MD-80 Retires Leaving Memories Behind

Arlington — The first Douglas Commercial DC-9 (Series 10) gained its airworthiness certification on Nov. 23, 1965. Delta Airlines first flew the plane in service on Dec. 8 of that year. After Douglas Commercial became McDonnell Douglas the airplane was renamed in its modified forms as the MD-80, MD-90 and Boeing 717.

More than half a century after its first commercial flight, on Thursday, Sept. 4, 2019, American Airlines’ final MD-80 departed from D/FW Airport to Chicago O’Hare on its last passenger journey. While a few MD-80s are grounded at airports and used for training purposes, the majority of the fleet built from 1965 until 1982 rests in a boneyard in Roswell, New Mexico.

The CR Smith Museum hosted a retirement party for the MD-80 on Thursday, which included selfies with the MD-80 cockpit, MD-80 artifacts, flight simulators programmed to the MD-80’s final flights, and MD-80 temporary tattoos.

Pilot Raymond Sievers flew MD-80s for both Reno Air and American Airlines.

“If you ran into Mr. Douglas himself, the name behind the airplane, he was a very practical man,” Sievers said. “When you look at the design, it’s a very practical design. It is designed to make money, and it did just that: the advantage of simplicity is reliability.

“The engines are Pratt & Whitneys. Their first engine is in the Smithsonian in Washington. It is a historical landmark.

“We used to have slang, and DC stood for Douglas Cable Company. Most commercial aircraft have hydraulic driven controls. [MD-80s] have cables. When you combine Douglas Cable Company with Pratt & Whitney Brothers Northeast, you got a perfect setup.

“I’m in a loss for words now, because it worked so well,” he said. “There was no drama with it, kind of like a toaster.

“I think of this as a love affair. Like a loved one, I can’t speak ill of it. It’s been a good, good, good friend. I’m sorry and saddened to see it go.”

A few things made the MD-80 special, according to Sievers.

“There is a handle inside the tail cone, and you would pull it, and the cone would fall to the ground if you had to get out in an emergency. Unlike most airplanes today, this was a nice feature to get people out of the back end. That was one of the benefits of this design, and another safety feature.

“My fondest memory is I was in Phoenix Arizona, and I think I was going to Las Vegas that night,” Sievers said. “I’m up in the cockpit, and I hear this laugh. I said boy that sounds like Jerry Lewis. Low and behold, I go back there, and there is Jerry Lewis.

“I think that’s the beauty of aircraft. You’re looking at something that was built by humans, operated by humans, used by humans, so I think it’s imperative I bring in the human element. A lot of times I would have a heart for a transplant on board. Sometimes I would have parts for an assembly line that had broken down in Detroit on board, and they needed it right away. I think the overriding thing for me is the human element. It brought humanity closer together, and I believe it made the world a better place, because it could be relied upon.

“I will miss it dearly, but I’m glad we have the memories.”

Time and costs finally caught up with the MD-80.

“When oil went over $100 a barrel, the aircraft was no longer profitable,” Sievers said. “Luckily though, the price of oil came down. Like anything else mechanical, it has a finite service life. It is amazing it has lasted this long.”

Written by Jess Paniszczyn