Military Wiki
McDonnell Douglas Corporation
Industry Aerospace
Fate Merged with Boeing
  • McDonnell Aircraft
  • Douglas Aircraft Company
Successor(s) The Boeing Company
Founded 28 April 1967
Defunct 1 August 1997 (date of merger)[1]
Headquarters Berkeley, Missouri, United States
Products Aircraft
Website (archived copy)

McDonnell Douglas was a major American aerospace manufacturing corporation and defense contractor formed by the merger of McDonnell Aircraft and the Douglas Aircraft Company in 1967. Between then and its own merger with Boeing thirty years later, it produced a number of well-known commercial and military aircraft such as the DC-10 airliner and F-15 Eagle air-superiority fighter.

The corporation was based at Lambert–St. Louis International Airport near St. Louis, Missouri, while the headquarters for its subsidiary, the McDonnell Douglas Technical Services Company (MDTSC), were established in unincorporated St. Louis County, Missouri.[2]



The company was formed from the firms of James Smith McDonnell and Donald Wills Douglas in 1967. Both men were of Scottish ancestry, graduates of MIT and had worked for the aircraft manufacturer Glenn L. Martin Company.[3]

Douglas F3D Skyknight

Douglas had been chief engineer at Martin before leaving to establish Davis-Douglas Company in early 1920 in Los Angeles. He bought out his backer and renamed the firm the Douglas Aircraft Company in 1921.[4]

McDonnell founded J.S. McDonnell & Associates in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1926. His idea was to produce a personal aircraft for family use. The economic depression from 1929 ruined his ideas and the company collapsed. He worked at three companies with the final being Glenn Martin Company in 1933. He left Martin in 1938 to try again with his own firm, McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, this time based at Lambert Field, outside St. Louis, Missouri.[5]

World War II was a major earner for Douglas. The company produced almost 30,000 aircraft from 1942 to 1945 and the workforce swelled to 160,000. Both companies suffered at the end of hostilities, facing an end of government orders and a surplus of aircraft.

Thor Able with Pioneer 1 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

After the war Douglas continued to develop new aircraft, including the DC-6 in 1946 and the DC-7 in 1953.[6][7] The company moved into jet propulsion, producing its first for the military – the conventional F3D Skyknight in 1948 and then the more 'jet age' F4D Skyray in 1951.[8] In 1955, Douglas introduced the first attack jet of the United States Navy with the A4D Skyhawk.[9] Designed to operate from the decks of the World War II Essex class aircraft carriers, the Skyhawk was small, reliable, and tough. Variants of it continued in use in the Navy for almost 50 years,[10] finally serving in large numbers in a two-seat version as a jet trainer.[11]

Douglas DC-8

Douglas also made commercial jets, producing the DC-8 in 1958 to compete with the Boeing 707.[12][13] McDonnell was also developing jets, but being smaller it was prepared to be more radical, building on its successful FH-1 Phantom to become a major supplier to the Navy with the F2H Banshee and F3H Demon; and producing the F-101 Voodoo for the United States Air Force (USAF).[14][15] The Korean War-era Banshee and later the F-4 Phantom II produced during the Vietnam War helped push McDonnell into a major military fighter supply role.[16] Douglas created a series of experimental high-speed jet aircraft in the Skyrocket family, with the Skyrocket DB-II being the first aircraft to travel at twice the speed of sound in 1953.

Both companies were eager to enter the new missile business, Douglas moving from producing air-to-air rockets and missiles to entire missile systems under the 1956 Nike program and becoming the main contractor of the Skybolt ALBM program and the Thor ballistic missile program.[17][18] McDonnell made a number of missiles, including the unusual ADM-20 Quail,[19] as well as experimenting with hypersonic flight, research that enabled it to gain a substantial share of the NASA projects Mercury and Gemini. Douglas also gained contracts from NASA, notably for part of the enormous Saturn V rocket.[20][21]

The two companies were now major employers, but both were having problems. Douglas was strained by the cost of the DC-8 and DC-9, while McDonnell suffered lean times during any downturns in procurement. The two companies began to sound each other out about a merger. Inquiries began in 1963; Douglas offered bid invitations from December 1966 and accepted that of McDonnell.[22] The two firms were officially merged on 28 April 1967 as the McDonnell Douglas Corporation (MDC).[23] The two companies were a good fit for each other. McDonnell was primarily a defense contractor while Douglas sold mostly civil aircraft.


McDonnell Douglas DC-10

McDonnell Douglas retained McDonnell Aircraft's headquarters location at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, in Berkeley, Missouri,[24][25][26][27][28] near St. Louis.

In 1967, with the merger of McDonnell and Douglas Aircraft, David Lewis, then president of McDonnell, was named chairman of what was called the Long Beach, Douglas Aircraft Division. At the time of the merger, Douglas Aircraft was estimated to be less than a year from bankruptcy. Flush with orders, the DC-8 and DC-9 aircraft were 9 to 18 months behind schedule, incurring stiff penalties from the airlines. Lewis was active in DC-10 sales in an intense competition with Lockheed's L-1011, a rival tri-jet aircraft.[29][30][31] In two years, Lewis had the operation back on track and in positive cash flow. He returned to the company's St. Louis headquarters where he continued sales efforts on the DC-10 and managed the company as a whole as President and chief operating officer through 1971.

The DC-10 began production in 1968 with the first deliveries in 1971.[32] Several artists impressions exist of an aircraft named the "DC-10 Twin" or DC-X which McDonnell Douglas considered in the early 1970s but never built.[33][34] This would have been an early twinjet similar to the later Airbus A300, but never progressed to a prototype. This could have given McDonnell Douglas an early lead in the huge twinjet market that subsequently developed, as well as commonality with much of the DC-10's systems.[35]


USAF F-15C during an Operation Noble Eagle patrol

In 1977, the next generation of DC-9 variants, dubbed the "Super 80" (later renamed the MD-80) series, was launched.[36]

KC-10 Extender during refueling

In 1977, the KC-10 Extender was the second McDonnell Douglas transport aircraft to be selected for use by the US Air Force;[37] the first being the C-9 Nightingale/Skytrain II.

Through the years of the Cold War McDonnell Douglas had introduced and manufactured dozens of successful military aircraft, including the F-15 Eagle in 1974,[38] the F/A-18 Hornet in 1978,[39] and other products such as the Harpoon and Tomahawk missiles. The oil crisis of the 1970s was a serious shock to the commercial aviation industry, as a major manufacturer of commercial aircraft at the time, McDonnell Douglas was hit by the economic shift and forced to contract heavily while diversifying into new areas to reduce the impact of potential future downturns.[citation needed]


In 1984, McDonnell Douglas expanded into helicopters by purchasing Hughes Helicopters from the Summa Corporation for $470 million.[40] Hughes Helicopters was made a subsidiary initially and renamed McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Systems in August 1984.[41] McDonnell Douglas Helicopters's most successful product was the Hughes-designed AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.[42][43]

In 1986, MD-11 was launched, an improved and upgraded version of DC-10.[44][45][46][47] The MD-11 was the most advanced trijet aircraft to be developed. It sold 200 units, but was discontinued in 2001 after the merger with Boeing as it competed with the Boeing 777.[44][48][49][50] The final commercial aircraft design to be made by McDonnell Douglas came in 1988. The MD-90 was a stretched version of the MD-80,[46] equipped with International Aero Engines V2500 turbofans, the largest rear-mounted engines ever on a commercial jet. The MD-95, a modern regional airliner closely resembling the DC-9-30, was the last McDonnell Douglas designed commercial jet produced.[51][52]

On 13 January 1988, McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics won the US Navy Advanced Tactical Aircraft (ATA) contract. The US$4.83 billion contract was to develop the A-12 Avenger II, a stealth, carrier-based, long-range flying wing attack aircraft that would replace the A-6 Intruder.

In January 1989 Robert Hood was appointed to lead McDonnell Douglas, replacing retiring Worsham. McDonnell Douglas then introduced a major reorganization called the Total Quality Management System (TQMS). TQMS ended the functional setup where engineers with specific expertise in aerodynamics, structural mechanics, materials, and other technical areas worked on several different aircraft. This was replaced by a product-oriented system where they focus on one specific airplane. As part of reorganization, 5,000 managerial and supervisory positions were eliminated at Douglas. The former managers could apply for 2,800 newly created posts; the remaining 2,200 would lose their managerial responsibilities.[53] The reorganization reportedly led to widespread loss of morale at the company and TQMS was nicknamed "Time to Quit and Move to Seattle" by employees referring to the competitor Boeing headquartered in Seattle, WA.[54]


Technical issues, development cost overruns, growing unit costs, and delays led to the termination of the A-12 Avenger II program on 13 January 1991 by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney. Years of litigation would proceed over the contract's termination: the government claimed that the contractors had defaulted on the contract and were not entitled to the final progress payments, while McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics believed that the contract was terminated out of convenience and thus the money was owed.[55] The case was contested through litigation until a settlement was reached in January 2014. The chaos and financial stress created by the collapse of the A-12 program led to the layoff of 5,600 employees.[56] The advanced tactical aircraft role vacated by the A-12 debacle would be filled by another McDonnell Douglas program, the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.[39][57]

However the purchasing of aircraft was curtailed as the Cold War came to an abrupt end in the 1990s. This curtailment in military procurements combined with the loss of the contracts for two major projects, the Advanced Tactical Fighter and Joint Strike Fighter, severely hurt McDonnell Douglas.[48][58]

In 1991, MD-11 was not quite a success, ongoing tests of the MD-11 revealed a significant shortfall in the aircraft's performance. An important prospective carrier, Singapore Airlines (SIA), required a fully laden aircraft that could fly from Singapore to Paris, against strong headwinds during mid-winter; the MD-11 did not have sufficient range for this at the time.[59] Due to the less-than-expected performance figures, SIA cancelled its 20-aircraft MD-11 order on 2 August 1991, and ordered 20 A340-300s instead.[60]

McDonnell Douglas MD-12 aircraft concept

In 1992, McDonnell Douglas unveiled a study of a double deck jumbo-sized aircraft designated MD-12.[35][61] Despite briefly leaving the market, the study was perceived as merely a public relations exercise to disguise the fact that MDC was struggling under intense pressure from Boeing and Airbus. It was clear to most in the industry that MDC had neither the resources nor the money to develop such a large aircraft,[62] and the study quickly sank without a trace. A similar double deck concept was used in Boeing's later Ultra-Large Aircraft study intended to replace the 747,[63][64] but ultimately the double deck concept would not see the light of day until the Airbus A380 in the 2000s.[65][66]

Following Boeing's 1996 acquisition of Rockwell's North American division, McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing in August 1997 in a US $13 billion stock swap, with Boeing as the surviving company.[1][58] Boeing adopted the McDonnell Douglas logo, which shows the globe being encircled in tribute to the first aerial circumnavigation which was accomplished in 1924 using Douglas aircraft.


Military airplanes

The McDonnell Douglas YC-15 was used as the base for the C-17.

McDonnell Douglas DC-9

Built from 1988–2000, the MD-11 was the last McDonnell Douglas widebody aircraft.

F/A-18E Super Hornet

MD 500 Helicopter.

Commercial airplanes

  • McDonnell Douglas DC-8 (started under Douglas Aircraft)
  • McDonnell Douglas DC-9 (started under Douglas Aircraft)
  • McDonnell Douglas DC-10 (with cockpit upgrade designated MD-10)
  • McDonnell Douglas MD-11 (stretched and modernized version of the DC-10)
  • McDonnell Douglas MD-80 (stretched and modernized version of the DC-9)
  • McDonnell Douglas MD-90 (stretched and modernized version of the MD-80)
  • MD-95 (latest evolution of the DC-9, sold as Boeing 717)

Experimental aircraft

Proposed models

  • McDonnell Douglas MD-12, a double-decker plane similar to the Airbus A380 and Boeing NLA.
  • McDonnell Douglas MD-94X


Manned spacecraft

  • Big Gemini
  • Skylab space station
  • Skylab B
  • McDonnell Douglas DC-X

Computer systems

  • Sequel
  • Spirit
  • Reality OS
  • Series 18 Model 6
  • Series 18 Model 9
  • 6200
  • 6400
  • 9000
  • 9200
  • 9400

The corporation also produced the Sovereign (later M8000) series of systems in the UK, which used the Sovereign operating system developed in the UK and which was not based on Pick, unlike the "Reality" family of systems listed above.[67]

Missiles and rockets

Commercial deliveries

Delivery of McDonnell Douglas-designed  
commercial airplanes by year and model [68]
DC-8 DC-9 DC-10 MD-80 MD-90 MD-11 Total
1959 21 21
1960 91 91
1961 42 42
1962 22 22
1963 19 19
1964 20 20
1965 31 5 36
1966 32 69 101
1967 41 153 194
1968 102 202 304
1969 85 122 207
1970 33 51 84
1971 13 46 13 72
1972 4 32 52 88
1973 29 57 86
1974 48 47 95
1975 42 43 85
1976 50 19 69
1977 22 14 36
1978 22 18 40
1979 39 35 74
1980 18 41 5 64
1981 16 25 61 102
1982 10 11 34 55
1983 12 51 63
1984 10 44 54
1985 11 71 82
1986 17 85 102
1987 10 94 104
1988 10 120 130
1989 1 117 118
1990 139 3 142
1991 140 31 171
1992 84 42 126
1993 43 36 79
1994 23 17 40
1995 18 13 18 49
1996 12 25 15 52
1997 16 26 12 54
1998 8 34 12 54
1999 26 13 8 47
2000 5 4 9
2001 2 2
Total 556 976 446 1,191 116 200 3,485
Active[69][70] 17 65 143 579 66 171 1,041
DC-8 DC-9 DC-10 MD-80 MD-90 MD-11


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  4. Yenne 1985, pp. 10–12.
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  9. "Bantam Jet Bomber is unveiled by Navy". Hartford Courant. 8 June 1954. 
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  59. Norris & Wagner 1999, p. 66
  60. Norris, & Wagner 2001, p. 59
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  66. Madslien, Jorn (18 January 2005). "Giant plane a testimony to 'old Europe'". BBC News. 
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  68. Time Period Reports.
  70. World Airliner Census 2012 at


Further reading

  • Francillon, René J. McDonnell Douglas aircraft since 1920. Naval Institute Press, 1990. 2 volume set. OCLC 19920963
  • Greider, William. One World, Ready or Not. Penguin Press, 1997. ISBN 0-7139-9211-5.

External links

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