McDonnell Douglass’ popular DC-9 airliner not only served with airlines around the world. It also quickly found itself “in uniform” flying with both the US Air Force and the US Navy. The Air Force used the C-9A Nightingale as an aeromedical evacuation aircraft, while the Navy operated the C-9B Skytrain II in the Fleet Logistics Support role, moving people and equipment worldwide as needed.
VR-61, a Navy Reserve squadron based at NAS Whidbey Island, WA is the last C-9B operator. And they will be sending off their last one, appropriately nicknamed “Caboose,” later this month.
NAVAL AIR STATION WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. – The “Islanders” of Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 61 (VR-61) will say goodbye to Caboose, the last Navy C-9B Skytrain II in the Navy’s inventory on June 29, 2014. This event signifies the end of an era with the C-9B as VR-61 ushers in a new era with the Navy’s C-40A Clipper.
The C-9B is a derivation of the commercial twin jet McDonnell Douglas’ DC-9. Unlike most Navy specific aircraft, the C-9B is a common civilian airliner. Even today you can see DC-9s sitting on the tarmacs of most major airports. The first prototype C-9B flew in 1965 with the Navy receiving its first five planes in 1972. The Navy received a total of 27 jets. The first 12 were converted commercial DC-9s and the last 15 were from the McDonnell Douglas C-9B production line.
Although it still resembles the original DC-9, the Navy’s variant included a cargo door so it could carry large palletized cargo in the passenger compartment. The C-9B could be configured to carry all cargo, all passengers or a combination of both. Its replacement, the Boeing C-40A Clipper, is similarly configured yet will have a longer range and greater cargo and passenger capabilities.
I have a very slight association with VR-61. Way back in 1982, as a sophomore in high school, my NJROTC unit took a week long field trip to NAS Pensacola, and RTC Orlando. And we went by flying out of NAS Whidbey aboard one of VR-61’s jets.
Interestingly, that jet wasn’t a C-9B.
The Navy only bought 27 C-9Bs, but had a shortage of airlift in the early 1980s. So they went to the open market, and bought a few commercial DC-9s from airlines. And while it was painted in the same color scheme as C-9Bs, it was still in fact a DC9, lacking the cargo door and having a conventional airliner interior.
That jet is no longer in Navy service. But it IS still in service. NASA operates it as the Reduced Gravity Research Plane, more commonly known as “The Vomit Comet.”