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MD11 History/Developement

page update 20/04/06

In the early 1980's, Mcdonnel Douglas Co. realised that a successor to the venerable DC10 was needed for the company to stay in business. However with a global recession nothing was able to be done. When things picked up again in the mid 80's, the company had another look at a DC10 successor and launched what is the MD11 in December 1986. 446 DC10's were built between 1970 and 1988 and for a short time work was being done on both the final DC10's and first MD11's. Trials using a leased Continental DC10 were conducted in 1981 with fitted winglets. Initially 10ft 6in winglets were tried and latterly 7 ft winglets. The smaller winglets were later adopted for the MD11 programme as they produced the same results as the larger ones.


Above-Africa One DC10-30 5X-ONE at Kemble prior to scrapping in 2004 and below is Continental DC10-10 N68048 fitted with winglets circa 1981.


The MD11 was the first aircraft to carry the MD prefix too. Whilst outwardly looking similar to its predecessor, everything barring the basic wing structure was new. Initial orders were sought from Summer 1985. On offer was the baseline model which came out 18ft 6 longer than a DC10-30 and powered with GE CF6 or PW PW4000 engines, seating 320 passengers and weighing in at 500,000lb's and with a range of 6,800 nm. It also featured a 2 man cockpit and winglets on the end of the wings. Other proposed models were an Extended Range (ER) version, pure freighter and Combi. At the end of December 1986, MDC had orders and options for 92 aircraft and the project was officially launched. First flight was scheduled for Spring 1989 but production, material and labour delays meant this was eventually around 9 months late. The prototype N111MD first flew on 10th January 1990 on a successfull 2.56 hrs test flight. Orders for the aircraft stood at over 300 at this time.


The first MD11 being assembled and readied to be move forward to make way for the second aircraft in the final assembly hall at Long Beach in January 1990.

Production aircraft were offered in 3 variants -Passenger (MD11P), Freighter and Combi. Latterly the Convertable Freighter (CF) was also offered. All 4 variants feature the same overall dimensions. They vary in range, maximum take off weight(mtow), payload etc.
The first 5 aircraft all joined the flight test programme and after many hours of exhaustive tests , the aircraft was certified on 8th November 1990.


N111MD crossing the highway at Long Beach on its way to the flight line. (photo courtesy of Douglas Aircraft Company via Geoffrey Thomas)


An Historic day for the MD11 programme-10th January 1990-First flight. N111MD rotating at Long Beach (top) and just about to touch down after a successfull 2.56 hrs flight (bottom). (photo's courtesy of Douglas Aircraft Company via Geoffrey Thomas)


Finnair recieved the first aircraft on 29 November 1990. It was during this period that flaws began to appear with the MD11's operations. It wasn't meeting its targets for range, fuel burn etc and American Airlines in particularly were unimpressed. Whilst improvements were made and the aircraft did eventually do what they said it could, the damage was done. Airbus had launched its A340 and Boeing the 777. Singapore cancelled its order for 20 MD11's and ordered the A340 instead. More bad news followed with the collapse of Air Europe and the loss of their order and British Caledonians take over by BA also resulted in their order being cancelled in favour of B777's.
With the aircraft now meeting and even exceeding exceeding its origianl targets, production carried on a pace although orders were still slow and Boeing and Airbus with their new A340 and B777 respectively were doing much better. Financial diffulties at MDC led to the company being taken oveer by rival Boeing Co in 1997. The MD80 and MD90 were discontinued whilst production on the MD11 and MD95 (to become the B717) continued. No new orders arrived for the MD11 and Boeing took the decision to finnish production. The news was announced in June 1998. The final MD11 built was for Lufthansa Cargo and left the Long Beach plant in June 2000. All in all, only 200 were built. Whilst they have been a disappointed for many passenger operators, the MD11 does make an excellent freighter. After many passenger operators have finnshed with them , the cargo airlines snap them up for freighter conversion. At least we should see the MD11's at many major airports for quiet a few years yet. Fedex are to acquire the former Delta aircraft that are currently in store at Goodyear and UOS are acquiring MD11's when they can. Finnair and KLM have both announced they will be flying their MD11's for longer than originally planned in passenger service which is great news.


Handover ceremony of the first MD11 OH-LGA to Finnair 29th November 1990 at Long beach. Note the other MD11's in the background-1 Korean and 2 Delta.(Douglas Aircraft Company via Geoffrey Thomas)

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