Change of Allegiance and the End of a PartnershipSince the advent in 1933 of the first commercial aircraft that, without stretching too far the terms of the trades description regulations, could be called an airliner, leadership of the manufacturing industry has fallen into distinct eras. Until 1946, when Lockheed forced Santa Monica to share the spoils, Douglas dominated, almost to monopoly status. The 1950s witnessed a threat from the British to make a breakthrough by advanced technology, and during a "wait and see" period, Lockheed elected to build the L.188 Electra. Convair failed to break into the market for long-range pure jets, leaving Douglas and Boeing with the field to themselves from the late 1950s onwards. Although Pan Am gave Douglas the edge in its epoch-making order of 13 October 1955, Boeing subsequently drew steadily ahead, and the traditional understanding between Pan American and Douglas came to an end.
Locked OutIn fact, Pan American changed its original order for the Big Jets so that it took delivery of only nineteen of the 25 DC-8s ordered. It went on to buy about 130 Boeing 707s of all types; and such was the relationship struck up between Pan Am and Boeing that the airline ultimately bought 300 Boeing jet airliners. The effect on Douglas, if not catastrophic, certainly swayed the balance of the market shares during this period. Pan American made the difference between outstanding success and only just getting by.
This was in spite of Douglas producing, in the mid-1960s, what was clearly a superior aircraft in the "Stretched Eight" whose outstanding economic performance would have been of great benefit to Pan American on its heavily travelled routes. It would also have provided an aircraft which could have made the transition in size from the 707/DC-8 generation to the 747 wide-bodied era, thus protecting the operator from severe problems of matching frequency with capacity on routes of varying density.
The reason, or combination of reasons, why Pan American deserted Douglas will probably never be known. Pan American never bought another Douglas aircraft again, and this may have been the beginning of a trend that ultimately led to Pan American's decline, the proverbial cloud no bigger than a man's hand. For when it made its next move, with the Boeing 747, the massive size increment did not match the modest worldwide 1970s traffic growth, which had slowed down considerably from the heady years of the 1960s.
Flirtation with Domestic RoutesOn 10 December 1958, National Airlines, competing bitterly with Eastern Air Lines on the "gravy run" between New York and Miami, leased Boeing 707s from Pan American, thereby becoming the first U.S. domestic operator of turbojets. The device enabled National to prepare for its own jets, DC-8s, which entered National service on 18 February 1960. Pan American preceded the lease agreement with a proposed exchange of stock, 25% of National's for 6% of Pan Am's. During post-deregulation days, this would have been an eminently sensible and mutually profitable arrangement. Such an interlocking relationship was then regarded, however, by the Civil Aeronautics Board as sheer heresy, and it ordered a divestment of stock. Had Pan American been able to pull off this deal, Juan Trippe and his advisers may have had a chance to make a true comparison between the Boeing 707 and the DC-8.
Douglas DC-8: Back to the Drawing BoardWhether or not Douglas was superstitious, the date 13 October 1955 was certainly an unlucky day at Long Beach. Overnight all plans to build a turboprop airliner were dropped as the Pan Am order brought the startling realization that the folks in Seattle had stolen a march.
Douglas lost precious time in developing its new breed. The Boeing 707 actually went into service with Pan American an agonizing sixteen months before the first DC-8 was delivered; and but for faithful customers like United, K.L.M., and other European airlines, as well as Japan Air Lines, Douglas would never have come close to covering the costs of the DC-8 production. As it was, even though some 450 aircraft were sold, the company estimated that it lost money on the entire project.
Superb DevelopmentThe losses would have been much greater, had Douglas not been past masters at developing commercial airliners, The original DC-8 was longer than the Boeing 707 by about six feet and was only shorter than the longest version of the 707 by about two and a half feet. Douglas was able to stretch its basic DC-8 fuselage by no less than 37 feet. Boeing, in contrast, now paid a penalty for the higher wing-sweep angle and a design which would have resulted in the tail scraping the ground as the aircraft rotated on take-off.
Douglas proceeded to develop a sub-family of larger airliners which were quite remarkable. The DC-8-61 first flew on 14 March 1966 and could carry an unprecedented 252 passengers in an all-economy layout. Shortly after United's first service on 24 February 1967, Braniff introduced the DC-8-62. This version was only six feet longer than the original DC-8 but had a new wing, and with greater fuel capacity had an enormous range. The Scandinavian S.A.S. and its associate Thai International, for example, regularly flew it non-stop on routes such as Copenhagen-Bangkok.