American Airlines

Final boarding call for the MD-80 aircraft, the workhorse of American Airlines’ fleet

The MD-80 aircraft was once the workhorse of the American Airlines fleet.

The skinny commercial jets were beloved by frequent flyers for their lack of a middle seat on one side of the cabin, and by pilots who cut their teeth on the pair of obnoxiously loud Pratt & Whitney engines mounted by the tail.

For decades, until the early 2000s, they were the most common airplane spotted in the skies over DFW Airport.

But the MD-80s, which unlike the rest of American’s fleet still sports the old, brushed-metal paint job, are also a relic of a bygone era.

On Wednesday, American will retire the last of its MD-80 aircraft, flying from DFW to an aviation boneyard in Roswell, N.M., where dozens of other planes that are no longer needed have been parked for storage and scrap.

The medium-body aircraft, which held 130 to 175 people depending upon the configuration, has since been replaced by modern, more fuel-efficient planes.

For example, a Boeing 737-800 can carry about 20 percent more passengers than an MD-80, all while using 20 percent less fuel, according to the travel industry blog The Points Guy.

“At 147 feet from nose to tail, it’s one long and skinny bird, made to look even sleeker by thin, small wings and engines placed at the tail,” Alberto Riva wrote in The Points Guy.

He noted that, while the engines on the MD-80 — sometimes called the “Mad Dog” — made an awful noise for those unlucky enough to be sitting in the rear of the plane, they could hardly be heard by passengers sitting in the front of the narrow fuselage.

“Those engines are, in fact, the reason that the Mad Dog is so beloved of aviation fans everywhere,” he wrote. “With their 1970s technology, they’re a sonic reminder of the days when even tame commercial transports howled like fighter jets.”

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram was invited to go along on the final flight of American’s last MD-80. This story will be updated during the final voyage.

Gordon Dickson joined the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997. He is passionate about hard news reporting, and his beats include transportation, growth, urban planning, aviation, real estate, jobs, business trends. He is originally from El Paso, and loves food, soccer and long drives.
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