Douglases internal problems delayed delivery of United's first DC-8-61. This was finally scheduled for early January, but on December 31, 1961 disaster struck when N8072U caught fire during cabin cleaning. The aircraft was quickly towed away from two other completed machines and the damage was limited to the fuselage above the floor line. Nonetheless delivery to United was delayed and it took over a year to rebuild the aircraft, which wasn't delivered until February 17, 1968.
With the first two United aircraft full of test gear the first actual delivery to United had to be delayed until January 26 when the 4th frame, N8073U named 'Eric A. Johnston', arrived. The DC-8-61 entered service with its launch customer, United Airlines, on February 24, 1967. Initial routes were between California and Hawaii followed by transcontinental services. The United 61s were originally configured with 198 seats - 28 First Class and 170 Coach. United bulked its original order up to 25 aircraft and eventually 30 new frames were delivered registered from N8070U-N8099U.
Concerns about handling such a large aircraft on the ground proved unfounded with extra staff on hand and the Super 61 led to enhanced mechanised baggage handling at airports. Initially, at least, airports usually handled the 61s by parking them parallel to the concourse and loading through both the front and rear doors. This did however take up two gate positions. In many ways the DC-8-61s provided excellent practice for the coming advent of widebody jets. The new widebodies caused DC-8 orders to tail off dramatically during 1968 and the final aircraft was delivered in May 1972. The Super 60 proved a major success for Douglas with 262 aircraft built.
United found its DC-8-61s to be superb aircraft - so much in fact that along with Delta it would re-engine the type so it could continue to serve into the 1980s.
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: