Aviation News

January 8, 2014

Into The Sunset: Delta’s Final DC-9 Flight

“When will Northwest/Delta retire its DC-9’s?” If you frequent any aviation enthusiast message board like the one here at NYCAviation, you would find that to be one of the most common (and potentially eyeroll-inducing) topics of discussion. The venerable DC-9 had been in service with US airlines for so long–almost 50 years–that airline industry followers wondered if the aircraft would ever be replaced. That day finally came this past Monday as Delta Airlines operated a ceremonial final flight of the “Diesel-Nine” from Minneapolis (MSP) to the airline’s home base of Atlanta (ATL).

Delta was the first to fly the DC-9 in 1965. (Photo by Delta Air Lines)

Delta was the first to fly the DC-9 in 1965. (Photo by Delta Air Lines)

Delta was the launch customer for the then-Douglas DC-9 and began revenue flights with the aircraft in December 1965. At the time, the DC-9 was innovative in that it allowed airlines to offer jet service to smaller airports, and the aircraft was a commercial success for Douglas (later McDonnell Douglas) selling a total of 972 airframes as well as leading to the subsequent MD-80/MD-90/717 series of airliners. Delta operated the Series 10 and Series 30 models before phasing out the type in 1993.

The DC-9 found its way back to Delta’s fleet in 2008 when the airline merged with Northwest Airlines which operated a large fleet of Diesel-Nines. Northwest originally introduced the DC-9 into its fleet through a 1986 merger with Republic Airlines, and in the years since continued picking up additional airframes on the secondhand market. Northwest loved the DC-9 so much that the airline decided to invest in modernizing them–including an overhaul of the cabin interiors–instead of replacing them with new jets. After acquiring Northwest, Delta integrated the DC-9 into its fleet but began steadily retiring the older airframes over the next few years.

In 2013, the airline announced that it would be retiring the few remaining examples still flying and set the final flight date for January 6, 2014. To commemorate the aircraft’s link to Northwest, the final flight segments were scheduled to be flown through two of Northwest’s former hubs, Detroit-Metro (DTW) and MSP, with the DTW-MSP leg flown by Flight 1965 and the MSP-ATL leg flown by Flight 2014. See what they did there?

On Monday in Minneapolis, a balmy -15 degrees Fahrenheit awaited the inbound Flight 1965 from Detroit along with a festive atmosphere at gate D6 (I didn’t see a gate D9 so I assumed D6 was the next best thing they could get). Delta did it up right, as has been their tradition when retiring an aircraft. The gate area was decorated with balloons, a poster to sign and wish the DC-9 well in its retirement, and a total of three cakes adorned with images of the workhorse aircraft. Fittingly, the aircraft and part of the flight crew operating Delta 2014 all had connections to Northwest. The aircraft, a DC-9-51 registered N773NC, was originally delivered to North Central Airlines in October 1978. North Central eventually became Republic which became Northwest which became Delta, so this airplane can trace its lineage pretty far up the Delta family tree. Both pilots, Captain Scott Woolfrey and First Officer Tristan Albertsman, as well as purser Stephen Chung were all Northwest employees before joining the Delta ranks by way of the 2008 merger.

In a matter of moments it was time to board and before we knew it we were at runway’s end. The distinctive engine spooling noise got everyone’s attention and it was soon after we went roaring (and no doubt smoking) off to N773NC’s final destination one last time.

Most everyone on board was in a jovial mood, with a decently sized contingent of aviation enthusiasts enjoying one last ride on the Diesel-Nine. Those few who weren’t avgeeks were no doubt helped along by the complimentary glass of champagne served to mark the special occasion. Two hours later a relatively uneventful flight–festivities aside–was completed with a touchdown in Atlanta.

When Delta first retired their DC-9 fleet in the early 1990’s, some of the ex-Delta jets were acquired by new start up ValuJet. ValuJet would become AirTran Airways, and now AirTran has been acquired by Southwest Airlines. It’s not without some irony that Delta has decided to replace much of the flying done by its second batch of DC-9’s with ex-AirTran Boeing 717’s (itself a DC-9 derivative) that Southwest decided not to hang onto. It’s the circle of life. Hakuna matata.

Although it appears that Delta will keep some DC-9’s on hand for a couple more weeks as spare aircraft, Monday’s flight marked the ceremonial farewell for the reliable workhorse. Delta 2014 departed at 4:40 PM Central time thus ensuring the plane would literally fly off into the sunset. A very fitting end to one of the last heavy metal aircraft.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

More photos by the author: 

Delta 1965 rolls out after landing at MSP.

Delta 1965 rolls out after landing at MSP.

IMG_1681

Delta 1965 pulls into the gate at frigid MSP.

N773NC, flying since the days disco was popular.

N773NC, flying decades before “wi-fi” was a thing.

Captain Scott Woolfrey, pilot in command of Delta 2014, and Captain pose at the gate during pre-flight festivities.

Captain Scott Woolfrey, pilot in command of Delta 2014, and Captain Karen Ruth pose at the gate during pre-flight festivities.

"Farewell old friend"

“Farewell old friend”

IMG_1616

Commemorative postcards handed out to passengers on Delta 2014.

One of three cakes present at the pre-flight festivities.

One of three cakes present at the pre-flight festivities.

First class cabin. Not too shabby for a 35-year old plane!

First class cabin. Not too shabby for a 35-year old plane!

Looking back through the economy cabin.

Looking back through the economy cabin.

The DC-9 flight deck is the epitome of "old school".

The DC-9 flight deck is the epitome of “old school”.

Captain  Woolfrey and First Officer Tristan Albertsman were at the controls of Delta 2014.

Captain Woolfrey and First Officer Tristan Albertsman were at the controls of Delta 2014.

Purser Stephen Chung.

Purser Stephen Chung.

Watching the sun set at cruising altitude.

Watching the sun set at cruising altitude.

A toast to the DC-9!

A toast to the DC-9!

 

Brian Stevenson is an Atlanta-based airline enthusiast and aviation photographer. His work can be seen at facebook.com/seriouslyfunnyphotography



About the Author

Brian Stevenson





 
 

 

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  • mavcable

    2014 was definitely more of a ceremonial ‘last flight’ out of MSP for the old NWA folks more than anything.  Their plan of keeping a few around ATL for spares until the 21st to cover for late 717 deliveries turned out to be more necessary than previously thought.  They had to run one to HSV twice yesterday, not even 24-hours after the ‘last flight’ on Monday.  A few airports in the Florida panhandle are likely to see them in the next week or two as well.  Delta and the pilots treated it as the last official flight, so I guess that’s all that matters.

    It was good to see you again, Brian.

    -Matt

  • capnaux

    End of an era! Reminds me of the retiring of the 727, becoming a rarer sight around the world. Looks like they did it right, with a fine and worthy send-off!

  • Ron Rhodes

    I well remember flying between Ottawa and Toronto on Air Canada DC-9s in 1969/70. On one of those flights I had my only experience with a ligtning hit of the aircraft and we survived it just fine. AC flew their last DC-9 many years ago. All the best to Delta from Waterloo, Ontario!!

  • Ron Rhodes

    …and I was flying student stand-by those days too! (Lightning is the word…)