Like the Tristar, the DC-10 has two engines mounted on underwing pylons and a third engine at the base of the fin. The model was a successor to the DC-8 for long-range operations, and competed in the same markets as the Airbus A300, Boeing 747 "jumbo jet", and the TriStar. Some were built for the United States Air Force as air-to-air refueling tankers, designated the KC-10A Extender.
Although many argue the DC-10's safety record was comparable to that of the 747, the DC-10 suffered a poor reputation during the 1970s. An unfortunate string of DC-10 crashes in the mid to late 1970s were highly publicized, including one in 1974, one in 1978, and three in 1979 (which resulted in the DC-10 being briefly grounded by the FAA). The 1974 crash killed 346 and is ranked as the fifth worst aviation disaster in history. It was caused when an improperly shut cargo door blew out, and the resulting decompression resulted in damage to the control cables. It is worthy of note that this is the only one of these crashes to be attributed to a design fault with the aircraft. However, it became common for a time for travel agents to get requests not to be put on a DC-10 when booking flights.
Despite this bad period, the DC-10 proved a reliable aircraft, much loved by engineers and pilots, and the safety record improved as the fleet hours increased. In fact, the DC-10 now has a better safety record than the Boeing 747.
The DC-10 went out of production in 1990. A total of 446 DC-10s were produced. The ageing aircraft is now finding a new lease on life as a dedicated freight aircraft - Federal Express now operating a large fleet. Some DC-10s have been upgraded by Boeing to the so-called MD-10. The MD-10 has an upgraded cockpit giving it certain benefits of the more modern MD-11 cockpit.
After Douglas merged with McDonnell, McDonnell Douglas built a larger variant called the MD-11. This is somewhat longer than the DC-10 and has winglets (upturned wingtips) and a glass cockpit. Production ceased after McDonnell-Douglas was acquired by Boeing. Swissair Flight 111 that crashed on September 2, 1998 was such a plane.
Until the end of production in February 2001, the MD-11 was assembled at the Douglas Products Division of Boeing in Long Beach, California. Depnding on configuration, it could carry from 285 to 410 passengers.