Following the ongoing success of the
Douglas DC-6, there was little interest in developing an
all- jet airliner. Douglas’ piston-engine aircraft were still
being purchased, and the DC-7, which also used a piston-engine,
was going to be on the market soon.
Added to this in 1952 and 1953 were the fatal crashes of de
Havilland’s jet passenger liner, the Comet, which left the
planes grounded. It would later be discovered that the crashes
were caused by metal fatigue, and not the jets themselves.
Douglas’ outlook changed however, when it became clear that
their competitor, Boeing, was developing an all-jet aircraft.
Boeing had an advantage since they had already produced two
long-range jet bombers: the B-47, first flown in 1947, and the
B-52, flown for the first time in 1952.
Boeing also had an ongoing business relationship with the
United States Air Force Strategic Air Command. It became evident
that the Strategic Air Command would have to replace the
piston-engine tankers they were using for air-to-air refuelling
with jet engine tankers. Thus, Boeing moved to develop a tanker
aircraft that could easily be converted to a passenger aircraft.
This plane became the 707.
Douglas realized that the tanker contracts from Strategic Air
Command would be beneficial, and in mid-1953, started to develop
plans, designing an 80-seat passenger aircraft that would use
four jet engines.
The Strategic Air Command tendered a contract in May 1954,
and Boeing’s proposal for the KC-97 was accepted after four
months. Over the next ten years, more than 800 such aircraft
would be ordered. This made the rapid development of the Boeing
707 a reality.
Meanwhile, the DC-8 was developed in 1955 from orders of
airlines trying to stay competitive. Among these companies was
Trans Canada Airlines.
Douglas moved quickly to produce their new DC-8 jet passenger
aircraft. The first flight of the DC-8 occurred on 30 May 1958.
By September 1959, the DC-8 was in service with the U.S.
airlines Delta and United. The expected full production rate of
eight aircraft a month was reached by March 1960. Throughout the
years that followed, the DC-8 was reconfigured several times as
Douglas responded to market demands.
The DC-8 was developed by the Douglas Aircraft Company, who
later merged with the McDonnell Company in 1967. The new company
was called, "McDonnell Douglas." On the 15 December 1996,
McDonnell Douglas joined Boeing.
Throughout the production period of the DC-8, which spanned
from 1960 to 1972, there were 556 aircraft built. By 2002, there
were still 200 DC-8s in commercial service.