As the 1980s and new noise regulations loomed Delta was one of several DC-8 Super 60 operators struggling to find a replacement and showing interest in keeping their series 61s as long as they could be suitably upgraded. In May 1978 Delta was struggling with a 200 seater replacement for the type as Boeing hadn't yet launched the 767 and the choice fell to either re-engining the DC-8-61s or replacing them with Lockheed's proposed short body Tristar 400, which was to have de-rated engines.
Of the two DC-8 re-engine proposals (from Pratt & Whitney or CFM and Cammacorp) it was the former's JT8D, which Delta favoured. Though the JT8D was inferior in performance to the CFM-56-1 in almost everyway it was substantially cheaper - $980,000 per engine compared to $1.5 million. In February 1979 Pratt announced that it would go ahead with production of the engines if it could acquire orders for 75 conversions.
It was at this point that the three airlines interested in the conversion (Delta, United and Flying Tigers) broke ranks as the latter two both got onboard the CFM/Cammacorp upgrade in March and April respectively. In fact it was Flying Tigers that was seemingly instrumental in getting the two larger airlines onboard. With Cammacorp getting 29 United orders and 9 Flying Tigers orders Delta really had little choice but to also go with the CFM too. In the end the CFM programme was able to go ahead with 78 orders from 7 carriers.
Most of the airlines decided to use MDD's Tulsa plant for the upgrade work however Delta had only one aircraft upgraded there with all the others being done in house at Atlanta using upgrade kits purchased from Cammacorp. Grumman Aerospace was contracted to design and build the new engine pylons and nacelles. Unlike on the series 61s the new pylons would be fully interchangeable. On the earlier versions they had been either 'left or right handed'. The 71 upgrade wasn't just the engines though an entirely new interior was fitted, as well as new air conditioning, instruments and avionics equipment. In addition to its own DC-8s Delta also upgraded 36 other DC-8-60s to 70s.
In the end the re-engining was smooth and Delta was able to grab the accolade of being the first to operate the by then renamed Douglas DC-8-71. It put its first aircraft into service on April 24, 1982 between Atlanta and Savannah. By the mid-1980s Delta had bought into the new Boeing 757 and 767 in a big way whilst the DC-8-71s were much sought after by the new generation of packet freight airlines. Accordingly on September 2, 1986 Delta sold all 13 of its DC-8-71s to United Parcel Service (UPS).
This wasn't the end for the type with Delta however as UPS leased the aircraft back to Delta for three years and the 71s continued to carry the widget in fare paying service until May 1, 1989 when the last flight operated Baltimore-Atlanta. No doubt the DC-8-70 was a money maker for Delta, which not only got improved service from the aircraft but also made money on upgrading others and got a good sales price from UPS as well.
The ex-Delta aircraft were all converted to freighters by Aeronavali of Venice, Italy. UPS grew its DC-8 fleet to over 40 units and continued to operate the type until May 12, 2009.
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: