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McDonnell Douglas MD-11

The McDonnell Douglas MD-11 was the first of a new generation of large long-haul airliners emerging during the late 1980s. It was intended for routes and/or frequencies for which the Boeing 747 was too big. The MD-11 is essentially a rejuvenated DC-10 with a slightly longer fuselage, improved engines, winglets and a digital two-crew flightdeck.

Although McDonnell Douglas was a master in stretching passenger jets like the DC-8 and DC-9 and although it considered stretching the DC-10 from the beginning, it never did so until the late 1980s when it launched the MD-11. At that time the McDonnell Douglas airliner business mostly relied on the MD-80 narrowbody. Development of a DC-10 successor was of growing importance to the company if it wanted to survive as a manufacturer of big airliners.

McDonnell Douglas launched the MD-11 in December 1986. To increase its attractiveness the company offered several sub-versions from the beginning, like the MD-11F (Freighter), MD-11C (Combi) and MD-11CF (Convertible Freighter). All these versions were available as an ER (Extended Range) variant as well. McDonnell Douglas also offered the MD-11 with three engine-options: the General Electric CF6-80, the Pratt & Whitney PW4360 and the Rolls-Royce Trent.

Encouraging start

At first the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 sold well to airlines wanting to replace the DC-10. Among them were British Caledonian, Finnair, KLM, Swissair, Thai Airways International, Alitalia and American Airlines. At the time of the first flight on January 10 1990 orders, options and commitments had reached an encouraging total of around 300. But several orders were cancelled and many options not taken up. The order from launch customer British Caledonian was cancelled after BCal was taken over by British Airways, and another British airline, Air Europe, which ordered 6 (+13 options), went bankrupt. Air Europe had specified the Rolls-Royce Trent, but because of the bankruptcy of the airline no MD-11s with Trent engines were built at all.

One reason that it was difficult for McDonnell Douglas to attract new MD-11 customers was the fact that the aircraft struggled to meet its performance targets for range and fuel burn. The MD-11 was also overtaken by its competitors, the Airbus A340 and the Boeing 777.

Boeing merger

After the merger of Boeing and McDonnell Douglas in 1997 the intention was to continue the production of the MD-11 freighter version, but already in 1998 Boeing decided to stop building the airliner because of lack of demand. In early 2001 the last two new aircraft were delivered to Lufthansa. Production totalled 200 aircraft. The MD-11 is still popular as a freighter, however and many former passenger planes have been converted to cargo configuration.

Proposed MD-11 developments included fuselage stretches, a new wing and a version with underfloor 'panorama deck' seats. Further studies were designated MD-12. At first this was a stretched MD-11, but later an all-new four-engined design emerged with a double-deck fuselage looking like the current A380. The MD-12 was never built.

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