Chapter 2: the DC-10

Introduced on August 5th, 1971 with American Airlines, the DC-10 was one of the biggest aircraft at its time. The 747 were built shortly afterwards. To get its launch before that of the Lockheed Tri-Star, the company skipped some steps. Among these was the cargo door. To allow for more cargo space, McDonnell Douglas opted for an outward opening door, a decision that would require a new locking system. The locking system was poorly designed. If the locks failed to go over the locking pins correctly, then the door would be improperly be closed but the pilots and ground workers would not know as the latch to close the pins could easily be forced down with a knee as the ground controller in Detroit had done and as would be done later in history. The plane had set a new standard in luxury of aircraft. It was a wide body airliner, having more than 1 aisle and could hold more than 350 passengers. The plane was introduced to American Airlines because of Douglas' loss to the American Army's Heavy Logistics proposal. Instead, the company built a plane for American Airlines that could fly to large airports with smaller runways instead of the 747. The 747 needed a longer runway but the DC-10 could land on a runway shorter, allowing it to serve a larger amount of airports. Newer variants were created as demand changed. Freighter versions came after the original. The cargo door problem was eventually fixed after the DC-10-10. The DC-10-15 came next. It was specialized for use and hot and high airports, Airports where aircraft needed longer runways because of the lack of oxygen at high and hot airports such as in Mexico. The first orders for the DC-10-15 were all from Mexican airlines such as Mexicana and Aeromexico.

The aircraft itself was magnificent, its body a majority of aluminum and lightweight materials for the wings and stabilizers. What distinguished the aircraft physically from others was that it had two engines on the wing, plus an engine going straight through the tail. This design created some problems though. How would maintenance repair the tail engine? What would this engine cause when the tail was closer to the ground? Would it increase tail strikes? Would it cause accidents from tail-heavy jets? The DC-10 created a number of problems. Hidden among them though, was the fact that the aircraft had an outward opening cargo door to allow more to be placed in. This created a problem. How would the door close, without being blown out by the force of internal cabin pressure? Some of these problems found answers, some even helped save lives, but others would persist for a long time, with negative effects.

The rest of the aircraft was fairly basic. 3 controlling surfaces in addition to the wings, flaps, slats and ailerons. It could seat passengers in a 2-5-2 configuration maximizing efficiency. The -30 and -40 series of the jet had an additional wheel strut in the center of the main gear. Three members, the captain, first officer, and flight engineer piloted the plane while additional flight attendants cared for the passengers. A downfall of the DC-10, which was a major contributing factor to its demise, was the fuel burn. It could burn up to 20 gallons while going only 5 miles! This, in addition to the requirement of having flight engineer contributed to the expensive operating cost of the DC-10. Today, the third engine would be considered a waste to have, also contributing to fuel burn, but was necessary by FAA requirements, as twin jets were not allowed to operate long range routes. This lead designers to incorporate the third engine. Despite having three engines, the jet was still quieter than most competitors and was allowed to operate from airports with strict noise regulations such as London's Heathrow airport.

The plane has 3 engines, 2 on the tail, and a third on the wing. The positioning of the engines is what led to the saving of flight 96. The tail mounted engine helped keep the plane form entering a nosedive and the wing engines helped the plane to turn. Cables for the controls ran through the floor of the plane. When the cargo door blew out, the pressure that remained in the cabin pushed down and caused the collapse of the cabin floor. This resulted in the severing of many of the control cables. The reason the plane was still certified was because the industry had no worry about cabin pressure loss. Nobody in the FAA, the body that created the flight guidelines for the DC-10, thought of the danger imposed by the vastly greater amounts of pressure on the cabin floor. The plane safely went through the test for a 20 by 020 foot hole in the plane but not a 30 by 30 foot hole as flight 96 had suffered. It is a miracle that flight 96 was able to land as it was. McDonnell Douglas saved themselves by saying that the autopilot cables ran through the roof. However, the autopilot cannot move the control panels on a plane, the controls cables in the floor are required. As a direct result, even with the autopilot intact, the severing of the control cables could finish the plane. It was probably better to have the autopilot cables severed than the control cables because you could still fly the plane.

Overall, the DC-10 was an unsuccessful aircraft that eventually led to the demise of the company. The 2 incidents that occurred to the aircraft were catastrophic and resulted in fewer orders. The plane eventually became the MD-11 after McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing. The crashes reduced trust in the plane and Boeing decided to change the name of the plane when they merged. Even so, the plane did create other successful planes. Among them are the MD-11 and the KC-10 extender. The extender is a military plane that is used by many air forces for in flight f=refueling. The plane has a boom for transport of fuel. The MD-11 is the stretched and improved version form Boeing of the DC-10. This plane was used but also somewhat unsuccessful because it was dwarfed by other aircraft at the time made by airbus and as a result, the plane never got off the ground as McDonnell Douglas had hoped. As the aircraft gets older, it is slowly being sold to cargo airlines and its presence is waning as more efficient aircraft come in to take over. While being a failure, the plane did make a pinnacle in aviation history, being one of the first wide-bodied aircraft out and having been made into various other forms such as a hospital, aerial tanker and a fire-fighting aircraft. The plane's presence is waning, as it has seen the twilight of its career but it still is in existence and flies today around the world.