FLIGHTS OF FANTASY: DC-10 schemes that almost could have been......

Sentinel Chicken

American 71 Heavy, contact departure 126.47
17 January 2006
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I did this one back in 2005- not exactly an unbuilt aircraft, but some might enjoy it.......

American Airlines' involvement in the development of the Lockheed and McDonnell Douglas widebody trijets was extensive. It all goes back to when George Spater took over the reins of the airline from the legendary CR Smith. In some accounts, it was probably the most torturous decision Spater had to make while at the helm of American, all while living in the shadow of CR Smith.

Back in 1966 American's VP of development engineering, Frank Kolk, was worried about the frenzy surrounding Boeing's launch of the 747 with a launch order from Pan Am. Many airlines besides American began to wonder if they could fill 400 seats and at American, it was Kolk who sounded the alarms to CR Smith. "CR, it's just too damn big for our route network!" he'd exhort every chance he got. But because American's transcon 707 services boasted the highest load factors in the airline's network, the 747 order was placed anyway. But since CR Smith found Kolk's arguments compelling, he was dispatched to talk with the major airframe manufacturers about a smaller widebody jet.

Boeing wasn't interested as it was immersed with the 747 and the 727/737 production lines were running at maximum capacity. The manpower just couldn't be spared. Douglas was also not interested as it had its own financial problems that would result in its merger with McDonnell the following year- the DC-8 line hadn't recouped its costs yet and the company was scrambling to pacify its DC-9 customers who were upset with production problems and delays (at one point Eastern even filed suit).

Lockheed, however was very receptive and went to work immediately on a design to Kolk's specifications for a twin-aisle twin that carried 250 passengers and could operate out of La Guardia. But other airlines, once briefed on Lockheed's work, didn't like two engines. United, in particular, wanted four but could live with three engines. As the potential customers provided their opinions, the consensus over-ruled American Airlines and the widebody jet would be a trijet.

With Douglas financially invigorated after the merger with McDonnell, in-house studies to Kolk's initial brief would become the DC-10 to compete with what Lockheed was calling the L-1011 Tristar. American now faced a choice between two very similar widebody trijets. But there was a hitch. American preferred the Rolls-Royce RB.211 engine but the RB.211, being a more compact design thanks to its three-spool system, was too short for the DC-10 tail nacelle. As advanced as the Tristar was, Spater and the American engineering staff preferred the DC-10. Though CR Smith himself expressed a strong preference for the Tristar, it was Spater's call to make. Some accounts on this period in American's history point to the experience with the Lockheed Electra having biased the airline against Lockheed despite the more advanced features of the L-1011 Tristar.

Spater even talked with the head of Rolls Royce about modifying the RB.211 for the DC-10, but given that American was the only airline making the request, no guarantees could be offered to American.

There was even consensus among the various US airlines that there wasn't a sufficient market to justify two competing widebody trijet designs and there were even discussions between Spater and other airline presidents about settling on a single type. Many analysts crunching the numbers for the airlines pointed out that both aircraft being produced would eventually (and prophetically) be detrimental to the future of the commercial aircraft manufacturing at both Douglas and Lockheed. When Delta, Eastern, and TWA ordered the L-1011, the assumption was that American and United would follow suit. But United refused to accept a British engine and ordered the the DC-10 with the GE engines. With what was thought to be a unified front shattered by United's surprise decision to break ranks, Spater went ahead and placed a launch order for the DC-10.

When McDonnell Douglas was working on the DC-10 design, the feature that resulted in the most design changes was the location of the third engine. There were even designs for two engines on one wing and one engine on the other. Eventually a tail location was selected and even the feature of the tail nacelle itself changed multiple times. Eventually a straight nacelle with a long inlet duct became the preferred design, and when Douglas released artists' conceptions of the final design layout, the DC-10 wore American Airlines' Astrojet colors.

And ever since I saw that marketing artwork, this has been one of my favorite almost-came-true what-ifs. An Astrojet DC-10! Noted designer Henry Dreyfuss was responsible for the current American livery which was introduced in 1969, the 727-200 being the first factory-delivered aircraft to wear the livery. American took delivery of its first DC-10s in a joint delivery ceremony with United in 1971 (interestingly both airlines took first delivery of their DC-6s in 1946 at a joint ceremony). But what if the Astrojet livery lasted just a bit longer?

The first American DC-10s had "Astroliner" titles on the nose, but I decided to stick with "Astrojet" for this illustration, amending it as "DC-10 Astrojet" on the tail nacelle.



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I've always liked the "Astrojet" scheme. Whenever I flew a 737-800 in MSFS, I usually fly it in that scheme. When I fly the 727, it's between that scheme and the Eastern livery.

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