What Is An MD-10? It’s A DC-10 … sort of

Sometimes questions come up time and time again because even among the biggest airplane geeks, and experienced aviation journalists,  not everyone knows all the variants of all the aircraft flying around in the skies above our heads.

As an airplane geek myself, it is widely known that I have a penchant for ‘three-holers,’ ie: planes with three engines … thus the question of the MD-10 seems to show up in my email box, Twitter feed and Facebook box with some regularity.

As the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 began entering FedEx’s worldwide fleet along with the DC-10, the company sought out options to allow their pilots to operate both aircraft with a common type rating and allow more flexibility in pilot flight assignments.

With FedEx’s desire to operate both the MD-11 and DC-10 with some interchangeability, the company approached Boeing (who purchased McDonnell Douglas in mid-1997) to develop a common cockpit for the DC-10 and MD-11.   The result of FedEx’s request was the MD-10.

The MD-10 is for all intents purposes a DC-10, with the exception of the cockpit. The DC-10 requires a flight deck crew of three, a Captain, First Officer and Flight Engineer, where as the MD-11 and MD-10 only require a flight deck crew of two, the Captain and First Officer.

The transformation of a DC-10 to MD-10 required Boeing to develop an  Advanced Common Flightdeck (ACF) for the conversion. The ACF installation involves the removal of the DC-10 cockpit and the installation of a Honeywell VIA 2000 EFIS Flightdeck, laid out identically to the flightdeck of an MD-11.

The first DC-10 to be converted to to an MD-10 by Boeing’s Converted Freighter program was a DC-10-10 FedEx purchased from United Airlines that first entered service in 1973.  Following completion of conversation to from being passenger aircraft to a freighter, and the installation of the new flightdeck, the first MD-10 flew on the 4th of April 1999 and was delivered to FedEx on the the 9th of May 2000, following certification of the aircraft.

N386FE was the first of FedEx’s eighty-nine  MD-10 conversations and it still flies today.

Below is a photo of FedEx’s MD-10 and DC-10 side by side on the ramp at New York’s JFK International Airport.

Happy Flying!


  1. The MD-11 is an awesome airplane for carrying cargo.

    Also, it’s ” for all intents and purposes,” not “for all intensive purposes.”

  2. Tim,

    The MD-11 is a gorgeous plane to watch fly and delivers excellent cost metrics to cargo carries around the world. Boeing’s purchase of McDonnell Douglas killed off what is an excellent plane.

    Thanks for the type correction, I rely on auto spelling/grammar check and it seems to get me into trouble from time to time.

    Happy Flying!


  3. Has this modified version demonstrated the same poor reliability that the traditional dc10/md11s have delivered? There is a reason pilots call these birds “deathstars,” in pax versions they have the worst fatality per pax mile of any major aircraft.

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