The last plane

When I was a lad in the 1950s, and would gaze skyward to catch a glimpse of airliner traffic, more often than not I would see a Douglas—built airliner: DC—3s, DC—4s, DC—6s, and DC—7s. Douglas Aircraft ruled the civil aviation skies back then in the days of piston power. Most of these airplanes were built in the massive Long Beach, California factory that Douglas errected in World War II to meet demand far beyond the capacity of its original Santa Monica Airport plant.

Of course, when Boeing bet the company on the KC—135/707 airliner, Douglas' fortunes took a nosedive. The DC—8 was a latecomer and never reached the popularity of the 707. The DC—9 model did better, but Boeing's ability to sell a family of airliners with common cockpit layout and other money—saving features kept McDonell—Douglas (the merged successor) behind the 8—ball.

The rise of government—subsidized Airbus was enough to make McDonell—Douglas into a candidate for absorption into Boeing. The huge amount of money required to develop a commercial airliner drove others out of the business. too. Lockheed, Fokker, Convair, and other proud names have fallen by the wayside.

When Boeing merged with McDonell—Douglas, it kept the latest variant in the DC 9 series, the MD—95, in production, renaming it the 717. Cynics argued that production wouldn't last long, that the airframe was being supported in order to placate the powerful California Congressional delegation, and secondarily to serve existing customers who couldn't be persuaded to accept 737s.

The cynics may or maynot have been correct, but the 717 is ending production, according to an article in the Long Beach Press—Telegram.

With little public fanfare earlier this winter, the Boeing Co. in Long Beach began writing the final chapter in the storied history of commercial plane production in California by starting final assembly of its 717 passenger plane model.

When this final, 156th 717 plane is completed in late April or early May, it and the second—to—last 717 assembled, plane No. 155, will be given a ceremonial double delivery to the last two customers to buy the planes: Midwest Express Airlines and AirTran Airways.

Boeing's last 717 is now nearly 70 percent completed.

Back in the propeller days, California aircraft — Lockheed Constellations (the most beautiful civil airliner ever built) and Douglas DCs — ruled the skies. Today, it is France and Washington State whose products land at the world's major airports.

The Long Beach facility, clearly visible to I—405 commuters, continues to make C—17s, military transports. But I suspect that California will never again produce a civil airliner. The end of an era.

Thomas Lifson   3 20 06

When I was a lad in the 1950s, and would gaze skyward to catch a glimpse of airliner traffic, more often than not I would see a Douglas—built airliner: DC—3s, DC—4s, DC—6s, and DC—7s. Douglas Aircraft ruled the civil aviation skies back then in the days of piston power. Most of these airplanes were built in the massive Long Beach, California factory that Douglas errected in World War II to meet demand far beyond the capacity of its original Santa Monica Airport plant.

Of course, when Boeing bet the company on the KC—135/707 airliner, Douglas' fortunes took a nosedive. The DC—8 was a latecomer and never reached the popularity of the 707. The DC—9 model did better, but Boeing's ability to sell a family of airliners with common cockpit layout and other money—saving features kept McDonell—Douglas (the merged successor) behind the 8—ball.

The rise of government—subsidized Airbus was enough to make McDonell—Douglas into a candidate for absorption into Boeing. The huge amount of money required to develop a commercial airliner drove others out of the business. too. Lockheed, Fokker, Convair, and other proud names have fallen by the wayside.

When Boeing merged with McDonell—Douglas, it kept the latest variant in the DC 9 series, the MD—95, in production, renaming it the 717. Cynics argued that production wouldn't last long, that the airframe was being supported in order to placate the powerful California Congressional delegation, and secondarily to serve existing customers who couldn't be persuaded to accept 737s.

The cynics may or maynot have been correct, but the 717 is ending production, according to an article in the Long Beach Press—Telegram.

With little public fanfare earlier this winter, the Boeing Co. in Long Beach began writing the final chapter in the storied history of commercial plane production in California by starting final assembly of its 717 passenger plane model.

When this final, 156th 717 plane is completed in late April or early May, it and the second—to—last 717 assembled, plane No. 155, will be given a ceremonial double delivery to the last two customers to buy the planes: Midwest Express Airlines and AirTran Airways.

Boeing's last 717 is now nearly 70 percent completed.

Back in the propeller days, California aircraft — Lockheed Constellations (the most beautiful civil airliner ever built) and Douglas DCs — ruled the skies. Today, it is France and Washington State whose products land at the world's major airports.

The Long Beach facility, clearly visible to I—405 commuters, continues to make C—17s, military transports. But I suspect that California will never again produce a civil airliner. The end of an era.

Thomas Lifson   3 20 06