C-9B–The End of an Era

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.”

12 thoughts on “C-9B–The End of an Era”

  1. One may find some original DC9’s here and there, especially outside the US. Far more common are its successors, the MD-8x and MD-9x families. The final deliveries of the MD-95 were relabeled 717 after Boeing took over McDonnell Douglas.

    NASA also operates a civilian type DC-9 and even a DC-8 in its flying lab stable. Other civilian jet airliners historically operated by NASA include the uncommon Convair 880 and 990.

    Impressing civilian airlines into military service is an old story. When the US entered WW2, virtually everything with wings was grabbed up. This included commercial DC-3s, to be followed by a flood of C-47’s in Skytrain and Dakota variants. Less well known, a similar thing took place in the Soviet Union. The few dozen Aeroflot DC-3’s were taken over by the military at the start of hostilities with Germany. These were followed by about 700 Lend Lease C-47’s and 2000 license built Lisunov Li-2 variants. These last featured bigger Russian built engines and gun turrets! Li-2’s converted to civilian form were an important of commercial aviation inside the USSR for years, not unlike the C-47/DC-3.

    Thus endeth the SOG memory dump.

    1. I specifically mentioned and linked to the NASA DC-9.

      As for the DC-3 being pressed into service, don’t forget the Showa/Nakajima L2D, a license produced DC-3 built and operated by Japan throughout World War II.

    2. …and one of those Convairs is,if memory serves, powered by old Dart Turbines.

    1. No, I don’t recall turbulence on that flight. I’ve been on a couple flights that were really bad – turboprop for COS to DEN that I was pretty sure was going to end up in a fireball, for one- but I don’t remember the trip from Offutt to KNUW being bumpy.

  2. I didn’t go on that flight, but recall turbulence the following year. HH6 doesn’t remember turbulence on either trip.

  3. Ok… So a regional Swiss airline (not Swissaire) sold a pristine DC-9 to: Perris Valley Skydiving Center where the Feds and local A&P folks described the A/C as so clean you could eat off of it. Then there was the STC issue so people could skydive out of it…but that’s another story. Love the airliners with aft mounted engines…clean wings.

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