In early July, a Delta flight made an emergency landing at Raleigh-Durham International Airport after suffering an engine failure in mid-flight. All 154 people on board made it out safely.

In a video taken by one of the flight’s passengers, you can see that the engine’s center nosecone has come off entirely and is banging around in the intake area like a roulette ball. The engine can be seen glowing a fiery orange from inside the spinning shaft.


“We are declaring an emergency,” said a pilot to air traffic controllers. “We will need crews out there on the rollout.” It is possible to fly a plane like that after an engine fails—I’ve been on one myself—but it can be a chaotic, terrifying descent to the ground. Passengers praised the crew for landing safely despite the aircraft’s loss of an engine.

This dramatic incident is the latest in a long history of them for the MD-88 aircraft, a passenger jet introduced in the late 1980s—making it the oldest passenger jet in the air today. In fact, the company that made the aircraft, McDonnell Douglas, doesn’t exist anymore, having merged with Boeing over two decades ago.

Delta has one of—if not the—largest fleets of MD-88s still in service, with 79 in total. The average age of the aircraft is 28 years. The plane featured in this story is 32 years old.

The MD-88’s nickname is the “Mad Dog” among pilots—and it’s universally disliked. The aircraft has “eyebrow” windows that pilots once used to navigate by the stars, but now only reflect glare into their eyes. The cockpit is a cramped, uncomfortable cage. Its controls are so outdated that pilots need to relearn antiquated checklist procedures to fly the aircraft. And it’s incredibly loud.

It’s so unpopular that Delta will promote pilots faster through the ranks if they’ll fly one.

The MD-88 comes equipped with two Pratt and Whitney JT8D engines—the most popular jet engine in the world. The JT8D has nine combustion cans within a combustion chamber that is a one-piece steel alloy tube designed to withstand compressor delivery pressures of 240 pounds per square inch. Each can consists of 11 Haxtelloy-X steel liners inside a cast Stellite dome. The engine debuted in 1964.

Delta is planning to retire its MD-88s—up to 40 this year alone. The airline intends to replace them with Airbus A321-200s and Boeing 737s, but it’s unclear how the continued grounding of the 737 MAX fleet will affect those plans.

Incidents like this will likely pressure Delta to ground the old planes even sooner.

Original Post July 25 2019 Matthew Greenwood