What Happened To Varig’s McDonnell Douglas DC-10s?

In 1927, Varig became the first airline to be founded in Brazil. For decades, it dominated Brazilian commercial aviation, particularly its international market. Among its aircraft were 15 examples of the striking wide-bodied McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 trijet. By the time the airline folded in 2006, most of its DC-10s had already left for other carriers. But where did these aircraft end up?

Varig DC-10 Zurich 1995
Varig operated the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 for over three decades after its introduction in 1974. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

The DC-10 at Varig

The name Varig was actually an acronym, standing for Viação Aérea RIo-Grandense (‘Rio Grande Airways). Planespotters.net reports that the first of its McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 aircraft arrived at the airline in May 1974. Registered as PP-VMA, it was the first of three DC-10s that Varig took delivery of that year. The most deliveries in a single year occurred in 1980 when the airline received a further six examples between January and November. The final pair arrived at the airline in July 1994.

McDonnell Douglas had designed the DC-10 as a long-range successor to its narrow-bodied quadjet DC-8 jetliner. The type’s first flight occurred in 1970, with commercial service commencing with American Airlines a year later.

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Varig DC-10 Orlando Getty
Varig received its last DC-10 in 1994. Photo: Getty Images

Production of the aircraft spanned a 20-year period between 1968 and 1988. During this time, McDonnell Douglas produced 386 examples of the DC-10, as well as 60 KC-10 military tanker aircraft. McDonnell Douglas later developed the type into the larger MD-11. Varig would go on to operate 26 examples of this type.

Where did they end up?

The first DC-10s to leave the Varig fleet were PP-VMO, PP-VMP, and PP-VMR, in 1980. All three of these aircraft had been with the airline for just a year on short-term leases. The first two had come from (and subsequently returned to) Canadian Pacific Air Lines. Meanwhile, PP-VMR went back to its original owner, Singapore Airlines, where it stayed until 1983. Following this, it spent the remainder of its career in a 314-seat all-economy configuration with Biman Bangladesh Airlines, who retired this example in 2011.

The majority of Varig’s remaining DC-10s left the airline throughout the 1990s after considerably longer spells. Destinations for these included fellow South American airlines. Among these were former Uruguayan flag carrier PLUNA, and Venezuelan airline Avensa.

Northwest DC-10 Getty
Two of Varig’s DC-10s moved on to Northwest in 1999. The airline retired its last DC-10 in 2007, and merged with Delta in 2010. Photo: Getty Images

Other examples found new leases of life in North America, with PP-VMD transferring to Canadian Airlines International in March 1998. Two former-Varig DC-10s also found their way to Northwest Airlines, one of the type’s largest operators, in 1999.

Cargo operations

The last two DC-10s to leave Varig did remain with the company in some capacity. PP-VMU (2001) and PP-VMT (2006) retained their Brazilian registrations and were transferred to Varig Logística, the airline’s cargo division.

Here, they were reconfigured to operate freight services and stayed with VarigLog until 2009. Following this, American lessor Pegasus Aviation obtained the two aircraft, which it re-registered as N576SH and N578SH. Both examples were broken up at Marana Pinal Airpark in Arizona in September 2017.

VarigLog DC-10F Miami
VarigLog operated three DC-10F aircraft. Two of these had previously served in the airline’s passenger division. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

VarigLog also operated a third DC-10F, which bore the registration PP-VQY. This had previously flown under the registration G-BEBL for British Caledonian Airways. Here, it was named Sir Alexander Fleming – The Scottish Challenger, although this was changed to Forest of Dean when British Airways took over the airline.

PP-VQY flew for VarigLog between April 2001 and September 2008. Following this, it was obtained by Canadian cargo airline Kelowna Flightcraft, and re-registered as C-GKFB. It was broken up in Hamilton, Ontario in June 2016. As for VarigLog, it outlasted the airline’s passenger division for six years, folding in 2012. At this time, its fleet consisted of just four Boeing narrowbodies – a 727, a 757, and a pair of 737s.

Did you ever fly on a Varig DC-10? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!