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Douglas DC-8

By Patrick Mondout

The DC-8, the first civilian jet ever produced by the Douglas Aircraft Company, was originally announced in 1952 in response to Boeing's announcement of what would become the 707. When airline officials were first show drawings of the plane that year, they were told it would fly over 500 miles per hour and the first deliveries would be in 1958.

   
 

Douglas DC-8.

 
   

NASA/Dryden RC photo

   
 

Douglas had dominated civilian aviation from the introduction of one of the most popular aircraft of the century: the DC-3. It was perhaps with a bit of complacency that Douglas took their time in developing the DC-8 but, whatever the reason, it was a costly mistake. While Douglas was busy manufacturing propeller-based DC-7s as fast as they could sell them, Boeing was concentrating its efforts on the 707 jet. (Lockheed made what many have said was an even bigger mistake by abandoning plans for a jet in 1952 and working on the ill-fated turbo-prop L-188 Electra instead.)

Meanwhile, the 707 (which cost Boeing $16M to develop) was already flying by 1955 and the original assumed $40M to develop the DC-8 soon ballooned into an estimated $500M as costly efforts were made late in the program to catch up to Boeing. (This was the start of a dangerous trail of debt at Douglas which led the company to make design decisions based on available capital rather than what was best for Douglas or the aircraft in question and ultimately led to McDonnell Aircraft taking over the company in the late 60s.)

Douglas won the support of launch customer Pan Am with an order in 1955. But it was only half a win as Pan Am also ordered the 707.

   
 

NASA's Douglas DC-8 over Mt. Whitney.

 
   

NASA/Dryden RC photo

   
 

While the original DC-8, which made its first test flight on May 30, 1958 at Edwards Air Force Base, had a shorter range than the 707, it was smaller and could fly in and out some airports were the Boeing could not.

Boeing clearly had won with the 707 but the DC-8 firmly placed Douglas in a tight race and over 550 aircraft were sold before production stopped in May, 1972. Many DC-8s still fly today as converted freighters all around the world.

Douglas DC-8

Image courtesy NASA/Dryden


Douglas DC-8 at a Glance
Engines4 Pratt&Whitney JT3D turbofans
Cruising Speed593
Passengers258
Range4500
Span142ft
Length150ft
Height43ft
Weight350,000
Built556
Final Production1972
Mesurements refer to DC-8-52

 

Share Your Memories!

What do you remember about the Douglas DC-8? Were you a member of the flight crew on one? Have you any interesting stories to share? Share your stories with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

"The DC-8 first flew in 1958 and it is now 2001, I am lucky enough or unlucky depending how you look at it to be able to work on DC-8 seventy series everyday, the company i work for has one of if not the largest DC-8 fleets in the world. I think Mr. Douglas would be proud that his A/C is still the backbone of so many cargo outfits, the eights I maintain have had many upgrades to include CFM56 engines, EFIS, and GPS but there are countries still flying stock equipment and doing fine. They may leak fuel like crazy but its still a money maker."

--Turbine Surgeon

"Hi Yes I emember the '8's with affection. I was based at Heathrow and serviced the Seaboard World eights. The 63's were my favourite. Amongst other freight we carried live animals including cattle. The poor old planes were never the same after such a cargo. We also shipped out from Heathrow the copper name plates of the famous London Bridge. As an airline we did the trial runs for thefirst Litton Inerital Navigation system. So there we are. Such great aircraft."

--SHOLTO THE VIKING

"I am one of the lucky few who still see these birds flying. I live near Wilmington, Ohio; the hub of US cargo carrier Airborn express. These DC-8's fly over my house at low altitude every day."

--Anonymous

"I had the priviledge to start my career as a mechanic on the DC-8. It was back in 1989 on the DC-8 -61, -62 and -63 series. I tell you those Pratt engine could take a beating and keep on ticking. But they where not built with the mechanic in mind. Neither was the rest of the airplane...(for your memories, remember the freon system? or was is fun to change an FCU on the JT3-3, or again a complete CSD/generator unit outside in the cold...mmmmmmemories!). But with time the manufacturers started to listen to us.
Today I work on the state of the art Airbus A330. When I have to change a unit or trouble shoot a system, everything is made easy. I think I find it easy now because of my "tough" year on the 8's. And to tell you the thruth, that bird was built like a tank... Some impacts I have seen on the newer planes that caused mega repair downtime would have been a small nick of the super tough 8's. But serioulsly if I had the choice to do it all again, I wouldnt change a thing. It was a good learning horse and a terrific airplane."

--CDS

"I love this aircraft, as I love the DC-3. They are both amazing.
I remember being in first class on a DC-8-63 passenger model with Delta. My friend and and I, plus the fellow a few rows up that we never met were the only 1st class passengers in this stretch model. I believe it had, [in the stretch model] a large number of first class seats, which may have been 14 or 21 rows. Just the three of us up there, but let me tell you this...while deplaning and looking backward, the size of the economy compartments was huge! Each had a curtain separator, which was tied back as we left the aircraft....yet seeing each curtained compartment let me know just how long this plane really was.
After that, a visit to the flight deck, and shocked to find the centerpiece of the yoke is a glass ball, just like a '50s Buick. Yet, no safety was compromised by such a '50s design, and was quite happy with the flight.
A delight to ride in, fast, and fuel efficient, if I ever hit the Lotto, a Baby-8 will be my aircraft of choice to ferry me where I want to go. John Travolta now flies a 707, but I would pick the DC-8 over the Boeing.
It's just a terrific plane."

--Michael

"My father was on the design team for the original DC-8 in Long Beach, CA back in the 50's. I remember the great excitement of watching that first plane take-off on May 30, 1958. It was loud, fast, and absolutely beautiful in its graceful ascent. Whatever bad publicity there may have been about costs and about competition with the Boeing 707 didn't matter one bit that day! We were so proud of our dad, and were so thrilled to be a part of such a special event, that we didn't have any room in our hearts for a single negative thought. The time and consideration Douglas put into the DC-8 made it all worthwhile. The long hours, the pursuit of perfection, the pressure to get it done were all a part of history in the making. The DC-8 will always have a special place in annals of aviation history. "

--Elizabeth

"Incredible timing! My father was a flight technician in Long Beach, CA. He loved his job, building DC 8's . He worked a lot of "swing shifts" and mom would drive us all from Fullerton to have dinner with dad in the parking lot.

I remember going out to desert locations, while dad made test flights and goofing around with other members of the crew. Most of all, I remember the wonderful 8 x 10 Black and Whites that dad put on the walls in our garage of the entire crew in front of their DC 8's as they finished another proud construction. Dad's real sick now and those days meant a lot to him.

He is Jack Trail and I am Garry Trail"

--Prunepicker


 

FLYING FACTS

Image courtesy of McDonnell Douglas

Model: DC-8

Manufacturer: Douglas

Country: US

First Flight: May 30, 1958

First Passenger Flight: September 18, 1959

Launch CustomerPan Am (but was not first to fly)


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