This past April 2012, a major milestone was achieved at Delta when our workhorse MD-88 fleet reached its 25th birthday with the company.
It was on April 1, 1987 that the first “MaDDog” in Delta’s livery, took to the skies with revenue passengers. Ronald Reagan was President; Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” was at the top of the record charts, “Cheers” was a ratings leader on television and “Lethal Weapon” was a huge box office smash. A quarter century later, the MD-88 is still hard at work, and with a recent face lift, doing so with modern style and enhanced comfort for our customers. Reflecting on the changes witnessed by the 88’s over the years is fascinating. For example, in-flight WiFi, now a staple on the MD-88 fleet, was not even on the planning charts in 1987. In fact, the internet, still in its infancy, was mostly a specialized collection of USENET newsgroups for colleges and scientists. Indeed, the MD88’s have seen a period of tremendous progress and exciting change during their careers at Delta.
The design of the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 series evolved from that of the Douglas DC-9, an aircraft first flown by Delta in November, 1965. Owing to successive “stretches” in the DC-9 family, the MD-80 series features about twice the passenger capacity of the first DC-9-14’s, along with significantly more powerful and efficient JT8D-219 engines.
Delta placed its initial order for 30 MD-88s in January 1986, with options for 50 more. Delta’s leadership, anxious to ingest additional capacity into the fleet as rapidly as possible concurrent with the Western Airlines merger, elected to take the first eight ships in the order as model MD-82’s, the forerunner to the MD-88. These were Ships 901-908 (N901DL-N908DL), delivered in March-May, 1987. Ultimately, these aircraft were modified by Delta to MD-88 configuration with the more advanced flight deck in 1988.
Delta had four MD-82s in service with its April 1, 1987 schedule. The inaugural cities served were Atlanta, Austin, Birmingham, Cincinnati, Jackson, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, Oklahoma City, Little Rock, Shreveport, and Washington, DC.
One early ship is especially noteworthy from a historical perspective. Delta’s MD-82, Ship 905 (N905DL), was the symbolic centerpiece of merger ceremonies between Delta and Western Airlines in April 1987. The aircraft carried a decal showing a thumbs-up version of “Wally bird” logo, the long-time Western Airlines marketing symbol, fixed just beside the Delta widget logo on the forward part of Ship 905. Ship 905 was on display at Delta/Western employee merger ceremonies in Los Angeles on April 1, and the next day for employees in Salt Lake City.
MD-88’s began arriving at Delta with Ship 909 (N909DL) in December 1987. Delta placed its first MD-88 into service on January 5, 1988. As compared to the early MD-82’s, the MD-88 had an updated “glass cockpit” with digital displays powered by cathode ray tubes (CRTs). This advanced avionics package eventually allowed Delta crews to shoot Category 3 instrument approaches. The MD-88 also featured aerodynamics improvements, including a redesigned (“screwdriver tip”) tail cone.
The MD-88 was delivered with a wider than usual 22-inch aisle in the coach cabin. Another new feature were handrails along the edge of the overhead bins, adding to the comfort and safety of passengers moving through the cabin. The final MD-88 (ship 9020) was delivered to Delta in December 1993.
Today, with approximately 115 ships still in service, the MD-88 soldiers on, like an old friend. Still very competent in the execution of the duties it was first obtained to perform a quarter century ago.