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June 25, 2024

Northwest Airlines' DC-10, specifically N228NW, has been immortalized by MotoArt, transformed into collectible PlaneTags that capture the spirit and history of this iconic aircraft—read on to discover the legacy of the DC-10 and be sure to grab your DC-10 PlaneTags when they go on sale.

History of the DC-10

The DC-10 was designed in the late 1960s as a response to the increasing demands for air travel, particularly over long distances. Developed by McDonnell Douglas, the aircraft featured three engines, which allowed it to handle longer routes over water and was a standout feature for airlines looking to expand their international networks. It had a distinctive layout with two engines mounted on underwing pylons and a third engine at the base of the vertical stabilizer. This configuration was not just unique but also enhanced the aircraft’s performance and maintenance efficiency. The DC-10 also introduced advanced avionics systems for that era, which included more automated flight capabilities aimed at reducing pilot workload.



Northwest Airlines was one of the initial operators to see the potential of the DC-10 for its fleet. They introduced the aircraft into commercial service in 1972, using it to bolster their transcontinental and transatlantic routes. The DC-10 allowed Northwest to offer more direct flights and improved service to destinations that were previously not viable with smaller aircraft. The introduction of the DC-10 marked a significant expansion in Northwest’s capabilities, allowing it to compete more effectively with other major airlines and enhance its reputation as a leader in international travel. The aircraft quickly became a workhorse for Northwest, serving both high-density routes and longer, less frequented international paths.


DC-10 Notable Incidents and Challenges 

Northwest Airlines' DC-10 fleet was not immune to the challenges and incidents that sometimes plagued this aircraft model. Like many airlines operating the DC-10, Northwest experienced a few notable incidents that prompted a closer look at safety measures. One such incident involved a flight in 1979, where a Northwest DC-10 encountered severe turbulence over the Rocky Mountains, leading to injuries among passengers and crew. These incidents contributed to a broader aviation industry scrutiny of the DC-10's safety, particularly concerning its structural integrity and engine configuration.

The DC-10 as a model also faced significant regulatory and public perception challenges throughout its service life. After a tragic crash in Chicago in 1979 involving a different airline’s DC-10, the entire fleet was temporarily grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This grounding not only affected Northwest Airlines’ operations but also damaged the public's confidence in the DC-10 across all carriers. The aircraft's reputation took a further hit, leading to heightened inspections and modifications. In response, McDonnell Douglas and the airlines, including Northwest, implemented rigorous safety enhancements and operational changes aimed at addressing these concerns. Over time, these efforts helped to restore some degree of confidence in the DC-10’s safety, allowing it to continue serving as a key component of long-haul fleets worldwide.

The DC-10’s Impact on Commercial Aviation

The DC-10 significantly influenced commercial aviation, especially in the realms of long-haul travel and fleet strategy. Its design, featuring a wide-body and tri-jet configuration, allowed airlines to carry more passengers and cargo over longer distances without a stopover. This capability was instrumental in the development of many long-haul routes, making intercontinental travel more direct and accessible. Economically, the DC-10 helped airlines maximize profitability on these routes by offering a good balance between fuel efficiency and capacity, compared to the larger four-engine jets that were more costly to operate.


By Steve Fitzgerald - Website: , GFDL 1.2, Link


For Northwest Airlines, the experience with the DC-10 directly influenced its future fleet decisions. The aircraft's performance on long-haul routes demonstrated the importance of operational efficiency and range in aircraft selection. As the airline industry evolved, and newer, more efficient aircraft became available, Northwest began transitioning to aircraft like the Airbus A330. These newer models offered better fuel efficiency, advanced technology, and improved passenger comfort, which were all lessons learned from years of operating the DC-10. The DC-10's legacy in Northwest's fleet strategy highlighted a shift towards more sustainable and economically viable aircraft, shaping the airline's approach to meeting market demands and regulatory standards in aviation.

DC-10 Retirement and Legacy

Northwest Airlines began phasing out the DC-10 from their fleet in the early 2000s, with the last flight taking place in 2007. This decision was driven by several factors, including the aging nature of the fleet, increased maintenance costs, and the availability of newer, more efficient aircraft like the Airbus A330 and Boeing 777. These newer models offered significant improvements in fuel efficiency, environmental impact, and passenger comfort, aligning better with the evolving market and regulatory demands. The retirement of the DC-10 marked the end of an era for Northwest, reflecting a broader industry trend towards modernization and efficiency.

The legacy of the DC-10, however, remains strong among those who worked with or flew on the aircraft. Many former crew members recall the DC-10 as a reliable and capable workhorse that played a crucial role in expanding international air travel. Passengers often remember the spacious cabin and comfortable flights, particularly on long-haul routes. Aviation enthusiasts regard the DC-10 as a symbol of significant technological and operational advancements during its time. To preserve this legacy, several DC-10s have found homes in aviation museums and educational institutions around the world, serving as exhibits to educate the public about the aircraft's historical importance and its impact on global air travel. These preserved aircraft stand as a tribute to the technological achievements and the pivotal role the DC-10 played in the development of modern air transport.

DC-10-30 At A Glance



DC-10-30 Characteristics


Manufacturer: McDonnell Douglas

Type: DC-10-30

Tail #: N228NW

Crew: 11 (2 Pilots, 1 Flight Engineer, 8 Flight Attendants)

Passengers: 273 (26 World Business Class, 247 Economy)

Wing Span: 165 ft 4 in

Length: 181 ft 7 in

Height: 58 ft 7 in


DC-10-30 Performance


Range: 5,399 nm

Cruise Speed: 498 kts

Max Takeoff: 565,000 lb

Empty Operating Weight: 251,535 lb
Ceiling: 42,000 ft

Rate Of Climb: 2,900 ft / minute

Engine: 3x GE CF6-50C2B turbofans

Northwest Airlines and the DC-10



Northwest Airlines first incorporated the DC-10 into their fleet in 1972, recognizing its potential to expand and enhance their long-haul capabilities. As a workhorse of Northwest's wide-body fleet, the DC-10 played a pivotal role in establishing and maintaining major transatlantic and transpacific routes. The aircraft was particularly integral to the airline's expansion in Asia, a market where Northwest positioned itself as a leading American carrier. By the mid-1970s, Northwest was using the DC-10 to connect U.S. cities with key destinations like Tokyo, Seoul, and other important hubs in Asia, making air travel more accessible between these regions. 

The DC-10 also proved essential on transatlantic routes. Northwest utilized the aircraft to connect its major U.S. hubs with European capitals, such as London and Paris. The ability of the DC-10 to carry a large number of passengers and cargo over long distances without refueling made it ideal for these lengthy flights. This capability helped Northwest Airlines to strengthen its international network and offer competitive services on some of the most demanding intercontinental routes.

Over the years, the DC-10 remained a reliable asset in Northwest’s fleet, even as newer aircraft technologies emerged. The airline eventually began phasing out the DC-10 in the early 2000s, transitioning to more modern aircraft like the Airbus A330, which offered better fuel efficiency and updated cabin features. However, the role of the DC-10 in establishing Northwest as a key player in international aviation left a lasting impact on the airline’s operational history.

Northwest and KLM 

The KLM and Northwest Airlines alliance, launched in 1993, was a pioneering partnership in the aviation industry and marked one of the first of its kind across the Atlantic. This strategic move allowed both airlines to significantly expand their global network and enhance service offerings without merging their operations or brands.


By Konstantin von Wedelstaedt GFDL 1.2, Link


One of the key fleet components in this alliance was the DC-10, utilized prominently by Northwest Airlines to bolster its transatlantic and transpacific routes. The use of the DC-10 enabled the alliance to offer passengers seamless long-haul travel options and improved connectivity between North America and Europe. This enhanced the network's efficiency and the ability to share traffic, demonstrating the strategic role of the DC-10 in supporting the partnership's objectives.

Passengers benefited from more flight choices, coordinated loyalty programs, and improved customer service, as both airlines worked to harmonize their operations and service standards around their shared fleet capabilities, including the DC-10. The KLM-Northwest alliance set a precedent in the airline industry, showing how carriers from different continents could collaborate closely while remaining independent entities. This successful partnership lasted until 2008, when Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines merged, and KLM eventually formed a broader alliance with the newly merged entity, extending its network and influence even further.


Photo by David Oates , used with permission

Our plane, MSN 46578, a McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30, embarked on its maiden flight on October 30, 1973. It was initially registered as HB-IHD and was delivered to Swissair on December 6, 1973. This DC-10 served Swissair faithfully for several years, embodying the airline's reputation for precision and reliability in international air travel.


dc-10 planetags


On May 1, 1988, the plane began a new chapter with JAT Airways, registered as YU-AMC. It continued to fly the skies, connecting various destinations and carrying passengers across continents. In a subsequent transition, it was registered as VR-BMP and delivered to Electra Airlines on January 1, 1993, where it briefly continued its service.

The aircraft found a lasting home when it was registered as N228NW and delivered to Northwest Airlines on July 7, 1995. During its time with Northwest, the DC-10 saw a significant milestone in 1997 when KLM and Northwest Airlines entered into a global joint venture. This partnership was marked by the branding of both airlines on several aircraft, including N228NW, symbolizing a pioneering spirit in transatlantic cooperation.

klm & nwa alliance



Northwest Airlines operated its fleet of DC-10s for over 35 years, during which N228NW served as a reliable workhorse on numerous routes. As the early 2000s approached, however, the decision was made to retire the aging fleet. N228NW made its final landing in December 2002 at KMEB, where it remained until 2024. In that year, MotoArt, known for preserving aviation history through its PlaneTags, procured the skins of this venerable aircraft, ensuring that its legacy continues to be celebrated by aviation enthusiasts around the world.

MotoArt Finds A DC-10




MotoArt's quest to preserve aviation history led them to a discovery near Charlotte, North Carolina, where owner Dave Hall learned about two Northwest DC-10s. Although Hall had known about the DC-10s for a few years, timing had kept it on the back burner. When the moment presented itself, Hall and his team made their way to the site, only to find one of the DC-10s had already been scrapped and the remaining DC-10 was being taken apart. Fortunately, they were able to procure the skins from N228NW , ensuring that the legacy of this iconic aircraft could be transformed into cherished collectibles for aviation enthusiasts.



“With nearly documenting 200 different aircraft so far with PlaneTags, the mighty DC-10 was one important one we had been missing,” says Hall.  “We made it just in time before N228NW was gone for good. When we arrived the tail was already cut down and they had stopped working on crushing this historic plane just so we could remove the fuselage skins.” 





“We are happy to have saved this one before it was gone,” says Hall. “25 years ago when I started MotoArt there were dozens & dozens of DC-10’s parked in the desert. Now we are left with mostly just the memories of these iconic aircraft and the PlaneTags that represent them.”






Northwest DC-10 PlaneTags

Northwest Airlines DC-10 PlaneTags are a limited series and will be available on Thursday, June 27, 2024. Be sure to head over to or the PlaneTags app at 12 PM Pacific Time to secure your Northwest DC-10 PlaneTags in the colors you want.

Northwest Airlines PlaneTags

Northwest Airlines has a storied history in aviation, and MotoArt is proud to have preserved a piece of this legacy by transforming a Northwest DC-9 into PlaneTags. Building on this tradition, we are now thrilled to introduce the DC-10 PlaneTags, fulfilling one of our most frequent customer requests. Don’t miss your chance to own a piece of aviation history with these highly sought-after Northwest DC-10 tags.


A special thank you to David Oates for the use of his photo for the blog and as inspiration for the PlaneTags card design.