The Story Of United Airlines’ McDonnell Douglas DC-10 Fleet

US legacy carrier United Airlines has operated a significant variety of different aircraft over the years. While today it only operates twin-engine designs, its earlier years saw trijets and quadjets play a significant role. Among these were 59 McDonnell Douglas DC-10s.

United Airlines DC-10
A United DC-10 in the airline’s ‘Friend Ship’ livery. Photo: Piergiuliano Chesi via Wikimedia Commons

The DC-10-10

Data from ATDB.aero shows that United Airlines operated a total of 59 DC-10s over the years. Of these, 48 were examples of the original DC-10-10 variant. This version first flew over 51 years ago, in August 1970. It entered service a year later, and McDonnell Douglas produced 122 in total. This means that United alone flew around 40% of the total output.

The Chicago-based Star Alliance founding member received its first-ever DC-10-10, N1802U, in July 1971. This was the first of five examples to come onboard that year. Deliveries continued steadily throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Most were new, although six examples were ex-Delta planes. Five came onboard in 1975, with the last doing so in 1989.

The vast majority of the DC-10-10s ended up joining FedEx after leaving United. A notable exception was N1819U, which was written off after crashing as Flight 232 in Sioux City in 1989. Meanwhile, three examples were scrapped straight after leaving United. Today, none are active, with all remaining examples having been scrapped, destroyed, or left derelict.

FedEx DC-10
Many of United’s DC-10-10s went on to fly cargo for FedEx. Photo: Cory Barnes via Flickr

The DC-10-30

United also operated a smaller contingent of DC-10-30s, totaling 11 examples. McDonnell Douglas designed the DC-10-30 to offer greater range than the original DC-10-10 variant. This ended up proving to be a successful enterprise, and it outsold the original model with a total production output of 163 units. Of these, United flew just under 7%.

As we have established, the majority of United’s DC-10-10s came to the airline brand new. However, this wasn’t the case for its long-range DC-10-30 trijets. Indeed, all 11 were second-hand aircraft, and they came from a variety of different airlines between 1983 and 1986. These included Canadian Airlines, Laker Airways, Pan Am, and World Airways.

Once again, several of United’s DC-10-30s ended up flying for FedEx. However, the others had a shade more variety than the original DC-10-10s. Indeed, two of these aircraft joined the Dutch Air Force in 2000 and 2001, with another heading to Peru to fly for Cielos Airlines. Again, there are no surviving examples from this 11-plane group today.

Dutch Air Force DC-10
Two DC-10-30s joined the Dutch Air Force. Photo: Gerard van der Schaaf via Wikimedia Commons

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United’s widebodies today

Today, United’s twin-aisle fleet paints a rather different picture to how it looked back in the days of the DC-10. It is nearly 20 years since it withdrew its last example, N1855U, in July 2002. According to data from ch-aviation.com, it flies these Boeing widebodies today:

  • 767-300ER – 38 aircraft.
  • 767-400ER – 16 aircraft.
  • 777-200 – 19 aircraft (all inactive).
  • 777-200ER – 55 aircraft.
  • 777-300ER – 22 aircraft.
  • 787-8 – 12 aircraft.
  • 787-9 – 38 aircraft.
  • 787-10 – 13 aircraft (plus six on order).

The airline also has 45 Airbus A350-900s on order. It will certainly be interesting to see how it integrates these into its Boeing-dominated setup when deliveries begin.

What are your memories of United’s DC-10 fleet? Did you ever fly on one of the carrier’s widebody trijets? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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