Douglas officially launched the Super Sixty series on April 4, 1965 and Eastern was the second airline (after United) to purchase the DC-8-61, buying eight. The DC-8-61/62/63 really boosted the lacklustre DC-8 orderbook though they did add to Douglases cashflow problems also as the development costs pushed break-even on the DC-8 programme out even further.
It wasn't all smiles for the DC-8 though as Ports of New York (PNYA), who ran the New York airports, was concerned that the DC-8-61 would break its noise limits and was threatening to ban the aircraft from operating! Seeing as Eastern was mainly buying the series 61s to operate high traffic routes on the Eastern seaboard like JFK-San Juan and JFK-Miami this was a little more than concerning. By this time Eastern had increased its orders for the type to 17 units, but fortunately when the first aircraft was delivered, on March 3, 1967, a test at JFK showed noise from the flying pencil was actually less than that from the DC-8-55JT, as Douglas had predicted all along.
Eastern's DC-8-61s were delivered in an unusual reversed registration sequence beginning with N8778 and ending with N8762. The DC-8-61 had been a simple stretch of the short DC-8 trading payload for range. The natural next step in the DC-8s evolution was to marry the improved wing of the long range DC-8-62 with the body of the DC-8-61. Thus the DC-8-63 was born. It still didn't match the range capabilities of the series 62 but was a big improvement on the 61.
Photo above from the collection of Chris Kennedy - see Flickr
Eastern was interested in the series 63 but cautious also. It specified a unique version for itself - the DC-8-63PF. This was a passenger variant without a cargo door but including the stronger wing and landing gear of the freighter version. Eastern was hedging its bets and by buying this variant it could sell them on at a good price knowing that they could be easily converted to freighters with the simple addition of the cargo door. Eastern was the only customer for the type and purchased 6. As with the series 61 however the PNYA had issues with the 63. They warned that the aircraft operating at its MTOW would exceed the bearing limits on its taxiways and runways. Fortunately the warning was given early enough for Douglas to modify the landing gear footprint by moving the tyres further apart.
The main reason Eastern bought DC-8-63PFs was the infamous Transpacific Route Case. This would provide authority to compete with Pan Am operating routes to Australia and New Zealand via Hawaii. Eastern wanted to look prepared for operating the routes whence the DC-8-63 order (albeit with the sensible hedge of chooswing the 63PF). Reopened in 1966 applications were made by 18 airlines and when the first decisions were made in April 1968 Eastern won many routes to South Pacific destinations from East of the Mississippi. The President Lyndon B Johnson however over-ruled the decision and replaced Eastern with Continental but his Presidency ended in January 1969 and his replacement Richard M. Nixon reopened the hearings. Eventually after much tooing and froing the routes went to either Eastern or Continental and instead ended up with American Airlines!
The DC-8-63PFs began to arrive in February 1969 and were registered again in reverse from N8760 to N8755 with the last aircraft arriving in December. A secondary use for all the stretch 60s in Eastern service was Military Airlift Charters (MAC Flights) for which the 63PFs were especially suited. With no transpacific routes this was really the only use Eastern had for the 63s. Orders for the DC-8-60 series had tailed off from 1968 as airlines began to order widebodies and the arrival of Eastern's leased 747s and then Tristars further restricted routes that the DC-8-61/63s were suitable for. The MAC Charters had also not met expectations and so only a few years after delivery Eastern's Super Sixties were effectively surplus to requirements. At least Eastern had bought the 63PF version and all 6 aircraft were sold on at a profit.
Most of the DC-8-61s ended up with Japan Airlines from 1970 onwards. Nine were bought, or leased and then purchased, by JAL with five more being leased for varying periods and then sold onto Capitol by Eastern. The other pair went to Air Jamaica in late 1973. The 63PFs went on to UTA, SAS, Balair and CP Air. Four of the 63PFs ended up as Freighters with the other pair being written off in the 1980s. Most of the series 61s also had long careers and in time were taken up as freighters.
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: