Following the disaster that befell the Comet 1 the race for a successful Western jet airliner was wide open. With the Brits in disarray or focused on the Britannia, and Lockheed similarly working on turboprops it naturally fell to Boeing and Douglas to vie for the jet market. The prestige and money was in longer range airliners so unlike Sud-Aviation the Americans focused on large four engine machines.
The DC-8 had successfully beaten the 707 due to Pan Am’s long heritage of operating Douglas props and the wider cabin. Nonetheless the fact that Pan Am chose the JT-4 powered version of the DC-8 meant that they would receive the 707s in advance of the Douglas jets.
The loss of further orders for the 707 to United and National, along with the Pan Am order and threats from American’s C.R. Smith prompted Boeing to redesign their 707 and give it a completely new wider fuselage. Along with the JT4 powerplant, on a larger longer ranged 707-320 Intercontinental this gave Boeing the aircraft it needed to compete head to head with the DC-8.
Ominously Pan Am revised its Boeing order in February 1956 to six of the JT3 powered 707-120 and 17 of the JT-4 powered 707-320. It wasn’t until February 20, 1958 that the first JT-4-12 DC-8 joined the test programme. This aircraft, registered N800PA, was scheduled for eventual delivery to Pan Am but along with its sisters N801PA and N802PA was held back and became one of the last DC-8s to join Pan Am’s fleet.
The JT-4 engine eliminated the need for costly and complicated water-injection at take-off. N800PA was used for such duties as evaluating passenger boarding and cargo loading. On July 24, 1959 Ship Seven, later to be N802PA, was assigned to route proving flights as part of “Operation Young Airlines”. Registered as N8068D she covered over 100,000 miles in six weeks operating 54 flights to destinations as diverse as Madrid and Montreal. Flying non-stop between Long Beach and London the distance was covered in a record breaking 10 hours and 42 minutes.
The DC-8-30s certification was completed on February 1, 1960 and both the series 31 and 32 had JT4A-9 engines plus slotted wings and extended wingtips added following less than satisfactory performance of earlier models. The earlier DC-8-21s only entered service on January 19 but Pan Am had had 707s in operation since late 1958. In fact around 20 707s were in service by the time the first DC-8 joined. Pan Am delayed acceptance of its first DC-8s for three to five weeks in order to add the slot and wing tip mods but received its first, N804PA on February 7.
The first service of a Pan Am DC-8 was between New York and Bermuda on March 27, with the London service initiated on April 27. Initially Pan Am called the type the DC-8C. At the same time they referred to the 707-321 Intercontinental as the Boeing 321 Intercontinental and only referred to the 707-120s as 707s.
It had already been decided well before the first DC-8 ever flew that Pan Am would not take the entire order of 25 aircraft. Four were early on assigned to Pan American Grace (Panagra) which was a co-venture of Pan Am’s. As it turned out another two aircraft were not taken up by Pan Am either. The two latest built frames (N819PA and N820PA) joined Pan Am’s Brasilian affiliate Panair do Brasil from the factory. Another pair joined Panair in late 1962 and late 1963 respectively.
By that time it was clear that Pan Am had chosen the Boeing 707 over the DC-8. No more Eights were ordered (indeed Pan Am never ordered another Douglas product) whereas 707s were almost continuously joining the fleet throughout the 1960s. It is unclear exactly why this decision was made although I assume the minor performance disparity between the two was a factor. It maybe that Boeing just got in their first with the 707s.
Even so Pan Am did upgrade all its DC-8-32s to series 33s, which incorporated revised wingtips, flap linkages, slotted wings and upgraded JT4A-11 engines. The type gained its certificate on November 28, 1960 and the fleet was upgraded gradually as aircraft went through scheduled maintenance.
The DC-8s were mainly stationed on the East Coast, especially from Washington Dulles. Although they were used on many Transatlantic services, alongside 707s, they were not used on the multi-stop services that took Pan Am 707s into Asia from Europe. With Pan Am fixated on the Boeing 707-320B and 320C the service life of their DC-8s was relatively short.
The last aircraft to join the fleet were the test planes with N800PA not being accepted until June 1961, however the first aircraft left the fleet only just over 6 years later in October 1967. Indeed N800PA itself served only briefly with Pan Am. After only 15 months she was one of the pair sent off to Panair where she became PP-PEA. She transferred to Varig in 1965 and was written off in March 1967 when she crashed on approach to Monrovia.
Most of the DC-8s were sold in 1968. Eight went to United Airlines whilst 6 were sold to Delta. A pair were sold to Air Congo in 1969 and the last true series 30 survived until May 1970. She joined the Belgian charter airline Pomair as OO-TCP. Aside from this aircraft DC-8 operations had ended by September 17, 1969. Interestingly this wasn’t the last series 30 in Pan Am livery however as the re-registered N8148A (previously N814PA) remained in Pan Am colours whilst with Delta until mid-1971. This was due to a Delta-Pan Am interchange service from Atlanta through New Orleans to Washington and onwards to London.
In a sense Pan Am’s rejection of the DC-8 was a mistake as the type proved far more malleable as a design. DC-8-61/63s would have been an effective bridge to the widebody era and may have saved Pan Am from some of the indigestion it faced when it splurged on 747s, which proved far too large and expensive for the market conditions they met in the early 1970s.
Davis. R.E.G. An Airlines And Its Aircraft: Pan Am
Waddington, T. Great Airliner Series Vol 2. Douglas DC-8.
Airliners.net. PAN Am DC-8 Versus 707-331 Operations.
Airliners.net Pan Am DC-8's
I am glad to see the first DC-8s get good releases. It'd be nice to see the early 707s get likewise releases. There are no good early 707 moulds at all. Only the 707-320B/C has a decent mould. So there are missing good quality moulds for:
Such a shame. Anyway as close as I can get to a comparison of the two first jets for PA is the DC-8 with one of the later 707-320Bs. Same livery but note the 707 doesn't have a Jet Clipper name (plus of course the nosegear doors and tail / ventral fin etc denote it is a 320B and not a 320).
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: