Delta and Boeing: A story nearly 50 years in the making

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The Boeing Company is celebrating its centennial today, marking a storied history of aerospace innovation very much intertwined with Delta’s decades of operations.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines acquired its first Boeing aircraft in 1970 — the iconic Queen of the Skies, a Boeing 747 christened “Georgia Belle.” The 747 would fly with Delta for the next seven years on major domestic routes as well as interchange service with Pan Am to London-Heathrow and Frankfurt.

That “whale” of a plane would usher in an era filled with Boeing-built flying machines. Here’s a brief look at Delta’s Boeing fleet:

Boeing 747

The first aircraft purchased by Delta from Boeing was the iconic Boeing 747, which launched the “widebody” jet era in 1970. The two-aisle, double-deck 747 could carry almost three times as many passengers as Delta’s earlier jets and featured:

  • “World's first flying Penthouse apartment" located above First Class cabin and adjacent to First Class lounge. Seats for 6 passengers sold as a unit. Staffed by a flight attendant.
  • First Delta plane with a personal audio system:  seven Deltasonic channels played the Beatles, Burt Bacharach and Beethoven in 1970.
  • First Delta plane with overhead bins for carry-on bags instead of open racks. 
  • First issue of Delta’s in-flight magazine, Sky, in November 1970. A beauty-shot of the 747 graced the first cover

Boeing 727

Delta acquired 21 Boeing 727s from a merger with Northeast Airlines in 1972. By 1981, Delta's Boeing 727-200 "stretched model" fleet numbered 129 — the largest fleet in the world of this type of aircraft. Delta was the last major U.S. carrier to fly the Boeing 727, retiring it in 2003. Delta’s fleet included these notable 727s:

  • First 727-200 placed into airline service (with Northeast Airlines on December 14, 1967).
  • 500th 727 produced by Boeing (delivered to Northeast Airlines).
  • 1,000th 727 produced by Boeing (1974).

Boeing 767

In 1982, employees purchased Delta's first Boeing 767 as a gift to the company. Led by three flight attendants, “Project 767” was an inspiring effort to raise $30 million through the combined donations of Delta employees, retirees and friends. Ship 102 was christened “The Spirit of Delta” in honor of the Delta people, and it’s now on display and open for tours at the Delta Flight Museum.

Boeing 737

The 1,000th 737 produced by Boeing was delivered to Delta on December 9, 1983. It carried Delta fleet number Ship 306.

Boeing 757

The first Delta 757 arrived in 1984. Delta received the 500th 757 made by Boeing in 1992. The 757 stands as the most-decorated aircraft type in the Delta fleet. See 757s in commemorative paint schemes and markings in the Delta Flight Museum’s Special Livery Timeline.

Boeing 777

Boeing 777 Ship 7005, christened “The Soaring Spirit II,” carried the Olympic Flame from Athens, Greece, for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. The aircraft sported a special paint design featuring images of Olympic Gold Medalist Bonnie Blair and Olympic athletes Duncan Kennedy and Ryan Heckman.

Delta was the first U.S. carrier to take delivery of the Boeing 777-200LR in 2008. With this new plane, Delta bolstered its international expansion with the ability to connect virtually any two city pairs around the globe nonstop.

Boeing 717

The 717's arrival in 2013, made Delta the only airline to operate all major variations of the DC-9 simultaneously: the DC-9, the MD-88, the MD-90 and the Boeing 717. 

Boeing 747-400 

Ship 6301, the first Boeing 747-400 that Boeing built for a commercial airline, made its final journey to the Delta Flight Museum this year. It will open for public tours in 2017. Ship 6301 first flew in 1988 and entered service with Northwest Airlines in 1989.

Boeing Stearman Crop Dusters

Delta started as a crop-dusting company in the 1920s and continued the trade until 1966. At the end of World War II, Delta acquired military surplus Boeing Stearman aircraft and modified them for use as crop dusters in 1945, replacing its aging Huff Daland Duster aircraft.

McDonnell Douglas

Delta’s fleet in the 1940s and 1950s was made up mainly of aircraft from the Douglas Aircraft Company, later known as McDonnell Douglas. Boeing acquired McDonnell Douglas in 1997.

Delta first flew Douglas aircraft in 1940:  pre-owned 14-passenger DC-2s from American Airlines and new 21-passenger DC-3s purchased from Douglas. Today, you can see restored Ship 41, the first DC-3 in Delta service, on display at the Delta Flight Museum.

Delta added the 44-passenger Douglas DC-4 in 1946 and the 56-passenger DC-6 in 1948. The luxury DC-7, was Delta’s first two-cabin configuration aircraft in 1954, carrying 70 passengers in two main cabins and two lounges. Delta launched the world's first DC-8 jet service in 1959. Delta was the first and the last U.S. airline to fly scheduled DC-9 commercial flights, offering DC-9 service from 1965-2014. Delta also flew the widebody DC-10 and MD-11, as well as the smaller DC-9 variants, MD-88 (introduced as the MD-82) and MD-90.

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