After some 41 years and over 1.3M mishap free flight hours, the the US Navy has retired its last C-9 Skytrain II. To many who flew it or loved watching it from the ground, it will be sorely missed.
Based directly on the hardy McDonnell Douglas DC-9 airliner, the aircraft first entered military service with USAF in 1966 as the C-9A Nightingale. It wasn't until 1973 that the US Navy got its first four C-9Bs, named Skytrain II, thus bringing the Navy into the jet-transport age.
The service's love affair with the aircraft would blossom over the following decades, with a total of 29 C-9Bs operating by the late 1980s. The jet was said to have been utterly reliable and pilot friendly, and its reconfigurable cabin was a real plus for the Navy's needs as it could be a airliner one day and a cargo hauler the next. The Skytrain II also had the ability to operate out of airfields with little airliner infrastructure due to its tail-cone mounted air-stair, and its large clamshell cargo door allowed for full jet engines and other outsized cargo to be loaded with relative ease.
By 2001 the C-9B's days were numbered as the Navy was actively ordering the Boeing 737-700C based C-40A Clipper to take over the Skytrain II's various roles.
The C-9s and their JT8D engines could theoretically soldier on in service well into the future but they would not meet international environmental or noise standards, which would hamper their use. They also have a significantly higher fuel burn than the modern CFM-56 high-bypass turbofan equipped C-40A. The Clipper also features longer range, better cargo handling, enhanced payload, a modern logistical train, not to mention a far more advanced cockpit.
This video gives a fantastic tour of peculiarities and old-school nature of the cockpit in the MD-80, the DC-9's younger cousin. A must watch as it shows how over-engineered these aircraft were:
With the USAF having retired its C-9A fleet close to a decade ago, and its VC-9C aircraft, which were used for decades as "Air Force Two," were retired in 2011, it was the Navy's turn to say goodbye to the sturdy and dependable jets.
On June 28th, VR-61, based at NAS Whidbey Island, executed the last Navy flight of a C-9B, with the aircraft ending up at the DoD's mega boneyard, AMARG, at Davis Monthan Air Force base in Tuscon, AZ.
No need to get too down about the C-9B's last flight in Navy titles, as the USMC, an avid collector of mostly very old or very new aircraft, still has a pair of Skytrain IIs that will soldier on until a replacement can be fielded, which could be a long wait under current budgetary restrictions. As of late, Marine C-9Bs have carried some of the best looking paint jobs in the whole DoD. So enjoy these final C-9Bs while they last. Both are operated out of MCAS Cherry Point in North Carolina.
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com