Aircraft Factsheets

McDonnell Douglas DC-10

By Gostar den Daas | March 2014
Icon of the early jet age.

The days of the mighty tri-motor airliner are numbered. Production ended in 1989 with over 400 build. The last scheduled passenger flight with a DC-10 was flown on December 7th 2013. The DC-10 now only continues as cargo aircraft and will disappear entirely over the coming years.

Time for Aviamagazine to look into the history and current state of this aviation icon.

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5X-ROY MD-10-30F

In 1965 Douglas filed a proposal for a heavy logistics system (CX-HLS) for the US Air Force. The bid wasn’t successful, so the project was abandoned. When in 1966 American Airlines offered specifications for a wide body airliner, smaller than the Boeing 747 but with similar range, Douglas fired up the project again.

Several design propositions were made. The most radical was a double-decker similar in length to the DC-8, with four engines. This proposal didn’t make it in favor of a tri-jet single deck design, caring up to 380 passengers. It was a direct competitor to the Lockheed L-1011, which was similar in design.

Promotional footage of rollout and first flight at Long Beach. Also testflights at Edwards AFB.

The first version was the DC-10-10, developed for domestic use. Later versions were used for international routes. First flight was on August 29, 1970. After receiving its FAA certificate, it entered commercial service with American Airlines on August 5, 1971. At the same time United airlines started using the DC-10 with a 222 seat configuration, as American was using a 206 seat configuration.

After 7 variants, explained later, the 446 th and final DC-10 rolled off the Long Beach production line, December 1988. 386 aircraft were delivered to airlines and 60 to the US Air Forces as a tanker/transport aircraft. When the last DC-10s were delivered McDonnell Douglas already started build its successor the MD-11.

Cargo doors

The acaulis heel of early DC-10s was the new cargo door design. Unlike other aircraft of that time, the doors opened outside instead of inwards. This saved internal space but required a strong locking mechanism. In the event of a door lock malfunction, there is potential for explosive decompression. The problem led to major accidents like American Airlines flight 96 and Turkish Airlines flight 981.

Upgrade program

When the Boeing Company merged with McDonnell Douglas an upgrade program was proposed for the aging DC-10s still in service. Most important was retrofitting the MD-11 glass cockpit to the DC-10, so aircrew could switch types. The new cockpit also eliminated the need of a flight engineer. FedEx used both types extensively. The DC-10 was now designated MD-10.

N311FE MD-10



First variant of which 122 were build between 1970 and 1981. The aircraft was powered by General Electric CF6-6 engines with 40.000 lbf (177,9 kN) trust each, and had a range of 3.800 miles (6.110 km). This was the first civilian aircraft powered with the CF6 family engine.

SE-DHS DC-10-10


First interchangeable cargo – passenger version. Eight were build for Continental Airlines and one for United Airlines.


This variant was specially developed for hot and high altitude airports. Configuration was that of the -10 variant fitted with higher trust GE CF6-50C2 engines. Only 7 were build between 1981 and 1983 for Mexicana and Aeroméxico.


A first proposed long range version based on the -10 variant, fitted with Pratt & Whitney JT-9D turbofans with 45.500 lbf (203 kN) trust each. The wingtips were extended by almost a meter each, and an extra rear center landing gear was added. Northwest Orient Airlines was launch customer for this type and requested the variant name changed to DC-10-40. So the -20 was never released.


The -30 variant was the most successful version build and used especially for long ranges. The type was fitted with GE CF6-50 engines and larger fuel tanks increasing range and fuel efficiency. Also a rear center landing gear was added to support increased weight.

A total of 163 were build between 1972 and 1983. It was especially popular with the European flag carriers and delivered to 38 countries. Swissair and KLM were launching customers of this type in November 1972. Many -30 versions were later converted to -30F freight versions.

N239NW DC-10-30

G-BYDA DC-10-30

N956PT DC-10-30

9G-AND DC-10-30

N478CT DC-10-30F

N279AX DC-10-30F


The interchangeable cargo – passenger version of the -30 variant. 27 were build and the first were delivered to Overseas National Airways and Trans International Airlines in 1973.


An extended range version, featuring an additional fuel tank in the rear cargo hold. Also fitted with the CF6-50B2 turbo fans to cope with the higher takeoff weight. The first was delivered to Finnair in 1981. A total of 6 were build, and five -30s were converted.


This was the full freight version of the -30 variant. Production stated in 1979 for Alitalia, but there option never came to an order. From 1994 Fedex ordered this version, with 10 delivered. Later these were converted to the MD-10 standard.


The re-designated DC-10-20, fitted with P&W JT-9D turbofans. Besides Northwest Orient Airlines Japan Airlines were the only airlines to use this variant. 42 were build between 1973 and 1983.

JA8538 DC-10-40

JA8543 DC-10-40

N145US DC-10-40

DC-10-50 was a proposed variant powered by Rolls Royce RB211 engines for British Airways. The order never and the plans for this variant were dropped.

There was also a proposed downsized version, to cope with the Airbus A300. This variant would be powered by only two CF-6 engines. These plans were also abandoned and the DC-10 development stopped in favor of the MD-11.


Specifications listed for the DC-10-30 variant:

Measurements Length 51.97m (170.60ft), Wingspan: 50.40m (165.40ft), Height: 17.70m (58.10ft).
Powerplant 3 General Electric CF6-50C turbofans, each rated at 226,9 kN (51,000 lbf).
Fuel and load 138,720 L (36,650 gal) with 259,459kg (572,000lb) max. takeoff weight.
Speed 908 km/h (564 mph).
Range 9,254km (5,750mi).
Crew and equipment 3 crew, 255-399 passengers. Normally 380 (1-class) or 285 (2 classes).

Stored aircraft

DC-10s at Marana

N323FE DC-10-30F

N605GC DC-10-30F

N14063 DC-10-30

N607GC DC-10-30F

EC-GNG DC-10-30

N352WL DC-10-30

DC-10s at Marana

N154SY DC-10-15

Military use

When the US Air Force was looking for a supplement to the KC-135 fleet, two DC-10s were flown in trains at Edward Air Force Base. Possible wake turbulence issues were tested by simulated air refueling flights. Boeing did the same with the 747.

December 1977, the DC-10 was chosen, in favor of its ability to operate from shorter runways. The military descanted the type KC-10 Extender. The KC-10 was a modified DC-10-30CF what a improved cargo-handling system and military avionics. Also most windows were removed as well as the lower cargo doors. On the lower deck, additional tanks were fitted, double that of a KC-135. A Advanced Aerial Refueling Boom (AARB) was fitted as well as drogue-and-hose system on the starboard side of the rear fuselage.

A total of 60 were produced. From 2010 onwards the communication and navigation systems were upgraded. The type could remain in service until 2043, but the USAF is considering a earlier retirement.

85-0034 KC-10

86-0038 KC-10

87-0120 KC-10


The Royal Netherlands Air Force uses three converted DC-10s in military use. The latest added is a DC-10 (T-255) only used for transport duties. The first two (T-235, T-264) were converted to KDC-10 with tanker booms added. Also all were completely rewired and glass cockpits were fitted.

The Omega Aerial Refueling Services company also operated two KDC-10s, in extend of their Boeing 707 tanker fleet. The KDC-10s (N974VV and N852V) were converted DC-10-40s and were fitted with boom as well as drogue tanker equipment. N852V is now stored at Pinal Airpark, Marana.

T-235 KDC-10

T-235 KDC-10

N852V DC-10-40

DC-10 Firefighter

N17085 DC-10-30

The 10 Tanker Air Carrier converted two DC-10-30s for firefighting duties. The aircraft were fitted with a 12,000 gallon (45,000 litters) belly-mounted tank. The tank can be filled with water or fire retardant and can be released in eight seconds. The N17085 (911) is seen at Victorville. It flew first with Finnair in 1975, also with Air Liberte, Continental and Omni Air International. The other DC-10 in service is the N450AX (910) also ex Omni Air International. This aircraft started service in 1975 with National Airlines. After that it operated with Pan Am, American and Hawaiian Airlines.

The first aircraft, Tanker 910, started firefighting in 2006. The second was added in 2008, both are still in service today.

Last passenger flight

Biman Bangladesh Airlines was the last commercial airline operating the DC-10 for passenger flights. After 40 years the last flight was operated by Biman DC-10-30 (S2-ACR) from Dhaka to Birmingham. The special flight was packed with aviation enthusiasts. At Birmingham several scenic flights were flown with even more enthusiasts. The DC10 was planned to retire at the Museum of Flight in the US, but this turned out the be too expensive. Now the aircraft returned to Bangladesh were its converted into cola cans.

S2-ACP DC-10-30
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