The newest aircraft to join the PlaneTags fleet is a DC-8-21 that flew for Eastern Air Lines for 14 years, bringing the airline and its passengers into the Jet Age. Read more about N8609 and see how MotoArt found the plane and exclusive photos of the manufacturing process.
Douglas Aircraft Company designed and built a wide range of planes - fighter, bomber, reconnaissance, transport, experimental and commercial aircraft. During World War II, they produced nearly 30,000 aircraft and ranked fifth in U.S. wartime production contracts. After World War II they were at the top of the commercial aviation game, with their Douglas Commercial (DC) series well underway with a succession of piston-engined aircraft - DC-2, DC-4, DC-5, DC-6, DC-7 and the remarkable DC-3 and its military counterpart the C-47 Skytrain.
Although the De Havilland Comet, the world’s first jet airliner, was introduced in 1952 it was grounded by 1954 and Douglas continued with its propeller driven DC-6 and DC-7 orders, with no rush to change course to jetliner production. Meanwhile the mighty military aircraft production company Boeing had been designing and producing long range jets such as the B-52 Stratofortress, as well as their refueling aircraft, like the KC-97 Stratofreighter, which were becoming much too slow for the ever faster new breed of jets. Boeing began working on a jet aircraft that would be used for refueling, but could also be adapted as a commercial airliner. The Boeing 367-80, better known as the Dash-80, rolled out in May 1954.
Douglas also began a design of their own, hoping to win a contract for a USAF requirement for 800 jet tankers. Just four months after the requirement was issued, the USAF placed an order for Boeing KC-135s. Douglas decided to continue with their design and consulted with the major airlines to produce the DC-8. It was announced in July 1955 and its first flight was planned for December 1957. In October 1955, Pan Am ordered 20 Boeing 707s and 25 Douglas DC-8s. Other major airlines followed, with United, Japan Air Lines, KLM, and Eastern choosing the DC-8.
The DC-8, Douglas’ first jet powered transport plane, was powered by four jet turbine engines and capable of speeds of 600 mph and more. It featured six abreast seating and stretched 151 feet for the initial variants. Between 1958 and its last production year 1972, 556 DC-8s in all variants were built. Donald Douglas planned to build and test the DC-8 at the Santa Monica Airport, very close to the Douglas plant that produced the DC-3. However, neighbors complained and the city refused to lengthen the runway at the airport. The production was moved to the Long Beach Airport, and Douglas’ first jetliner was produced at the new factory nearby.
In advertisements and commercials Eastern presented the DC-8-21 as the most advanced and dependable jet, with power to spare. The 8-21 variant featured Pratt & Whitney JT4A-3 axial-flow turbojet engines, which each produced 15,800 pounds of thrust without water injection. Issues that were encountered with the initial DC-8 wing design were resolved and 16 DC-8-10s were converted to DC-8-21s. 33 were built.
Just as Douglas had emerged near the top in its industry during the postwar era, Eastern Air Lines also prospered during the same period. Under the leadership of WWI ace Eddie Rickenbacker Eastern became became the most profitable airline of the time, and the fourth largest airline in the U.S. Eastern expanded to Canada after buying Colonial Airlines in 1956.
In 1959, the airline opened its own terminal at Idlewild Airport in New York. Idlewild Airport, later renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport, was the busiest airport in the New York area, and the second most used airport in the country at the time. This terminal was the second one built, after United Airlines, and at 361,280 square feet, the largest passenger terminal for use by one airline. Its ticket area was bigger than Grand Central Station’s concourse, with 260 seats and 64 windows to handle ticketing and check ins.
Photo courtesy of Auburn University. Special Collections and Archives - Eddie Rickenbacker Papers. Taken January 1960
Eastern was the launch customer for the DC-8-21 and the new terminal was more than equipped to accommodate the airline’s first jetliners. The 8-21s took over longer flights, including non stop flights from Chicago or New York to Miami and Mexico City. The first Eastern DC-8-21s were branded with the slogan “Fly Eastern’s Golden Falcon Jet DC-8B” until competing airlines complained to the Civil Aeronautics Board, after which the DC-8B was removed.
Take a look at this Eastern DC-8-21 commercial from 1965.
The earliest Eastern DC-8-21s wore a red, white and blue Golden Falcon livery, emblazoned with “Fly Eastern’s Golden Falcon Jet”. The title was modified in 1960 to “Fly Eastern Air Lines” and the tail design was modified with a larger Falcon and lacked the blue stripe near the tip.
By 1964, the airline began experimenting with a new look and color scheme, with variations on what was called the New Mark/Hockeystick scheme. It featured a Caribbean Blue swath above the Ionosphere Blue cheatline which swooped up like a hockey stick parallel to the forward edge of the tail. The Golden Falcon was replaced with a new streamlined, minimalist falcon in white against a dark blue background. The design was meant to project an image of a safe, reliable airline. The New Mark colors and style, with several modifications over the years, would remain until Eastern Air Lines stopped flying in 1991.
N8609 was one of 16 DC-8-21s Eastern ordered. It was delivered to Eastern Air Lines in October 1960 and flew with the airline until 1973 or 1974. Minimal records exist for this aircraft but it appears it was bought by Concare Airline Leasing in 1973, then Air Caledonia until early 1974. It then went to American Jet Industries in 1975, and was later scrapped and portions of its fuselage ended up at Aviation Warehouse in El Mirage, California. MotoArt acquired the original aircraft skin in 2021.
Photo used by permission. Thank you Guido Allieri.
N8609 has been seen in photos and film wearing its Eastern colors, with a painted over tail and “Air Caledonia” on its fuselage. There is very little information on this airline - we know it was Canadian, its callsign was WEST CAL, and it was listed in a FAA Air Traffic Controllers Contractions guide. Information found in forums point to it being a small charter airline in Canada that operated for a very short time - just long enough to paint N8609 with their name and leave us scratching our heads.
Other theories suggest that Air Caledonia was simply a fictional airline for Hollywood’s purposes, a claim bolstered by this fuselage ending up at Aviation Warehouse, who specialize in aviation related props. Whatever the case may be, N8609 spent its known career as an Eastern Air Lines DC-8-21 and remained in Eastern’s New Mark colors - white, Caribbean Blue, and Ionosphere Blue - and MotoArt chose to celebrate those 14 years of service when designing the DC-8-21 PlaneTag.
When MotoArt owner Dave Hall and the team found the DC-8 fuselage, they were excited. “We were looking for a DC-8 to complete our DC series of PlaneTags,” says Hall. “And because there were only a few dozen produced, they aren’t easy to find. But once we saw it was an old Eastern Air Lines DC-8-21 we knew we had to have it.”
Hall was accompanied by four of the moderators of the MotoArt PlaneTags Collections group Paul Davies, Rob Schneider, Andrew Rochman, and Nick Foster. They were on the look out for interesting aircraft and they spotted the familiar Eastern colors emerging from the sand. Luckily they were able to find the registration number buried in the sand and begin piecing together what plane it was.
The material was brought back to MotoArt Studios in Torrance, California and the team began working on creating the DC-8 PlaneTags.
The fuselage skin was removed in smaller pieces which are more manageable to work with.