2/22/1993: Maiden Flight of the MD-90

Today, in 1993, the McDonnell Douglas MD-90 aircraft took to the skies for its maiden flight.



February 22, 2024

DALLAS — Today, in 1993, the McDonnell Douglas (MCD) MD-90 aircraft took to the skies for its maiden flight.

The longest of the DC-9/MD-80 family, the development of the -90, had begun back in the early 1980s. The single-aisle medium-range jet had an advanced flight deck. This included "an electronic flight instrument system (EFIS), a full flight management system, a state-of-the-art inertial reference system, and LED dot-matrix displays for engine and system monitoring."

The Pratt & Whitney/Allison 578-DX prototype propfan hybrid engine is Pictured here. Photo: Ron Kawai, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

'Propfan' Engine Proposal

Initially, MCD looked at powering the MD-90 with two 'propfan' engines. Also known as an open rotor engine or uneducated fan, the 'propfan' was a hybrid engine, half turbofan, half turboprop. However, it soon became evident that this engine choice would not be viable for the new airliner.

Thus, MCD opted for the International Aero Engines (IAE) V2500 turbofan. These engines were designed to reduce noise levels and made the MD-90 "one of the quietest aircraft ever built" in its class at the time.

An estimated US$1 million cheaper than the propfan engine, the power plant change allowed MCD to secure its first order from Delta Air Lines (DL) just six weeks later.

Launch customer Delta Air Lines. Photo: Delta Museum

Launch Customer

Delta ordered 50 of the type, with options on a further 110 on November 14, 1989. DL planned to use the airliner to replace its aging Boeing 727 fleet. This allowed MCD to launch the project formally. 

Delivery of its first -90 took place on February 24, 1995. Two further examples followed for the type's entry into service occurred on April 2, 1995. The jets were initially based at DL's Dallas/Forth Worth (DFW) base. The type would remain in service with the airline until June 2, 2020.

Speaking of the MD-90, Russ Heil, Delta's Senior Vice President of Technical Operations, said in March 1995, "The MD-90 will improve our cost performance by saving fuel and carrying larger loads while minimizing environmental impact through less noise and reduced emissions." 

Production of the type ended in 2000 after 116 examples had been built. 

Featured image: Delta's final MD-90 flight, appropriately numbered DL90, arrived in Atlanta from Houston on June 2, 2020. The type had carried more than 750 million passengers. Photo: Delta Air Lines