What Happened To American Airlines’ DC-10 Fleet?

The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 was a notable, and even notorious, part of American Airlines’ long-haul fleet. With 66 DC-10s registered with the airline, many were delivered throughout the 70s and 80s, even joining in the late 90s. However, the aircraft was retired from the fleet in October of 2000. What happened to these aircraft, and where are they now?

American Airlines DC-10
Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons 

Background: The life of the DC-10 with American Airlines

The life of the DC-10 with American Airlines began on August 5th, 1971, when it first flew with the carrier. In fact, American Airlines was the launch customer for the aircraft. According to old promotional material, American Airlines’ DC-10 Luxury Liner enabled the airline to “operate out of smaller airports on short trips” and at the same time “fly coast-to-coast from larger airports.”

However, eight years after the aircraft’s entry-into-service, tragedy would strike in the form of a deadly crash. On May 25th, 1979, American Airlines flight 191 crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 271 people on board as well as two people on the ground. This was, and still remains, the deadliest single-aircraft aviation accident in US history.

After a nearly worldwide grounding, the issues with the aircraft were resolved, and the DC-10 resumed commercial passenger service.

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Below is a classic 1991 commercial from American Airlines announcing its service to London. The advert prominently features its Luxury Liner DC-10:

Where are the DC-10s now?

With 66 DC-10s having been operated by American Airlines, we won’t go through every aircraft. However, let’s take a look at the more notable and interesting moves these planes made.

Starting with the larger DC-10-30s. Planespotters.net shows that the airline had a total of 11 of these jets. Three of these actually went on to now-defunct Russian airline Transaero. From there, some went over to Hawaiian Airlines three years later and then joined Ghana Airways. They were finally retired in 2005.

American Airlines DC-10
American Airlines retired its DC-10 fleet from commercial service in 2000. Photo: Ken Fielding via Wikimedia Commons

Four DC-10-30s are listed as scrapped, while two are listed as written off. One, registered as N136AA, was written-off due to an incident in 1988 where the aircraft aborted take-off and its nose wheel collapsed. Another, N139AA, drifted off the runway on landing in 1993. This caused the undercarriage to collapse. Two others are listed as having been ‘broken up’ in 2008 and 2009.

American Airlines DC-10
Several American Airlines’ DC-10s had to be written off due to incidents that caused significant structural damage. Photo: MercerMJ via Wikimedia Commons 

Looking at the airline’s 55 DC-10-10s, about half are listed as scrapped with their ‘scrapping dates’ not listed. We know that N110AA was written off, with the aircraft involved in the deadly 1979 incident mentioned above.

13 DC-10-10s went to global shipping company FedEx. All of these jets are now listed as either stored or scrapped.

While several went on to fly with Hawaiian Airlines, one registered as N161AA continued on from Hawaiian and was acquired by the operator known as 10 Tanker – a company specializing in aerial firefighting. It’s now listed as stored at Oscada airport in Michigan.

By the time the late 1990s rolled around, the DC-10 was getting quite old and inefficient, compared to newer aircraft of the time. With developments in ETOPS regulations, trijets were no longer needed to cross oceans, and more efficient twin jets could do the job. As a result, we saw American Airlines phase out its DC-10 fleet, deploying Boeing 767s and 777s on domestic and international routes once operated by the trijet.

20 years have passed since American Airlines said goodbye to DC-10 service, and it appears that the overwhelming majority of DC-10s (the ones that weren’t written off due to incidents) are now scrapped and broken up.

Did you ever have the chance to fly on a DC-10 ‘Luxury Liner’ with American Airlines? Share your experience with us in the comments.

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