Pilots, planespotters and aviation buffs can quickly recognize nearly every aircraft type from the ground or in the air.
But it’s not so easy for the rest of us. To help TravelSkills readers confidently recognize what they see overhead or out on the runway, we offer a series of posts dedicated to planespotting.
Today, let’s take a look at the Boeing 717, MD-80/90 series. All were based on the good old DC-9 (built between 1965 and 1982), which means they all look very similar to the untrained eye.
Delta retired its last DC-9 in January 2014.
The most distinguishing feature of Boeing 717s, the smallest Boeing plane, is its T-shaped tail with engines at the back flanking either side of the tail.
717s are operated in the U.S. only by Hawaiian Airlines and Delta Air Lines. (AirTran’s 717s moved over to Delta at the end of 2014).
The MD-80 family (mostly flown by Allegiant and Delta) and MD-90 planes (mostly flown by Delta which has 65 of them) have similar features like the T-shaped tail with smaller, thinner engines on either side, and a “pinched” tailcone. (See the “pointy” cone on the DC-9 at the top to compare.) No other commercial aircraft has a T-shaped tail, with the exception of regional jets. American Airlines retired most of its substantial MD-80 fleet in recent years.
The easiest way to tell the difference between at MD-80/90 and a Boeing 717? The 717 has an unpainted outline near the “stabilizer” at the top of the tail’s T shape. See it on the Hawaiian Airlines 717 to the right? It’s not there on the MD80/90 series. Also, check the engines. The 717 engines are fatter compared to most MD80/90 engines which are narrower and have more tapered ends. Also, the fuselage on the MD-80/90 series tends to be longer than the 717.
What’s best about flying on one of these planes? I’d have to say sitting in first class– with the engines so far away from the front, all you can hear is the wind whistling by your window and the ice cubes tinkling in your cocktail 🙂 At the back of the plane, it’s always a little roomier in the 2 side versus the 3 side (they are configured 2-3).
Please share your planespotting tips or advice in the comments below! How do YOU tell the difference between a 717 and MD-80 or 90?
Here are our other popular planespotting posts!
And don’t miss the TravelSkills Planespotting quiz— 7,000+ readers have taken it! Why not you?
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