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The Mad-Dog: 22 Years Since The MD-80’s Final Delivery

Originally designed as a stretched version of the Douglas DC-9 and nicknamed Mad-Dog due to the noise it produced when taking off, the last production unit of the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 was delivered 22 years ago this month. The type has made a significant impact on global aviation over the decades and is still in service today.

MD-80 Sunset Getty
The final McDonnell Douglas MD-80 plane was officially delivered on December 28th, 1999. Photo: Getty Images

Several variants

The MD-81 was the initial production model of the MD-80 series. Launched in October 1977 and hitting the skies in October 1979, the aircraft was introduced to the industry with Swissair in September 1980 before the last delivery was made to JAL Domestic Airlines in June 1994.

The MD-82 was then introduced by Republic Airlines in August 1981. The variant was placed with more robust engines for “hot and high” flights. Taiwan’s U-Land Airlines took the final delivery of the variant in November 1997.

Into the mid-1980s, the MD-80 series continued to prove popular. The MD-83 was launched, with Alaska Airlines taking delivery and introducing the plane in February 1985. This aircraft brought a boost in fuel capacity for longer distances.

In 1987, the first MD-87 commercial unit was delivered. Australian Airlines took the first unit before the last delivery of this shorter variant was made to SAS in March 1992.

1988 kicked off with the MD-88 entering service. Delta Air Lines introduced the plane on January 5th that year, hoping to benefit from technological initiatives such as electronic instruments.

Delta MD-88
Delta Air Lines was one of several US commercial carriers to put their faith in the MD-80 family. Photo: Getty Images.

The final delivery

In an emotional ceremony in December 1999, TWA received its 26th unit of the type just before the new year. The legacy carrier would take on new Boeing 717 aircraft the following year. McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing in the 1990s, but the latter company continues to emphasize the importance of the veteran Douglas series of aircraft.

Registration N984TW was the milestone production. It went by the nickname of Spirit of Long Beach, after where the aircraft was produced and held Manufacturer Serial Number (MSN) 53634.

“This day is especially historic because TWA has now come full circle,” shared William F. Compton, TWA’s president and CEO at the time, as per a company statement.

“Ironically, not only is TWA taking delivery of the last MD-80 twin-engine jet to be made by the former McDonnell Douglas work force, but in 1933, TWA took delivery of the first twin-engine transport airplane, the DC-1, made by a predecessor of McDonnell Douglas, the Douglas Aircraft Company. TWA’s DC-1 was the only one of its kind ever made.”

A prized member of the fleet

Jim Phillips, who was VP and GM of Boeing’s Long Beach Division during the time of delivery, added that it was fitting that TWA was the carrier to receive this last production unit. Notably, the operator helped the Douglas Aircraft Company define the DC-1, the plane that Boeing noted helped kick off profitable yet comfortable commercial airline operations.

“The MD-80 is one of the most successful airplane programs in commercial aviation history. Douglas Aircraft, McDonnell Douglas and Boeing delivered 1,191 MD-80s from 1979 to 1999. More than 1,180 are still in service with more than 50 domestic and foreign airlines,” Boeing concludes.

“The first MD-80, then known as a DC-9 Series 80, or Super 80, made its initial flight on Oct. 18, 1979. Less than a year later, on Sept. 13, 1980, Swissair took the first delivery. The airplane entered passenger service the following month. TWA took delivery of its first MD-80, an MD-82, on April 18, 1983. The MD-80 is the quiet, clean and modern successor to the popular DC-9. The company produced 976 DC-9s from 1965 to 1982.”

The MD-83
Powered by two Pratt & Whitney JT8D-200 series engines, the MD-83 offers a range of 2,550 NM (4,720 km) when 155 passengers are on board the aircraft Photo: Getty Images

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Modern operations

Despite the last production model being delivered over two decades ago, the MD-80 can still be seen across the globe, with Aeronaves TSM holding the most planes. The Saltillo, Mexico-based charter and cargo company even holds the older DC-9 family. Of the carrier’s 15 MD-80s, 11 are MD-83SFs, while four are MD-82SF conversions, highlighting the aircraft’s extended life as a cargo powerhouse.

Even though the MD-80 is still active, it is rapidly disappearing from the air. Just a few years ago, it could be spotted in numerous commercial fleets. However, after Allegiant Air stopped flying its holdings in 2018, American Airlines, which held the type for 37 years, retired its last unit in September 2019. The Texas outfit flew over 87 million passengers on its workhorses over the decades. It also took on the Spirit of Long Beach in December 2001.

The following summer, Delta Air Lines retired its last MD-88s, along with the MD-90. Interestingly, the Atlanta-based carrier’s first MD-88s were delivered as MD-82s in 1987. Delta highlighted that its MD fleets were being replaced with modern and efficient types such as the Airbus A220 and A321neo. Moreover, the retirements of the older models were accelerated by the challenging conditions of the global health crisis.

The retirement parties continued into 2021. Just a couple of months ago, Danish Air Transport retired its MD-80 aircraft. The final operation was a special flight to and from Copenhagen, Denmark, on October 16th.

An integral member of several of the country’s fleets, the MD-80 provides approximately 40% of Iran’s domestic capacity. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Wikimedia Commons

Leaving a legacy

Altogether, 1,191 MD-80s were produced between 1979 and 1999, making the run of completed productions last for 20 years. A longer time period has passed since the last unit was delivered, highlighting how much has changed in the aviation market since the turn of the millennium. Nonetheless, it’s still great to see the Mad Dog still have a role despite the transformation in the industry.

What are your thoughts about the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 and its role in airline fleets across the globe? Have you managed to fly on the aircraft over the years? Let us know what you think of the plane and its operations since being introduced in the comment section.

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