Fifty years ago today, Douglas Aircraft rolled out its first DC-9 in Long Beach, California. The short-to-medium range airliner was powered by two aft-mounted Pratt & Whitney JT8D engines. It was the beginning of a very successful partnership between Pratt & Whitney and Douglas (later McDonnell-Douglas and eventually Boeing following a series of mergers). The DC-9 helped open up smaller cities served only by propeller planes to the speed and efficiency of jets.
The DC-9 made its first flight on Feb. 25, 1965 and entered service with Delta Airlines in December of that year. Douglas would eventually build 976 DC-9s, delivering the last airplane in October 1982. It is estimated that between 75 and 100 DC-9s are still in service today. Among the biggest customers were Delta and Northwest airlines, now merged as Delta. The last DC-9 Delta flight was on Jan. 16, 2014.
The MD-80, powered by JT8D-200s, followed the DC-9 series. They were in turn followed by 116 MD-90s, using the V2500, and 155 MD-95s/Boeing 717s that used a Rolls-Royce engine. The MD-95/Boeing 717 was the last commercial aircraft produced at the storied Douglas plant in Long Beach. All told there were 2,400 DC-9s and successors, the third most produced commercial jet aircraft after the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 families.