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"Just the Other Year"

February 2010

The McDonnell Douglas MD-95 / Boeing 717


     As we have seen in the last two issues of Roundup, the DC-9/ MD-80/ MD-90 progression of twinjet transports followed the logical pattern of growth in size and performance enabled by engine developments: The DC-9-10 had a capacity of 90 seats; the MD-90 could carry 172 passengers. Over time, each later model took advantage of improvements in systems and flight management technology. 

     By the early 1990s, it became time to apply those advancements in the state of the art to the original target market for the airplane - short to medium range routes with modest size requirements.  It was decided to return to the DC-9-30 capacity and wing configuration and reap the benefits of two decades of technical progress.

      McDonnell Douglas first announced the MD-95 at the Paris Airshow in June 1991. But it was not until October 1995 when ValuJet (now AirTran Airlines) ordered 50 and optioned 50, that the company gave the program the green light.

     For a suitable engine, MDC had chosen the new BMW Rolls-Royce (now just Rolls-Royce) BR715 for the proposed MD-95.  Honeywell was selected to supply the integrated flight management system, featuring six LCD screens in the thoroughly modern cockpit.  The 100-seat cabin interior was updated using designs similar to the MD-90.

     After the 1997 Boeing/McDonnell Douglas merger, the company decided to continue to market the new twin and changed the aircraft name to Boeing 717-200.  (Boeing had previously used the “717” model number to identify its C-135 and KC-135 family.)

     First flight took place on September 2 1998, and certification was awarded on September 1 1999 while the first delivery, to AirTran, was on September 23 that year.

     Two  types were offered: The standard 717-200BGW (Basic Gross Weight) and extended range 717-200HGW (High Gross Weight) versions.

     Companies participating in 717 production include Alenia (fuselage), Korean Air (nose), AIDC of Taiwan (empennage), Shin Meiwa of Japan (engine pylons and horizontal stabilizers), Israel Aircraft Industries (undercarriage), and Fischer of Austria (interior). Final assembly was at Boeing's Long Beach plant, in the same building that the DC-9 and MD-80 were built in.

     Among 717 customers were, AeBal, AirTran, Bangkok Air, Bavaria International Leasing, Hawaiian Airlines, Impulse Airlines, Midwest Express Airlines, Olympic Aviation, Pembroke Leasing, Qantas Link, Siam Reap Air, Trans World Airlines, and Turkmenistan Airlines

     The 717 had suffered from slow sales throughout its history, with 156 planes ordered. In January 2005, Boeing announced that it would cancel the 717 program after completing all outstanding orders.

     On May 23rd, 2006 an estimated 3,000 active and retired Douglas, McDonnell Douglas, and Boeing employees gathered at the West ramp and witnessed the delivery of the 155th and 156th B-717s which were the 15,598th and 15,599th airplanes built at the Long Beach plant. The CEOs of  AirTran  and Midwest Airlines were on the dais to accept these last airliners to be built in California.

     From 1963, when the Douglas Company launched the DC-9, to 2006, with the  deliveries of the final two 717s bearing the Boeing brand name, the 43-year production of twin jets amounted to 2,449 twinjets.  Most of them carried the McDonnell Douglas nameplate.  They were all rugged, reliable, and profitable airplanes.  A comparison of the original DC-9-10 with the B 717 is a demonstration of the technical leaps forward over four decades: Three generations of engine efficiency improvements from the JT8D-5, through the re-fanned JT8D-200 series, to modern high bypass IAE and BMW/RR powerplants; cockpit technology growth - from electromechanical, to digital, to an advanced six LCD screen Honeywell EFIS flight deck; and continued attention to the detail required for ease of maintenance and reliability.

     And so the curtain fell on the production of commercial aircraft at Long Beach.  It is fitting that the final airplanes off the line were among the very finest products ever built. To all of you who participated in the traditions and excellence of the storied DC, MD and Boeing aircraft built there, a fond “Well Done!”