30 Years Since Its First Flight: The Story Of The Dornier 328

Yesterday marked 30 years since the Dornier 328 made its first flight. This German-designed turboprop-powered commuter airliner enjoyed a nine-year production cycle that resulted in the completion of 217 aircraft. A jet-powered version of the type also went on to enter service in the late 1990s. Going forward, it may be a gateway to emission-free flying.

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Three decades have passed since the Dornier 328’s maiden test flight. Photo: Getty Images

A product of the 1980s

The story of the Dornier 328 dates back a little further than the 30 years since its first flight, namely to the mid-1980s. This was when research conducted by Deutsche Aerospace, Dornier’s then-owners, suggested that airlines would be keen to fly a 30-seat commuter airliner. Alongside this specification, speed and quietness were also key considerations.

Dornier hoped that its turboprop design to meet these specifications would almost match contemporary jetliners for performance. This led the company to devise an optimistic sales target of 400 units. In terms of cruising speed, Dornier looked to aim for figures of around 345 knots (640 km/h), which it ultimately came close to but didn’t quite meet.

Negotiations between Dornierand Daimler Benz resulted in the 328 program being granted approval in 1988. After extensive studies into engines and instrumentation, Dornier chose to fit the aircraft with Pratt & Whitney Canada PW119 turboprops and a glass cockpit.

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The Dornier 328 features a pair of six-bladed propellers. Photo: Getty Images

Taking to the skies

As Dornier continued to develop the 328 series, it began receiving orders before the aircraft had taken to the skies. Among the most significant of these was a 35-aircraft order from US regional carrier Horizon Air, which now operates feeder flights for Alaska Airlines. Horizon placed this order in May 1991, and the 328 made its first flight on December 6th that year.

Less than six months later, June 4th, 1992 saw the second Dornier 328 prototype take to the skies for the first time. The type’s testing program wasn’t flawless, with one prototype suffering a propeller failure whereby all six blades detached, puncturing the fuselage.

After a testing program that lasted nearly two years, October 1993 finally saw the Dornier 328 enter service. This took place two years to the month since the first prototype was rolled out in October 1991, ahead of its upcoming flight testing program. The aircraft entered a competitive market for small turboprop airliners, but how do its specifications tally up?

Horizon Air Dornier 328
Horizon Air ordered 35 Dornier 328s in May 1991. Photo: Jon Proctor via Wikimedia Commons

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Statistics and commercial performance

As far as the Dornier 328’s dimensions are concerned, the aircraft is one of the world’s smallest airliners. Using data for the 328-110 version, which had a greater range and maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) than the standard 328-100, we can see that it is just 21.23 meters long. Its wingspan is a little smaller still, clocking in at just 20.98 meters wide.

These wings have an area of 40 square meters. Meanwhile, the aircraft stands at 7.05 meters tall, and typically seats 30-33 economy class passengers. It weighs just 9,100 kg when empty, while its maximum takeoff weight is 13,990 kg. As far as its performance is concerned, the aircraft’s PW119B turboprops enable a typical cruising speed of 330 knots (620 km/h).

Dornier 328 Cabin
Dornier 328s typically have 30 seats in a 2-1 layout. Photo: Eddie Maloney via Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, the Dornier 328’s range clocks in at 1,000 NM (1,852 km), and it has a service ceiling of 31,142 feet above sea level. Commercially, it failed to hit the aforementioned sales target of 400 units, with 217 ultimately being produced between 1991 and 2000.

A recession hindered sales of the type in its later years of production, with both Dornier itself and the 328 series proving to be loss-making enterprises. While Dornier had also envisioned a stretched 48-seat version, and demand was there for it, this never came to fruition.

North American Dornier 328 operators

While production of the Dornier 238 ceased more than two decades ago, several remain in service today. Indeed, aircraft database ch-aviation.com presently lists 43 examples as being active. These fly for 11 operators, situated in countries all over the world.

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The Dornier 328 is popular with virtual airlines like Rhein-Neckar Air. Photo: Rhein-Neckar Air

Of these, comfortably the largest operator is the US Air Force’s Special Operations Command, which has 20 at its disposal. Historically speaking, it has also flown a 21st example. These turboprops have an average age of 25.5 years, and 27 seats in the standard three-abreast (2-1) layout. The Special Operations Command has flown them since 2011.

Elsewhere in the United States, the US Air Force and Jetran each have a single active example at their disposal. Meanwhile, neighboring Canada is home to two active Dornier 328s at Central Mountain Air. These are 24.5 years old on average, and seat 30 passengers.

The rest of the world

Elsewhere in the world, Africa, Asia, and Europe are key markets for the remaining examples of the 328. In the former of these continents, a 24.8-year-old example has been serving the Botswana Defence Force since 2009. Meanwhile, five fly for Dornier Aviation Nigeria.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, the 328 is comparatively popular in its German homeland. Photo: Getty Images

In Asia, you can find single active examples of the Dornier 328 in both Indonesia (xpressair) and the Philippines (Platinum Skies). There are multiple 328 operators in Dornier’s German homeland, like MHS Aviation. One of MHS’s two active examples is on lease to Mannheim-based virtual airline Rhein-Neckar Air. German operator Private Wings flies eight 328s. Finally, Icelandic carrier Eagle Air Iceland has a single active 328 at its disposal.

A jet-powered counterpart

Later in the 1990s, Dornier also began producing a version of its 328 that it powered with Pratt & Whitney Canada PW306B turbofans. Originally known as the 328-300, this aircraft now carries the ‘328JET‘ designation. It first flew in 1998, and 110 examples were produced between 1996 and 2002. 25 examples remain active today at 13 operators worldwide.

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The Fairchild-Dornier 328JET can fly faster thanks to its turbofans. Photo: Ronnie Robertson via Flickr

The aircraft’s full name is actually the Fairchild-Dornier 328JET. This designation reflects Dornier’s acquisition by US aerospace company Fairchild during its early development. A 44-seat stretched-fuselage proposal known as the 428Jet was also announced in May 1998, but canceled in August 2000. Dornier eventually went bankrupt in April 2002.

What do you make of the Dornier 328? Have you ever flown on one, or one of its jet-powered counterparts? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!