8/05/1971: American Airlines Places DC-10 into Service

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DALLAS – Today in Aviation, American Airlines (AA) operated the first passenger flight of the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 in 1971. The inaugural flight, flown by N103AA, was a round trip between Los Angeles (LAX) and Chicago (ORD).

Dubbed the “Luxury Liner” AA was the launch customer with United Airlines (UA). It initially ordered 25, with options on a further 25 on February 19, 1968.

American Airlines had received all 25 DC-10s from its initial order by December 1972. Photo: JetPix GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons


AA approached Douglas in 1966 with requirements for a wide-bodied airliner, smaller than the Boeing 747, but capable of long-range flights from airports with shorter runways.

The outcome was the DC-10, the first aircraft to be produced under the McDonnell Douglas name. Douglas merged with McDonnell Aircraft Corporation in 1967.

A Chequered History

Less than a year after its maiden flight, N103AA was involved in the type’s first major incident. After take-off its aft cargo door opened in-flight, causing rapid decompression. Thankfully the aircraft landed safely.

The DC-10 would go on to develop an unwarranted reputation as an unreliable aircraft, following a number of other high-profile incidents.

In May 1979, AA lost another of its “Luxury Liners”. Flight 191 crashed just after takeoff from Chicago (ORD) after losing its left engine. All 271 souls on board and two on the ground were killed. 

The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 overcame its initial bad reputation and carried passengers until 2014. Photo: The Smithsonian Institute

A Reliable Aircraft

The FAA subsequently grounded the DC-10. However, after its return to service, the type became a reliable aircraft, with a safety record comparable to its peers such as the Boeing 747 and Airbus A300. 

American Airlines operated 66 DC-10s: 55 -10s and 11 -30’s. The last example was retired in October 2000.

Featured image: McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10, American Airlines. Photo: Jon Proctor Collection

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