved as design flaws were rectified and fleet hours increased. The DC-10's lifetime safety record is comparable to similar second-generation passenger jets as of 2008.

Cargo door problem

A problem with the outward-opening cargo door was first identified on June 12, 1972, when American Airlines Flight 96 lost its aft cargo door after takeoff from Detroit, Michiganmarker. Fortunately, the crew was able to perform an emergency landing with some of the aircraft's control surfaces disabled. Aileron controls and differential thrust of the wing engines were used to control the DC-10. Before Flight 96 took off, an airport employee had forced the door shut, weakening the locking pin and causing the door to blow out as the airliner reached altitude.

The DC-10 was designed with cargo doors that opened outward instead of inward-opening "plug-type" doors. Using outward-opening doors allowed the cargo area to be completely filled since the door was not occupying usable space. To secure the door against the outward force caused by the pressurization of the fuselage, outward-opening doors rely on a heavy locking mechanism. In the event of a complete door lock malfunction, there was potential for explosive decompression.

Although many carriers voluntarily modified the cargo doors and re-trained their ground crews, there was not yet a mandatory rework of the system. Severe problems still persisted with the aircraft's cargo doors, and two years after the American Airlines incident, an almost identical cargo door blow-out caused Turkish Airlines Flight 981marker to crash into a forest near the town of Ermenonvillemarker shortly after leaving Paris on March 3, 1974. 346 people were killed in one of the deadliest air crashes of the twentieth century. Circumstances of this crash were similar to the previous accident. However, a modified seating configuration on the Turkish aircraft exacerbated the effects of decompression which caused the floor of the aircraft to collapse into the cargo bay. As part of the DC-10 design, vents were not adequate to allow the pressure between the cargo and passenger compartments to equalize. Control cables running through the floor of the plane were severed when the floor collapsed and this rendered the aircraft uncontrollable. Following this crash, all DC-10s underwent mandatory door modifications.

American Airlines Flight 191

In 1979, with the cargo door issues resolved, the DC-10s experienced another major accident with the crash of American Airlines Flight 191marker. Flight 191 lost its number one wing engine after taking off from O'Hare International Airportmarker in Chicago, USA, 25 May 1979. As the engine separated upwards, it ripped through the leading edge of the wing, rupturing hydraulic lines which caused a hydraulic cylinder that locked the port wing slats to fail. As airspeed was reduced per AA emergency climb-out procedures, the slats retracted, the left wing stalled, the plane rolled left and crashed before the flight crew could recover. All 271 people on board, plus two on the ground, were killed in this accident; the worst single plane crash in America.

The United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officials discovered that a maintenance procedure was the culprit: American Airlines mechanics had removed the engine and its pylon together, rather than removing the engine from the pylon then the pylon from the wing, as recommended by McDonnell Douglas. This was done using a forklift and the pylon was inadvertently cracked in the process. The short-cut procedure, thought to save several man hours on maintenance, was used by three major airlines, although McDonnell Douglas advised against it. In November 1979, the FAA fined American Airlines $500,000 for using this faulty maintenance procedure. Continental Airlines was fined $100,000 on a similar charge.

The Chicago incident also highlighted a major deficiency in the DC-10 design—its lack of a locking mechanism to maintain the position of the leading-edge slats in the event of a hydraulic or pneumatic failure. Other wide-body aircraft of the day carried such a feature, but it was omitted from the DC-10. Another deficiency highlighted in the NTSB report was the vulnerable placement of wiring at the leading edge (front) of the wing. When the engine pulled up and over the wing, it tore out these wires, thus rendering vital warning instruments in the cockpit inoperable. Other aircraft of this era typically placed this kind of wiring in the center of the wing, in a less vulnerable position. In addition, the captain's stick-shaker, a stall-warning device, was powered by the left engine, and was therefore inoperative, so there was no warning that the plane was stalling. American Airlines had chosen a configuration in which only the captain's controls had a stick-shaker. So the first officer, who was the one flying the plane was without access to a stick-shaker.

Following the Chicago crash, the type certificate of the DC-10 was withdrawn by the FAA, grounding the aircraft, on 6 June 1979. The aircraft resumed service after modifications which prevented the slats retracting in the event of a hydraulic leak.

United Airlines Flight 232

Another instance of a DC-10 crash was the Flight 232 disastermarker at Sioux City, Iowamarker, USA, on July 19, 1989. After the #2 engine (tail engine) suffered an uncontained fan disk failure in flight which ruptured critical hydraulic lines, the crew, led by Captain Al Haynes and assisted by a senior pilot flying as a passenger (Dennis E. "Denny" Fitch), performed an emergency landing by varying remaining engine power to control the plane. The crew managed to fly the aircraft onto the runway in a partially controlled manner and 185 of the 296 people on board survived. The aircraft was destroyed in the landing attempt.

The Sioux City crash concerned investigators because the total loss of hydraulic pressure aboard the DC-10 was considered nearly impossible. The design had lines from all three independent and redundant hydraulic systems in close proximity, directly beneath the #2 (tail) engine. Debris from the #2 fan disk separation failure penetrated all three lines resulting in total loss of control to the elevators, ailerons and rudder.

The locking flap mechanisms were designed to maintain their position in the event of a hydraulic failure. Later DC-10s and the MD-11 incorporated hydraulic fuses to prevent such catastrophic loss of control in event of a hydraulic rupture.

Other notable accidents and incidents

Other notable incidents and accidents involving the DC-10 are listed below.

The Air France Concorde crashmarker of 2000 was attributed to a fragment of titanium that fell from the thrust reverser of a Continental Airlines DC-10 that had taken off some four minutes earlier. This fragment was traced to a third party parts replacement which had not been approved by the FAA.


On January 8, 2007, Northwest Airlines retired its last remaining DC-10 being used for scheduled passenger service, replacing it with an Airbus A330 for a route between Minneapolis-St. Paulmarker and Honolulumarker, thus ending the aircraft operations with all major airlines. Regarding the retirement of Northwest's DC-10 fleet, Wade Blaufuss, spokesman for the Northwest chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association said, "The DC-10 is a reliable airplane, fun to fly, roomy and quiet, kind of like flying an old Cadillac Fleetwood. We're sad to see an old friend go." "The DC-10 is going to be remembered as a better cargo plane than passenger plane," said Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group. In November 2006, ATA Airlines announced it had purchased seven of Northwest's remaining DC-10s, to replace ATA's L-1011 airplanes. Omni Air International purchased six of Northwest's DC-10 aircraft.

The aging models are now largely being used as dedicated freight aircraft. American Airlines and United Airlines have sold their large DC-10-10 fleets to cargo carrier FedEx. Many have been modernized to MD-10s by adding a glass cockpit, which eliminates the need for a flight engineer. Other DC-10 aircraft continue in charter and cargo services with their three-person flight deck configuration. Omni Air International and World Airways, continue to operate the DC-10 on charter passenger services as well as for the Air Mobility Command. Biman Bangladesh Airlines operates five DC-10-30s as one of their primary passenger aircraft as of 2009.

The Orbis DC-10 Flying Eye Hospital, February 2009

Non-airline operators include the Royal Netherlands Air Force with three DC-10-30CFs converted to KDC-10 flying tankers, the USAF with its 59 KC-10, the 10 Tanker Air Carrier with its modified DC-10-10 used for fighting wildfires, and Orbis International, which uses a single DC-10-10 converted into a flying eye hospital. Surgery is performed on the ground (not in flight) and the operating room is located between the wings for maximum stability.

As of July 2009, there were 150 DC-10s in service with commercial operators, including FedEx Express (85), Omni Air International (12), World Airways (12), Arrow Cargo (7), Cielos Airlines (5), Avient Aviation (4), Biman Bangladesh Airlines (4), Garuda Indonesia Airways (4) and others with fewer aircraft.


DC-10-10 DC-10-15 DC-10-30 DC-10-40
Cockpit crew Three
Passengers 380 (1 class), 250 (2 class)
Cargo (freighter variant) 22 LD7 pallets 23 LD7 pallets
Fuselage length 170 ft 6 in (51.97 m)
Height 58 ft 1 in (17.7 m)
Wingspan 155 ft 4 in (47.34 m) 165 ft 4 in (50.4 m)
Fuselage width 19 ft 9 in (6.02 m)
Fuselage height 19 ft 9 in (6.02 m)
Max interior width 18 ft 2 in (5.54 m)
Operating empty weight 240,171 lb (108,940 kg) 266,191 lb (120,742 kg) 270,213 lb (122,567 kg)
Maximum take-off weight 430,000 lb

(195,045 kg)
455,000 lb

(206,385 kg)
572,000 lb

(259,459 kg)
555,000 lb

(251,701 kg)
Typical cruise speed Mach 0.82
(564 mph, 908 km/h, 490 kt)
Max cruise speed Mach 0.88
(610 mph, 982 km/h, 530 kt)
Max range, loaded 3,800 miles (6,114 km) 4,350 mi (7,000 km) 6,220 mi (10,010 km) 5,750 mi (9,252 km)
Maximum fuel capacity 21,700 US gal
(82,134 L)
26,647 US gal
(100,859 L)
36,650 US gal
(138,720 L)
36,650 US gal
(138,720 L)
Takeoff run on MTOW 8,612 ft (2,625 m) 7,257 ft (2,212 m) 9,341 ft (2,847 m) 9,242 ft (2,817 m)
Service ceiling 42,000 ft (12,802 m)
Engine model (x 3) GE CF6-6D GE CF6-50C2F GE CF6-50C PW JT9D-59A
Engine thrust (x 3) 40,000 lbf (177.9 kN) 46,500 lbf (206.8 kN) 51,000 lbf (226.9 kN) 53,000 lbf (235.8 kN)

Sources: DC-10 manufacturer data, DC-10 airport report,, Flightglobal, and World Airways.


1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 Total
13 52 57 48 42 19 14 18 36 40 25 11 12 10 11 17 10 10 1 446

See also


  1. Waddington 2000, pp. 6-18.
  2. Endres 1998, p. 16.
  3. Endres 1998, pp. 25-26.
  4. Endres 1998, p. 28.
  5. Endres 1998, p. 52.
  6. Endres 1998, pp. 32-33.
  7. Waddington 2000, p. 70.
  8. Endres 1998, pp. 34-35.
  9. Steffen 1998, p. 120.
  10. Waddington 2000, pp. 137-144.
  11. Waddington 2000, pp. 25, 39, 43.
  12. Waddington 2000, p. 89.
  13. Omega Air Refuelling FAQs, Omega Air Refueling.
  14. KDC-10 Air Refueling Tanker Aircraft, Global Airtanker Service.
  15. World's First 767-300 Boeing Converted Freighter Goes to ANA, Boeing.
  16. McDonnell Douglas DC-10 incidents., August 27, 2009.
  17. McDonnell Douglas DC-10 hull-losses., August 27, 2009.
  18. McDonnell Douglas DC-10 Statistics.
  19. Endres 1998, p. 109.
  20. "Statistical Summary of Commercial Jet Airplane Accidents (1959-2008)". Boeing
  21. Waddington 2000, p. 67.
  22. NTSB-AAR-73-2 "Aircraft Accident Report: American Airlines, Inc. McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10, N103AA. Near Windsor, Ontario, Canada. June 12, 1972". National Transportation Safety Board. February 28, 1973.
  23. Waddington 2000, pp. 85–86.
  24. Turkish Airlines DC-10, TC-JAV. Report on the accident in the Ermenonville Forest, France on 3 March 1974. UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), February 1976.
  25. Endres 1998, p. 55.
  26. American Airlines 191.
  27. Aircraft Accident report, DC-10-10, N110A, NTSB, 1979
  28. Flight 191 accident description,
  29. NTSB/AAR-90/06, Aircraft Accident Report United Airlines Flight 232, McDonnell Douglas DC-10-40, Sioux Gateway Airport, Sioux City, Iowa, July 19, 1989. NTSB, November 1, 1990.
  30. Fielder, John H. and Douglas Birsch. The DC-10 Case: A Study in Applied Ethics, Technology, and Society, p. 261. SUNY Press, 1992. ISBN 0791410870.
  31. NTSB/AAR-84-10, Korean Air Lines McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30, HL7339, Southcentral Air Piper PA-31-350. N35206, Anchorage, Alaska; December 13, 1983. NTSB, 9 August 1984.
  32. "US aircraft parts fall on Brazil ". BBC
  33. "Pedaços de avião caem sobre casas em Manaus"
  34. DC-10 list.
  35. Biman Bangladesh Airlines - Details and Fleet History. Retrieved on 21 June 2009.
  37. Kaminski-Morrow, David. "Orbis to convert ex-United DC-10-30 into new airborne eye hospital"., April 8, 2008.
  38. "World Airliner Census". Flight International, August 18-24, 2009.
  39. DC-10 history page. Boeing
  40. DC/MD-10 Airplane Characteristics for Airport Planning. Boeing, April 2004.
  41. The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 & Boeing MD-10.
  42. Flightglobal
  43. World Airways

  • Endres, Günter. McDonnell Douglas DC-10. Osceola, WI: MBI Publishing Company, 1998. ISBN 0-7603-0617-6.
  • Steffen, Arthur A C. McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and KC-10 Extender, Wide-Body Workhorses. Aerofax, 1998. ISBN 1-85780-051-6.
  • Waddington, Terry. McDonnell Douglas DC-10. Miami, FL: World Transport Press, 2000. ISBN 1-892437-04-X.

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