The race to be the first US airline with Jets was won by those who purchased Boeing 707s, however in the south both Eastern and Delta were not 707 customers and the race was still on for first jet service in Atlanta. Eastern in the 1950s still dwarfed Delta and was set to get its DC-8s much sooner than its competitor, that is until Eastern's Eddie Rickenbaker decided to shoot himself in the foot. Rickenbacker was notoriously spendthrift and upon learning that Douglas's first DC-8s would be underpowered compared to later build aircraft he promptly switched Eastern's early orders to later DC-8-21s. Delta then cheekily stepped in and tookup the early deivery slots leaving Eastern in its jet trails.
Delta in fact was technically the first airline to fly the DC-8-11 operationally as though it started ops on the same day (September 18, 1959) and same time as the other launch customer United, timezone differences handed Delta the honour on a technicality. Delta's first service was flown New York - Atlanta and the airline had had to scramble to fit the first jetways at Atlanta (see my Atlanta inspired model airport diorama for more details).
Delta's six DC-8-11s were registered N801E to N806E and, as with their Convair 880s, they were delivered in a unique new scheme. Delta's first DC-8 N801E was named 'Pride of Delta' and on her delivery flight in July 1959 she set a Long Beach to Miami flight record time of 4 hours 43 minutes. All of Delta's series 11s were subsequently upgraded to series 12s and then series 51s making Rickenbacker's decision look even more foolish. Of course Delta gained a huge traffic boost and great publicity with their DC-8s much of it at Eastern's expense.
The arrival of the DC-8 at Delta also coincided with the first use of Delta's famous Widget logo, which appeared in the summer of 1959 in adverts for Delta's new 'Royal Jet Service'. The Widget was gradually worked into the new standard Delta scheme and when Delta began to take new DC-8-51s in 1962 they wore the new widget scheme and not the DC-8 specific delivery colours. Initially these had long titles but by the late 60s these had been shortened to just Delta.
Delta's DC-8-51 new build aircraft continued the registration series of the series 11s, from N807E to N821E. The airline continued to add short DC-8s in the late 60s using second-hand aircraft. It acquired the first DC-8 produced from Trans International in 1967 (she was by then a series 51 herself) and also acquired 7 DC-8-33s from Pan Am in late 1968.
Eastern meanwhile didn't receive its first DC-8-21s until January 1960, although it was at least the first airline to put the DC-8-21 (it called them DC-8Bs) into service - but that's a story for another time.
For more on Delta DC-8s see my other blog entries:
Delta Widget Stretch Eights
The First Douglas DC-8: Ship One N8008D
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: