The US Navy Finally Retires The C-9B Skytrain II After 41 Years

Illustration for article titled The US Navy Finally Retires The C-9B Skytrain II After 41 Years

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.

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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.

Illustration for article titled The US Navy Finally Retires The C-9B Skytrain II After 41 Years
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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.

Illustration for article titled The US Navy Finally Retires The C-9B Skytrain II After 41 Years

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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DISCUSSION

steffers123
Steffers123

I had the privledge of being flight crew on this aircraft from 1976 to 1990. First as a Flight Attendant, then a Loadmaster and finally as a Crew Chief. The hours were long and sometimes the work was dirty and I loved every minute of it.

In the 70's, many Naval Reservists couldn't work in their specialty because they lived too far away from a Naval base. Using the airplanes, we could pick up the Reservists on Friday night, drop them off at a base and return them home Sunday night. This meant that they were still part of the Fleet and the Navy hadn't lost valuable, trained personnel. The use of Reservists would prove critical during the first Gulf war.

Another use was to transport squadron personnel and cargo from its home base to where the Carriers were home ported. A squadron could be stationed in San Diego, but their assigned Carrier Group is in Norfolk, VA. The C9s were used to go get the people and cargo, take them to Carrier home port. Sometimes, several times on the same day. And 6 Months later, take everyone & everything back home. My proudest memory was the time the JFK and her other ships came home to Norfolk, VA, Christmas Eve after a very long deployment. They weren't expected until after Christmas, so everyone was quite surprised. The Commander of the group asked if the C9s could take everyone home. We said yes. At the time, we had 6 East coast airplanes, 6 West coast airplanes and 2 Marine C9s. Each plane could take 90 passengers. And a few thousand sailors to get home. Did I mention that it was snowing in Norfolk? Well, we did it. We started flying around 3 PM and my last flight landed in Norfolk around 11 PM. Everyone was exhausted, but it felt good.