September 8, 2015
This is a Douglas DC-8 commercial passenger jet on display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, California. The DC-8 was an early passenger jet developed by Douglas Aircraft. It is less well known than the Boeing 707, and often mistaken for the 707. You can identify a DC-8 by the two air inlets located just under the nose of the aircraft. Boeing got a big head start in developing a passenger jet when it was selected to build a jet refueling airplane for the US Air Force. Douglas was forced to develop the DC-8 using their own funds. Over 1,000 707's and related variants were produced for commercial use, while only 556 DC-8's were built. However, in recent years, the 707 is all but extinct with only a few dozen still in service, yet hundreds of DC-8's soldier on as cargo carriers.
A DC-8 was involved in an unusual test flight on August 21, 1961. First, the aircraft climbed high over Edwards Air Force Base obtaining an altitude of 52,090 feet, which was an altitude record for a passenger aircraft. From there, it was put into a shallow dive. After descending 11,000 feet, it broke the sound barrier becoming the first passenger aircraft to go supersonic. It hit a speed of Mach 1.012. The pilot then attempted to pull out of the dive, but experienced difficulty when the plane did not pull up when he pulled back on the controls. The shock wave caused the control surfaces to react differently. In some cases, this can cause flight controls to change behavior to the point where they do just the opposite of what is expected at subsonic speeds. After a bit of troubleshooting, the crew added extra trim to the aircraft, and it responded by pulling out of the dive and showing down below the speed of sound. While the Concorde gets all the press for flying twice the speed of sound, both the DC-8 and Soviet Tu-144 few supersonic before the Concorde.
This DC-8 was delivered to United Airlines in 1966. It was placed in storage in Las Vegas in 1980 and later retired. In that time, it flew more than 18-million miles carrying over 1-million passengers. It was donated to the California Science Center in June, 1984. It was flown to Los Angeles. There the wings were removed and it was towed through city streets to Exposition Park, then reassembled at the museum. It was on display at ground level until it was repainted and mounted on a pedestal in 2002.
The California Science Center has a nice collection of historic aircraft and space hardware including a Mercury and Gemini capsules. The museum made a bid to host a retired space shuttle when the program was canceled, and they were were awarded OV-105 Endeavour. Endeavour arrived at the museum in October, 2012, and went on display in a temporary building. The museum is in the process of developing a spectacular new air and space gallery that will feature the space shuttle stacked vertically with an external tank in launch configuration, as well as display space for its entire collection of aircraft and other space hardware. Construction was just starting in late 2015 when I visited the site.
Authored by John A. Weeks III, Copyright © 1996—2016, all rights reserved.
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