Northwest Flies the DC-10 on its Last Flight

Rather, its claim to fame is that no other passenger jetliner has suffered more from the public's fear of flying.

Ironically, it was partly because of another crash that the DC-10 regained some public trust. In 1989, a crippled United Airlines DC-10 was filmed crash-landing in such a horrific fireball that it looked as if it should have killed all 296 people on board; instead, 185 survived. Experts praised the DC-10's sturdy design for such a high number of survivors.

So why have U.S. airlines retired their DC-10s? Not because of safety; if that were the case, airlines would have mothballed their fleets immediately after the Chicago crash.

The real reason is that newer planes are far more fuel-efficient -- and therefore less expensive to operate -- than planes from the DC-10 era. In fact, more than 150 DC-10s are still in service, many of them hauling freight for companies such as FedEx (which, for various reasons, are more willing to use secondhand planes even if they're not as fuel efficient). ATA Airlines recently bought a batch of Northwest's DC-10s for U.S. military charter flights.

No doubt it's gratifying for those who built the DC-10 to see their plane go into retirement not as many may have expected -- amid crash investigations or calls to ground the planes.

Instead, by the time you've read this, the final DC-10 passenger flight in the U.S. probably has ended exactly as the McDonnell Douglas designers would have wanted -- anticlimactically and without much notice.

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