Jets and Moon Rockets: 1957-1970

The McDonnell Douglas Corp. ... Merging Talents

The business of building airplanes is not nearly as predictable as designing them. Unlike physics, there are no constants in economics
-- Donald W. Douglas Sr.

As 1966 drew to a close, the Douglas Aircraft Co. had many orders to fill; it was the largest aircraft industry employer in California. At the same time, McDonnell was the largest employer in Missouri and was firmly established as a military aircraft production giant.

However, startup and production costs for the DC-8 and DC-9 strained the Douglas Aircraft Co. resources. Moreover, for some time McDonnell had wanted to build commercial transports and had talked about merging with Douglas as early as 1963. He was in the best position to submit the winning offer when, in December 1966, the Douglas board of directors sent out bid invitations for possible merger prospects.

The merger of the two companies was official on April 28, 1967. James Smith McDonnell, then 68, was chairman of the board of directors and CEO of the new McDonnell Douglas Corp. His nephew, Sanford N. McDonnell, served as president and later CEO and chairman. Donald Douglas Sr., 75, was honorary chairman of the merged corporation. Donald Douglas Jr., 46, continued as president of the Douglas component.

On Aug. 29, 1970, the DC-10, the last of the Douglas transports, made its first flight. By then the two powerful airplane concerns had merged, so all subsequent models had the "MD" designation. On Oct. 18, 1979, the DC-9-80 "Super 80" made its first flight. With new wings, new engines and a longer fuselage than the other DC-9s, it was redesignated MD-80 and became the cornerstone for a new series of jetliner models. The DC-10 also was adapted as the KC-10 aerial refueling tanker for the Air Force.

Previous narrative | Next narrative