Back in the 1960s, two aircraft developed on either side of the Atlantic sought to steal a march in the worldwide market for a short-haul, narrow-bodied, twinjet airliner. Continuing our series, looking at the similarities and differences between popular historic airliners of yesteryear, we take a closer look at the classic McDonnell Douglas DC-9 family versus the British-built BAC 1-11 series.
Introducing the competitors
The McDonnell Douglas DC-9 and BAC 1-11 were both designed early into the jet era of the 1960s. The world’s airlines recognized an immediate need for high-utilization, robust and reliable short-haul passenger planes as air travel became more accessible and affordable to the masses.
Consequently, as demand for air travel grew, airline companies scrambled to equip themselves with the latest offerings in this market from the major manufacturers. While the Boeing 737 fitted the bill in many respects, specific operational requirements demanded a slightly different aircraft design. That’s where our comparison aircraft step into the fray.
The DC-9 – a brief history
Although facing considerable competition, the Douglas Corporation initiated an entirely new short-range twin-engined transport at the start of the 1960s. With confidence in its design, production of the new aircraft began on July 26th, 1963.
The new airplane, initially designated the Douglas Commercial model 9, later abbreviated to the Douglas DC-9 following the nomenclature of its stablemate, the DC-8, made its maiden flight on February 25th, 1965.
At the time of the first flight, Douglas had only sold 58 DC-9s in total. An anxious period ensued for the manufacturer before it saw any hope that its investment in the new model might be recovered.
No one could have foreseen that the DC-9 series, the first generation of the DC-9 family, would later become the company’s most successful product up to that point, with a total of 976 airframes being produced before production was finally brought to a close in December 1982.
The DC-9 was produced on the final assembly line in Long Beach, which later became the production line for the second generation of the DC-9 family, the DC-9-80 (later the MD-80). After the delivery of the 976 DC-9s, McDonnell Douglas (as it then was) stopped DC-9 series production in December 1982.
With the second (MD-80) and third generation (MD-90/Boeing 717) variants, the DC-9 family is one of the longest-lasting aircraft in production and operation. Its final member, the Boeing 717, was produced until 2006.
The DC-9 family produced a total of 2,441 units – 976 DC-9s (which includes 41 C-9 military variants), 1,191 MD-80s, 116 MD-90s, and 155 Boeing 717s over the course of an almost forty-year production run.
The DC-9 is a cantilever low-wing monoplane with swept wings and a T-tail with a pair of rear-mounted engines. The original DC-9 series 10 model required a flight crew of two and seated between 80 and 90 passengers depending on the exact cabin layout.
Power was provided by a pair of Pratt & Whitney JT8D turbofans pod-mounted on either side of the rear fuselage. This version first entered service with the launch carrier, Delta Air Lines, in December 1965.
From the outset, it was the manufacturer’s intention to market the DC-9 in several versions to meet the differing requirements of civil operators. These would include extending the fuselage to increase capacity and offering freight, convertible, and passenger/freight versions.
- DC-9 series 10 – The base version seating up to 90 passengers in a single-class layout.
- DC-9 series 15 – A series 10 with uprated engines to operate at a higher gross weight.
- DC-9 series 20 – A ‘hot-and-high’ version with increased wingspan and uprated engines.
- DC-9 series 30 – Retaining the series 20 wings and featuring a lengthened fuselage to accommodate between 105 to 119 passengers.
- DC-9 series 40 – Further lengthened fuselage seating up to 132 passengers.
- DC-9 series 50 – A short/medium range version of the series 30 with a fuselage stretch and seating for 140 passengers in a redesigned cabin.
The BAC 1-11 – a brief history
Staring its life somewhat earlier than the DC-9, the first designs for the 1-11 began in 1956 when the Hunting Aircraft Company designed a 32-seat turbojet-powered airplane. Following several design tweaks and Hunting being absorbed along with others into the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC), the design was relaunched as the BAC 1-11 (or ‘One-Eleven’) in 1961.
The design featured a circular section pressurized fuselage, low-set swept monoplane wings incorporating ‘Fowler’ style trailing edge flaps, and ai brakes/spoilers on the upper wing surfaces. Like the DC-9, the aircraft features a pair of reared-mounted jet engines on either side of the fuselage.
Accommodation was provided for 79 passengers (remarkably similar to the DC-9 series 10) in a five-abreast high-density layout. In addition to the main passenger access door located at the forward end of the main cabin on the port side, the BAC 1-11 also featured a ventral airstair below the tail unit, providing access to the aft end of the cabin for faster turnarounds.
The prototype 1-11 (with the designation series 200) flew for the first time on August 20th, 1963. However, even before certification, BAC announced that like the Douglas company later on, it intended to develop other versions of its new jet.
These were to be the series 300 with Rolls-Royce Spey turbofans and an increased payload/range profile, along with a series 400 that would incorporate modifications to meet US requirements – a key market for BAC to crack to ensure the 1-11 commercial success.
Both of these versions featured more powerful engines, an increased fuel capacity, strengthened wings, and landing gear to handle the overall increase in gross weight.
Following an initial order for ten aircraft from British United Airways, the desirability of the 1-11 in the US became apparent with an order from Braniff for six airframes, followed by orders from the likes of American Airlines and USAir. However, substantial US sales failed to materialize as the American market opted for the home-grown DC-9 and Boeing 737 instead of the plucky British-built rival.
As demand for air travel grew throughout the 1960s, BAC decided to launch the lengthened BAC 1-11 series 500 specifically in response to a declaration of interest from British European Airways (which would later become British Airways along with BOAC).
This version could accommodate 119 passengers (akin to the DC-9 series 30). The prototype series 500 was actually a stretch of the series 400 development aircraft (registration G-ASYD), which first flew in June 1967. Eighty-six of this model were built in all.
A series 475 was also developed, which featured a series 400 fuselage but paired with a series 500 wing and powerplant plus rough-airfield landing gear and body protection. Six of this variant were built for operation by Faucett Airlines of Peru.
The BAC 1-11 production run ended with a total of 244 aircraft being built. However, that was not the end of the story, as responsibility for the type moved to Romania, where the series 475 and 500 continued to be built until the early 1980s.
The first Romanian-built 1-11 flew in September 1982 before being delivered to the Romanian state airline, Tarom, along with eight others before production ended. Ryanair operated several of these aircraft on lease from Tarom in the latter half of the 1980s, alongside several UK-built examples.
What were the similarities between the two models?
Obviously, given the common market that both manufacturers aimed to conquer, the two aircraft were remarkably similar in design. The T-tail, rear-engine configuration was common to both, and both designs accommodated roughly the same passenger numbers across their variants.
To ensure the maximum number of applications, both manufacturers opted to give their designs integrated front airstairs along with a ventral airstair, ensuring that their respective aircraft could operate into less-developed airfields where the reliance on ground equipment could be reduced. Both aircrfat also featured an auxiliary power unit (APU) housed within the rearmost fuselage under the tail for the same reason.
Both aircraft required two pilots and also a five-abreast layout in standard configuration. The number of cabin crew would have been similar for both aircraft, depending on the variant in use.
What were the key differences between the two aircraft?
While developed mainly in parallel to the same requirements from airlines at the time, there were some key differences between the two models. We will look at each aspect of these differences in turn, starting with capacity, followed by each model’s main technical specifications and performance, powerplants, orders, and finally, the key external differences between the two.
Although capacities were broadly similar, you have to look at the DC-9 series 50 before a marked difference can be spotted between the two models. While the maximum capacity of the BAC 1-11 series 500 was around 119 passengers, the DC-9 series 40 and 50 could accommodate more (around 132).
This is likely to have been a significant factor in the DC-9 becoming far more commercially appealing to the US market than the BAC 1-11.
The maximum cruising speed of the DC-9 series 50 was 558 mph (898 kph). The maximum operating ceiling was 35,000 ft (11,000m).
The aircraft’s range with a maximum payload was 1,300 miles (2,400 km). The DC-9 series 50 was 133 ft 8 in long (40.72 m) with a wing span of 93 ft 5 in (28.47 m) and a height of 28 ft (8.53 m). The DC-9 series 50’s wing area was 1,000 sq ft (92.98 sq m).
The DC-9 series 50 had a maximum cabin width of 122.4 in (311 cm) and offered a maximum take-off weight of 121,000 lbs (54,885 kg). The maximum fuel load was 24,649 lbs (11,181 kg).
The maximum cruising speed of the BAC 1-11 series 500 was 470 mph (870 kph). The maximum operating ceiling was 35,000 ft (11,000m), the same as the DC-9 series 50.
The aircraft’s range with a maximum payload was 1,482 miles (2,784 km). The BAC 1-11 was 107 ft long (32.61 m) with a wing span of 93 ft 6 in (28.50 m) and a height of 24 ft 6 in (7.47 m). The BAC 1-11 series 500’s wing area was 1,031 sq ft (95.82 sq m).
The BAC1-11 series 500 had a maximum cabin width of 10ft 6 in (3.20m), making it slightly wider than the DC-9, and offered a maximum take-off weight of 104.500 lbs (47.400 kg) – significantly less than the DC-9.
The US-built DC-9 stuck with US-built engines in the form of the Pratt & Whitney JT8D-15 turbofans, each capable of producing around 16,000 lbs of thrust. Meanwhile, the British-built competitor went with the British-built Rolls-Royce Spey Mk512 engine, capable of producing 12,550 lbs of thrust.
As we have seen, the DC-9 proved far more popular overall than the BAC 1-11, thanks mainly to the aircraft’s success in the US domestic market. Selling 976 airframes versus the 244 BAC 1-11s, the DC-9 proved to be the victor in terms of worldwide sales.
The twinjet from Long Beach also spawned several other derivatives, such as the Boeing 717, which continued in production until 2006, far longer than its British counterpart.
Although broadly similar in external appearance, the more observant will notice certain nuanced differences between the two aircraft from the outside.
Firstly the DC-9 generally exhibits smoother lines than the 1-11, whose features are more angular in design (the nose section and tail design in particular). The DC-9 also featured cockpit eye-brow windows, whereas the BAC 1-11 did not.
Lastly, the exhaust unit of the BAC 1-11s APU protruded above the tail cone at the rear end of the fuselage, whereas this was incorporated far more neatly within the empennage in the case of the DC-9.
As we have seen, the two aircraft were very similar in their design and, indeed, in the missions they were designed to perform. However, with slightly better performance, speed, and maximum take-off weight, the DC-9 got the better of the BAC 1-11 in terms of commercial success.
That said, both models, although now long gone from regular commercial passenger service, enjoyed successful carriers with their respective carriers in their own right. Both provided many years of service, carrying millions of business and leisure passengers on relatively short flights worldwide for both business and pleasure.
Join us again next time as we compare two more iconic airlines of the early jet age – the Boeing 727 versus the Hawker Siddeley Trident.
Do you remember flying on a DC-9 or the BAC 1-11? Do share your experiences flying on either of these classic airliners with us in the comments.