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DC-10: Dangerous or Misunderstood?

The McDonnell Douglas DC-10—commonly referred to as the “Death Cruiser” or “Donald’s Disaster''—built up a horrific reputation throughout the 1970s. Today we’ll explore the reputation and history of this commonly misunderstood aircraft, and what led to its unearned reputation as the most dangerous airplane ever produced. ( More...

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Donald Keating 18
I loved flying the DC-10-40, having nearly 5,000 hours in the left seat. Comfortable cockpit, low noise level, great visibility. When I went to the 747 Classic I felt like I was in a cave and the noise level was quite high by comparison. Great airplane though. Nearly 11,000 hours in that one.

The -40 with the PW engines had a different engine pylon/mount system but was still grounded, along with all the other DC-10 models, after AA 191 happened. Langhorn Bond's decree.

I had a problem with outboard slats vibrating and moving in/out several inches a couple of times which was due to incorrect (low) cable tension in the drive system. And they did not "lock" in position which was unfortunate.

I also had an incorrect stall warning on initial climb which caused the Auto Slat system to extend the Outboard Slats. Oh, and I had a failure (broke apart) of a Reversible Motor Pump which cause a dual hydraulic failure. That got my attention and prompted a "land at nearest suitable" situation.

Just my recollections I thought some might find interesting, and I've enjoyed reading everyone's comments here.
ImperialEagle 10
Convair/General Dynamics had been selected to make the fuselage sections. Their engineering staff warned McDac that there was a potential for a floor failure if a cargo door came off and if that happened they would expect the loss of the aircraft. This was ignored because of the extra cost involved in redesigning the cargo door latching mechanism and the company feared AA would not want any delay getting their aircraft into the air. The letter came out during the litigation after the Paris crash of 1974.
The biggest problem was with the "bean-counters" from McDonnell in charge, trying to "teach" the old Douglas folks how to make money with an airframe, designed-in safety was not given priority. They were in such a hurry to get the design done they cut-corners. They did not provide enough redundancy and the design was inferior to the L-1011.
People like to make snarky comments about the old Douglas folks, but, it was the McDonnell folks who "cheapened" the products and after the merger, they were in charge!
There really was only enough room for one aircraft in that market at the time. It should have been the L-1011, BUT, Lockheed stumbled when they did not provide a model with extended range without loss of payload. And there was a lot of politics involved. If McDac had skipped the opportunity they might have gone out of producing commercial airframes altogether and the airlines were loath to loose the competition.
Patrick Keohane 1
"Bean-counters" don't make decisions, they provide information. It's not up to them to decide if a product is worthy or not or how to make it worthy, it is their job to determine what it costs to make the product. Management then takes that information and decides one of two things, 1) what it will need to charge to make the desired profit, or 2) if it can't be sold at a price to yield the desired profit, then decide to not produce it. Management, not "bean-counters" decide what costs can be eliminated to change 2 to 1. This is true with paper clips or airplanes. "Bean-counters" only provide data for management to analyze.
Michael Lynch 6
Hello, fellow accountant!
skylab72 11
"Bean-counters don't make decisions" ?? If you believe that, you either have never worked for a Fortune 400 Corporation or just never understood the function of the chain of command below the "CFO". There are "Bean Counters" IN Management!
Patrick Keohane 2
I work as a Cost Accountant (aka, bean counter) for a Fortune 500 company. Just because there are "Bean Counters IN Management", the people doing the cost calculations are simply providing data on costs. Those in Management aren't the "Bean Counters", they are former cost accountants that have been promoted to management positions. Using your logic, if a sales person or a machine shop operator or a mechanic gets promoted to management, then they should be equally blamed for poor decisions. I provide data, I don't give opinions unless specifically asked and even then, I only provide opinions based on established criteria, not blindly.
skylab72 5
Good "Bean Counter"! Picking nits. I like your nit, but I still think once you have cost accounting in your quiver you will always reach for those arrows. That is not a bad thing unless you do not develop an appreciation for the idea that engineering trade-offs and cost trade-offs almost never follow similar curves.
Don Hines 7
If you believe that line of BS, you really must be an accountant. After having worked in industry for 45 years+, it was a pleasure to retire and get out from under the tightfisted, save-a-penny-and-damn-the-consequences rule of the bean counters.
Joe Keifer 8
I always preferred the L-1011 and got to fly jump seat from Tel Aviv to Charles de Gaulle.
sparkie624 4
By Far! L-1011 in my opinion is a far better designed Aircraft. Very Comfortable and never any issues on working on one! However, I do like Boeing better, but that is just my opinion and where I have more time. - Where I worked we called all the DC- Aircraft such as the 9, Direct Cable!
Joe Keifer 2
I miss the days of TWA. My first flight ever was on a Super Connie from LAX to KCI
Nicole Chiavacci 3
I worked for TWA for 15 years in Nice France and I am still nostalgic of this tIme
But my first experience was on a BEA comet ….I guess I was lucky to survive
Martin Allan 3
BEA Comets weren't commissioned until after the fatigue problem had been addressed. Are you sure that the Comets you travelled in weren't the early BOAC ones? - I travelled back & Forth to Bahrain from boarding school for summer holidays several times when the redesigned models first came out starting in 1959 I think. Lovely planes. But, the best was the VC10, followed by comet & Lockheed Constellation!
Steven Palmer 1
I also flew with BOAC on their Comet 4s to Tokyo in 1959.
Again, I fully agree with you the VC-10 was a fantastic aircraft however was a bit juicy.
Just by coincidence on your comments, I flew back from Tokyo also in 1959 on Quantas Super Connies.
The trouble is @Martin Allan, in 1959 I was not quite 3 years of age so my memories are non existent.
James Patterson 1
I got to fly on a couple of them when I was a kid. Great planes! Of course, that was pre-deregulation, so the service on board was superb.
DonDengler 1
The 1011 had its death traps too
Randy Marco 1
WRONG again, it was the greatest plane of its time. Get an education.
skylab72 8
A little of both. Boeing defined the game with the 747, Lockheed upped the antie with the L1011 while going for best-of-breed (considering engineering excellence, build quality, and state of the art feature set, it is hard to argue with their results), and once-dominant Douglas, tired of playing tail-end-charlie in sales went for most-profitable-to-buy-lease-&-operate. Granted, the hydraulic layout under #2 was a bit bone-headed, and the engine mounts could have benefitted from engineering simulation software available a decade later. Even the Cargo Door issue had its origin in a mechanical relationship that was both expensive and difficult to detect. So, 'for the time' and given the design goals, the life history of the DC-10/MD-11 airframe has little for which to apologize. Most of the rest of the "unfortunate decisions" regarding that design can be attributed to the circumstances of its unfortunate timing. The engineering phase opened with the corporate "competition" (the DC-9) selling like popcorn at a Saturday matinee. When accounting changed the sign of DC-9 profits and McDonnell had to rescue the whole company, the DC-10 project was under even more pressure to sell in quantity AND deliver profit. The DC-10/MD-11 team did not have an opportunity to catch up until after the turn of the century. Have a little sympathy for the guys in the trenches. It is also worth noting that there are over a hundred of them still in service.
Also they were incorrect in placing the blame for Chicago solely on American Airlines mechanics. The failure did not destroy the slats - it ruptured the hydraulic lines to the slats. With loss of fluid, the slats retracted resulting in asymmetrical lift. MD needed to design a means to insure the slats would not retract in the event of hydraulic line rupture. Very poor research by the author.
Reginald Short 3
Yes. To me this was a design flaw. I had always thought that flaps were controlled by worm gear which locks upon loss of hydraulic pressure.
Edward Bardes 2
The real design flaw with Chicago was having all the cockpit warnings being powered by the engine that fell off; if the pilots knew about the slats on the left wing being retracted, they could've avoided stalling the wing.
mikey mikey 1
the a/c hit the ground within seconds. the rotation of the horizon in the windscreen made the 'warning lights' you reference unnecessary.
sparkie624 1
This article to say the least is not very accurate! but is an interesting red.
Gary Yamokoski 1
Steven Palmer 5
My late father in his latter years of employment with BA, was re-trained from VC-10s to the DC-10-30. BA had made an agreement with ANZ to fly their aircraft LHR-LAX return as a BA/ANZ codeshare and ANZ continued this flight onto Auckland from LAX. ANZ did not have rights to fly to the UK at that time.
He loved the aircraft and said it was special, however after these incidents, he was aware that many passengers refused to board it, especially in LAX when they having booked a BA ticket were expecting a VC-10 or B747 and on seeing a DC-10 when boarding returned and refused to fly on that aircraft.
jmilleratp 9
It was an aircraft that was likely pushed through production too quickly and its defects ended up being worked out while the aircraft was carrying passengers and cargo.
sparkie624 7
In my opinion, it had multiple design flaws... All 3 Hydraulic systems with the lines run side by side and no Hydraulic fuses... McDonald Douglas should have been held majorly accountable. While technically not a Crash, if it had not been such an excellent crew with an extra pilot that would have been Un-survivable. Major Design Flaws!
Edward Bardes 2
In fairness, UA 232 was only the second time in history that an aircraft suffered a total loss of hydraulics, (the first being JAL 123, which was a 747) so it wouldn't have turned too many heads at the time not to install shutoff valves in the hydraulic systems.
Jim Allen 5
All i can really offer is the attitude of Douglas management when they came to Boeing: cut costs and the mentality that an aircraft is a commodity (like a toaster). Well, a toaster isn’t flying 100+ pax at 5 miles above the ground at 350 knots. The revelations in “Fling Blind” were pretty disturbing.
mikey mikey 1
This a/c was designed and in service some decades before Douglas management came to Boeing. Not sure how applicable your statement is to the discussion.
skylab72 1
Yea, in truth the "Douglas Corporate Culture" did not have much sway at all by the time Sandy Mac's crew "took over Boeing without firing a shot"... :]
Pat Barry 1
Back when the DC10 was designed, I visited a couple of buildings off the airport area where they had a hundred engineers designing/drawing components. My opinion is that the DC10 was built to meet or exceed design standards that applied at that time, but there is no question that the Boeing product was better quality than the DC10.
In other words, it met the standard, but could have been better.
Bab Bezat 1
My father was an aeronautical reliability engineer who refused to fly on any DC-10. He was particularly cautious and careful in both his calculations and his design. He worked for Honeywell, not an airline manufacturer. We joke that the first word we learned was "probability." The second and third were "redundancy" and "reliability."
carste10 1
Not unlike the Army CH-47 and OH-58 helicopters.
skylab72 2
Say what!?! Your reference is not at all clear. But let's get some things straight. 1st the CH-47 Chinook design concept was first committed to the back of a napkin by Old man Piasecki himself even before Vertol Corp took over his company, which was well before Boeing got involved in the helicopter business. Moreover Douglas Commercial and all the sad tales related to the end of the "DC" Series production bear little to no correspondence to swing-wing history. And why would you mash the 47 & the 58 together anyway? All they have in common is turbine power, having at least one rotor, and the Army paints both OD green.
Bob Wilson 6
The "Death Craft".... Douglas did not even have a cocktail napkin idea of a twin aisle tri-jet when Locheed announced the Tristar but their -10 was the first to fly,,
No blow out panels between compartments below deck caused the main deck floor to collapse/deform after losing the bulk bin door leading to the loss of control to the tail surfaces for one. The construction standard at the time allowed parallel running of hydraulic system plumbing side by side along with no hydraulic fuses in the leading edge devices lead to the loss of AA 191/ORD, This same weak regulation also lead to the loss of UAL in SUX when the uncontained engine failure occurred in #2 motor. Many good articles were written describing these along with FAA responsibility regarding. The FAA like many federal agencies depend on manufacturer engineering conclusions and integrity as their staff is not large enough or prepared to do simultaneous testing and evaluations.

Delta leased DC-10s for a short period to fill their lift needs but only tempo until the delayed Tri-Star was delivered and then the 10s went away,,,,

The Tri Star was a much better mouse trap right out of the box me thinks.
George Wilhelmsen 3
It's a shame. This was a great plane, and a pleasure to fly on. Once the baggage door issues were resolved, it should have been fine.
But the news media sensed MONEY and demonized the airplane, killing the company in the process.
And we bemoan the lack of competition. Small wonder.
Leander Williams 3
I would have to go with misunderstood. I think that once the cargo door issue was resolved there was not really a design issue at that point. However, the Chicago crash was caused by shoddy maintenance and not any issues with the aircraft. However, when Fedex had 2 crashes involving the MD-11, I wonder if the fact it resembled the DC-10 may have caused people to assume it was directly related.
John Hilts 3
Spent 11 yr instructing/ flying DC-10-30s out of Canada to Europe, Japan, S.America 1979-1990, yes, a/c suffered design flaws which were addressed.
Was a terrific a/c to fly with great performance & range.
One of my favourites.
James Terlecki 3
Without question this was my favorite aircraft. I began flying in 1973 and tried to get on a flight using this aircraft whenever possible.
James Simms 3
On the other hand, N306FE survived far beyond what it was designed for during the attempted hijacking & suicide attempt by a disgruntled & suicidal FedEx employee during Federal Express Flight 705 in April 1994.
Pete Pereira 1
It seemed like the Captain, F.O. and F.E. also survived far beyond what their Maker had designed!
phillip martin 3
I firmly believe that a competitor generated the hype on this aircraft; and Douglas was not the only company to suffer that way. As a footnote the 747 also suffered with freight door problems.
srobak 3
Meanwhile - the USAF (and other countries) still operate several dozen KC-10s with no issues, and will continue to do so since the KC-46 can't seem to reliably maintain an operational readiness status.
Steven Palmer 2
There is a good dozen or so KC-10s based down in Abu Dhabi, UAE-been there years maybe 15-20 by now.
Mike Taylor 2
Yes they do. Back in the late 90's I was Test Director on a USAF program that involved KC-10s. We were in a MOA off the East Coast conducting flight tests that involved 60° banks to certify a particular installation. Sitting right behind the left seat pilot gave me good views of the ocean far below.
sparkie624 13
The Article fails to mention the the DC-10 in Sioux City with the #2 Engine Uncontained Failure and severing all 3 Hydraulic systems. Since they did not have any Hydraulic Fuses they lost all hydraulics and did not have cable backup and had to land with differential thrust. This in my opinion is a bigger flaw than the door, b and the crew did a great job of landing the plane considering that no one would have ever thought to write a procedure for such an incident.. Major over site in this article.
john gleeson -1
oversight. not over site.
Floyd Taber 10
The Media has a reputation of destroying everything. Half truths, along with out and out lies. Prejudicial non facts and the need to sell death and destruction. The destruction of a company is more newsworthy than talking about a man or a woman who has done great things for the world.
Peter Edwards 5
You are so right, Floyd.
Steve Cook 3
It does? Is it really supplying half truths, or simply presenting facts that require you to question your own beliefs? Look up confirmation bias. It's a real thing. Also read Jonathan Haidt's research regarding political and social beliefs.

What you're doing is parroting someone else's option as fact, without actually looking critically at the problem. Ironically enough, your doing the same thing you're accusing the author of this piece of doing.
Marcus Giddens 3
Spot on Steve, many citizens don't like to hear the truth when it upsets their worldview, and we are much worse for it, half this country lives in a fabricated, full time outrage world that has not semblance in reality.
Pete Pereira 2
I don't think the author of this article was being criticized. He was referring to the news media at the time of the DC-10, which DID go out of its way to demonize the airplane. Still, it was nothing compared to what the media did to the 737 MAX.
SkyAware123 3
The media; terrible back then, completely useless now
Gene Poon 0
So correct. The mass media not only go into reporting with a lack of knowledge, they also are driven not by a desire to report accurately, but to Garner as many viewers as they can, so higher advertising rates can be charged. So they sensationalize everything to the point where the sensation overwhelms the story. And they utilize cheap tricks like following an "Oh, how awful" comment by the anchor with a sad-looking "That's right, Karen" remark from a reporter in the field. And they blow stories all.out of proportion when a lot of people are waiting for something they really want to the weather forecast.
Jim Allen 1
Agreed. But we’re not talking about news here, we’re talking an opinion piece.
Pete Pereira 1
No, we're talking about the news media of decades ago, that went out of its way to demonize the DC-10, as mentioned in this opinion piece.
[email protected] 2
Dc 10 ship 1
I was in QC, then on a special team checking all doors. We were the only people who could certify the door rigging
None of you has an iota of truth and live in complete ignorance of why the Paris crash occurred. It was not all design, folks that was the first plane delivered our five man crew did not certify. Same problem occurred over Canada, coffin sucked out of what we referred to as the mail door. Skinny and hard to rig. I could tell a lo here but people think it’s nuts…. Real reason was, and check the timing, Douglas was forced by our government to promote
….. I cant say that now…. I pulled the paper out of planning immediately to see who bought the rigging and who put it on the board for inspection. The parts were not installed to allow ground crew to see if the door was secure.
I knew the guys, friends but not on our crew. Union also had a hand in it. I was there, forced by the company President, to go back to flight ramp and straighten it out. Complete mess. Incompetence. Senators were there, Tunney and Cranston. Plus FAA in force. Shit storm. I quit after 10 years, left after the storm subsided and
Well, I just finished college and left a promising promotion as I loathed the cover up. Yes, it was covered up. Real reason never told. PS… no one was held responsible as paperwork disappeared shortly thereafter. The reason was obvious if you knew the truth.
rebomar 2
Loved the DC-10. The airplane in the Chicago accident was in control until the pilot followed the loss of engine checklist and slowed to V2+10. At the higher airspeed the aircraft was flyable. Later checklists called for staying at the higher airspeed if above V2+10.
Neil Ward 2
On the 3rd of March 1974, a packed Turkish Airlines DC-10 was rocked by a tremendous explosion shortly after take off from Paris. A huge hole had opened up near the back of the cabin, throwing part of the floor, two rows of seats, and six passengers out into the sky. The pilots tried to save their crippled plane, but the pitch controls had been destroyed, sending the plane into an irrecoverable dive, and the jet crashed less than two minutes later in the Ermenonville Forest, killing all 346 passengers and crew.
[email protected] 2
It was the mail door. As I mentioned in a post yesterday
There was a rigging issue on that door. Not all models had this configuration
A new strategy was to have an inspection port for ground crew to see if the latches were fully engaged.
The bar, yellow and black would appear, level… to show it wasn’t just jammed shut. The locking part souls at times just partly engage, the door was not automatically shut. The roller not entrapped. Door being so small, I seem to remember we called it the 32 inch mail door. Last door on pilots side.. much like the avionics doors on DC9
The doors were manufactured in San Diego and came in unrigged with aft fuselage ?….on the Bumblebee.
Sorry if I make spelling errors, but using the sorry old excuse.. I am older and now nearly blind. And yes, flight ramp tinnitus really bad. If you were there you know we had no ear protection and MEK was in large bottles which sprayed everywhere. I held back on making this known to a large degree on repercussions
Now I don’t care. And if your opinion is I am delusional well it’s not my concern. Half our population is anyway.
Tom Cain 2
I was working in in Des Plaines right outside the ORD fence when AA191 went down. Our building shook. Being so close to the airport we felt like we knew what it was before we went outside. Walked out the back door and saw the column of black smoke.
Gregg Bender 1
I was working at ZW on the old Butler ramp and saw it all after liftoff. ORD instantly shut down. Even taxiing aircraft froze in place, like something out of the Twilight Zone.
Kevin Keswick 5
The placement of the third engine high up above the center line in the tail created high-roll inertia which made the aircraft inherently unstable and is probably the reason why so many DC-10/MD-11 that crashed ended up on their backs. I wonder if the AA DC10 that crashed in Chicago after losing it's left engine could have survived if the pilots did not have to counter the high roll inertia produced by the third engine.

By contrast the L1011's third engine was along the center line which was the safest location but this of course necessitated an S-duct for the air inlet which added cost and weight. The DC10 designers sacrificed safety for lower production/operation costs.

Safety considerations aside I always liked the "bad-ass" looks of the DC-10 especially in AA's bare-metal livery.
skylab72 2
Come on Kev, the Chicago crash failure happened at a very low altitude. The roll moment of #2 had near-zero impact on the flight path. Watch the film, the wing with no engine was in command.
Erik Bruner -5
Inherently unstable?
That's why they all fell out of the sky, right?
It's the No. 2 engine to begin with and weight and balance was taken inconsideration in the design phase. I think you are out of your depth Kevin.

I was part of the customer flight coordination team, West Ramp, Long Beach, for 10 years.
What is your background
Doug Fehmel 1
My first transatlantic flight was on a Lufthansa DC-10 in 1980. My last transatlantic flight was in 1997, and it was on an MD-11.
paul gilpin 1
1. boeing 707
2. douglas DC-10
3. cessna 172
Brian Freeman 1
Some ironic parallels with what is going on at Boeing these days.
Dale Johnson 1
There was the DC10 flight 232 at Sioux City Ia. uncontained engine failure caused loss of all hydraulics. Tragic ending. I think there was some design changes after that one as well.
ADXbear -1
Good this airplane is heading to the scrap yard
skylab72 1
The faulty ones have been in the scrap yard for almost three decades. There are over one hundred of the better ones still paying operational dividends for their operators daily. The ratio of scrapped models vs operational models is not that far from those of the 747. I suspect their respective "last flights" will be a half-decade or less apart.
SkyAware123 1
If there was any issues it would have shown a looong time ago on the ones flying today. Pretty amazing they're still in use.
skylab72 1
I’ll take that as a tip of your hat to the thousands of ethical and competent aircraft mechanics around the world.
mikey mikey 0
crap article. too many detail errors to list, meaning I have no confidence in any of the conclusions stated.
DonDengler 0
Our United 232 had a remarkable experience. That was the last time that beast flew another UAL trip
Steve Shevell 0
The author should learn to write English and get his facts straight.
sparkie624 12
Please don't shout!
[email protected] 1
We also had a blow out at the paint shop. Pressure test, blew out the chain link fence.. by bldg 12/13


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