Ain’t Got Time to Take a Fast Train

north-central-logoIf you grew up in the upper Midwest or Plains states, this was the symbol of getting the fuck out of Dodge – it’s the logo used by North Central Airlines, which later became Republic, and still later was purchased by Northwest, then Delta.  Apparently it’s officially called Herman the Duck, but we just called it the “wounded duck” because North Central’s prop flights would occasionally lose a door or make an unscheduled landing in a cornfield.

For more than forty years, I’ve flown in the same DC-9s originally purchased by North Central, into the same airports, first to leave home, and later to visit my old home from my new. I was less than 10 when I first rode in one; my daughter took her first flight as an infant. Now, as Patrick Smith reports, both the DC-9, and the larger DC-10, have flown their last flights. The DC-10 went out with a bang (bad metaphor for that plane), with special flights scheduled for aviation buffs. The DC-9 went out with a whimper on a Delta flight between Minneapolis (of course) and Atlanta, which seems fitting, since there’s really no romance in traveling on the routes served by North Central’s DC-9s. Only people who wanted to get the fuck out of Bismarck, Aberdeen, Rapid City, Sioux Falls or one of the dozens of other little burgs that were served by the wounded duck and its successors would appreciate the passing of the first jet on which most of us ever flew.

61 replies
  1. 1
    Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN) says:

    Holy shit the situation in Ukraine is spiraling downwards. Between there and Hungary, Eastern Europe isn’t a great place to be right now.

  2. 2
    BGinCHI says:

    Heard this great report on NPR recently about how a DC 9 fleet is the only way flights around the Amazon get to people who live in the middle of nowhere. They are durable and reparable. Once they are gone there will be nothing to replace them.

  3. 3
    Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN) says:

    @BGinCHI: I’m sure there are still some DC-3s left that can fly those routes. That sucker has to be the greatest aircraft design of all time.

  4. 4
    catclub says:

    @BGinCHI: You wouldn’t mean very old DC-3’s that can land on undeveloped runways? DC-9 is a jet of the Boeing 737 generation.

  5. 5
    Phoebe says:

    I remember when they were Republic, and the best option for Minneapolis to Chicago and back again. All these years later, and I still miss them and their logo. Not the saddest news in the world today, but melancholy nevertheless. I’m glad the DC-10 at least went out of service with a salute from people who loved it.

  6. 6
    BGinCHI says:

    @Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):

    Yep, probably the DC 3. I can’t remember but that sounds right. Really durable and easy to modify. Sounds like they are getting pretty close to being unflyable though. I’m sure the Amazon drone program will step in and fix things.

  7. 7
    srv says:

    Let me take you through the sunshine…

    Nobody Serves our Republic like Republic

    I’m going to miss the MD-80s when they go. Everyone else hates them, but they’re reliable, faster and high wing loading makes that freaking fly over country turbulence go better.

  8. 8
    Howard Beale IV says:

    But don’t despair-Delta still has a shitpot full of the DC-9 successors, MD80s, MD90s and the B717’s (the latter they’re leasing from AirTran-I see ’em transforming the 717’s into Delta’s livery as I drive pass Delta’s facility on 494)

  9. 9
    KG says:

    @Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN):

    Theirs not to make reply,
    Theirs not to reason why,
    Theirs but to do and die:
    Into the valley of Death
      Rode the six hundred.

    well, fuck.

  10. 10
    Anoniminous says:

    Since we are navel-gazing blogospherically:

    A dKos diary.

    The notable shift — by many prominent progressive bloggers — from playing defense to taking the offense is a harbinger of things to come, and the message is clear: neo-liberal policies have failed and we, the members of the base are not happy.

    Now if the readers will stop talking and actually get out there and do something …

  11. 11
    Wag says:

    I remember flying every summer from ’69-’75 from Denver to Tucson to spend time on my grandparents’ ranch. Frontier flew Boeing 717’s and 727’s in a circular pattern of Denver-Phoenix-Tucson-Albuquerque-Denver. Each crew would fly a lap each day.

    Sometimes the route was clockwise, other times counterclockwise.

    Smoking, or non-smoking?

  12. 12
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): I’ve posted this before, but for those without the language skills to read Russian or Ukrainian, The Interpreter is a good source. Global Post covers more, but has very good local reporters in the region as well

  13. 13
    Karen in GA says:

    Only people who wanted to get the fuck out of Bismarck, Aberdeen, Rapid City, Sioux Falls or one of the dozens of other little burgs that were served by the wounded duck and its successors would appreciate the passing of the first jet on which most of us ever flew.

    I’m from Brooklyn, and didn’t even visit the Midwest (or get on a plane, for that matter) until I was 24. Still, this is a lot more relevant to me than the day CNN went wall-to-wall with coverage of the Concorde’s last flight. Really, who was that for?

    But yeah, the passage of time. I’m in my mid-40s now and I’m starting to have moments where I want to scream at time to stop going so damned fast.

  14. 14
    raven says:

    And I just thought I’d mention, my Grandma’s old age pension
    Is the reason why I’m standing here today
    I got all my country learning, living and a churning
    Pickin’ cotton, rasin’ hell, and bailin’ hay

    I’ve been to Georgia on a fast train honey
    I wudn’t born no yestday
    Got a good Christian raisin’ and an eighth grade education
    Ain’t no need in y’all a treatin’ me this way

  15. 15
    srv says:

    Yanukovych’s ouster does not appear to have been Constitutional, but it’s complicated.

    And of course, nobody did nazi this one coming.

    Perhaps, the most questions about the new government’s direction will be raised by several key appointments of ultra-nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) and Pravyi Sektor (Right Sector) members to leading roles in the Defense Ministry, National Defense and Security Council, and the Prosecutor General’s office. Tenyukh is a member of Freedom. While a former Fatherland deputy and leader of the Maidan self-defense force Andriy Parubiy is the new head of the National Defense and Security Council, the leader of the far-right Right Sector Dmytro Yarosh was offered the post of his deputy. The newly-created lustration commission presumably to be tasked with investigating collaborators with the old regime and security services, will be headed by Maidan activist and reporter Yegor Sobolev.

    So far, this does not look like a team that is likely to bring everyone under one big tent.

    The more the west complains, the less likely Putin is going to be with just Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

  16. 16
    Trollhattan says:

    Am not wild about flying in decades-old pressurized planes, because each takeoff-landing cycle takes a cumulative toll. I still see 707s (and their KC135 tanker cousins) DC8s and other such ancient jets here and there. Last time I was on a 727, couldn’t help but wonder whether it was built closer to ’63 or ’84–the thing was decrepit.

  17. 17
    NotMax says:

    Back when a now defunct airline used to fly them here on inter-island hops, landing in a Fokker F28 (similar in general design to the DC-9) was a little white knuckle-y.

    They lacked any reverse thrust capability (ostensibly to avoid the sucking in of debris when landing on unimproved ground), so there came at least one “Is it gonna stop in time?” moment after touchdown.

  18. 18
    tybee says:

    aren’t MD-80’s just a stretched DC-9?

    and i see i was beaten to that by several folks.

  19. 19
    celticdragonchick says:


    The DC-9/MD-80 is nice little jetliner. I worked on lot of them owned by Northwest airlines. The 727 is good bird too in about the same size class, but it is also going the way of the dodo over time. A shame, really. The 717 was supposed to be the improved DC-9 after Boeing bought out McDonnell Douglas, but there weren’t many customers.

  20. 20
    Steeplejack says:

    I had a memorable flight on Northwestern in college, back in about ’71 or ’72. The flight was from Bismarck to Kansas City, and I was the only passenger for the first two or three legs of the flight. The plane stopped everywhere—Pierre, Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls, maybe another spot or two. I was sitting in the middle of the plane, the lone flight attendant started the announcements, then sort of mumbled something (probably “Fuck it”) and came and sat next to me for the duration. Good times.

    Northwestern provided a great service in the sparsely populated regions for a long time. Hell, my dad still had to drive me down from Minot to catch the plane in Bismarck.

    ETA: Flight did not lead to a Penthouse Forum letter.

  21. 21
    dollared says:

    Thanks for this. First flight: North Central Airlines Convair from Appleton, WI to Minneapolis.

    Harry Houdini grew up in Appleton. We still say leaving Appleton was his greatest escape.

  22. 22
    dollared says:

    @Steeplejack: I’m sorry for the last part. I’m sure you thought of it. Maybe she did too, but you were reserved Midwesterners…..

  23. 23
    Steeplejack says:


    I am idiot. I mean North Central, not Northwestern. D’oh!

  24. 24
    celticdragonchick says:

    @Steeplejack: Northwestern had the bulk of the existing US DC-9/MD-80 fleet as late as 2003. I was at PEMCO in Dothan Alabama as a contractor on Northwestern birds when the cockpit doors were all being refitted per post 9/11 regs. Great aircraft, but PEMCO was easily the most stressful facility I have ever worked at (you did not dare go over time budget on a job, so if the job was badly underestimated for time, you had to start juggling time from other jobs you could clock onto to avoid going over on the nightmare billed for half an hour that is taking you three hours to actually do. Relations between the union and management were …poor, but the union went to bat for me on a problem even though I was just a temp contractor. I have never forgotten that.)

  25. 25
    Petorado says:

    Speaking of defunct regional airlines, Rocky Mountain Airways (nicknamed Rocky Mountain Scareways) used to fly de Havillands around Colorado to drop folks off in small ski town airports. Because mountain town runways back in the day were short, the the twin turboprops would have a landing that closely resembled a controlled crash, hence the nickname.

    Sometimes the pilots would buzz the ski hills and I have a vivid memory of looking up while skiing in Vail’s back bowls to see the terrified faces of the passengers looking out of a sharply-banked plane as it flew impossibly close to the slopes. Good times.

  26. 26
    Mudge says:

    Ah, the flying duck. I lived in Fargo. I remember (perhaps wrongly) a flight Fargo-Bismarck-Billings-Butte-Spokane-Seattle that Republic flew. They really jumped the puddles. The flight to Minneapolis was fun (about 200 miles), up to 30,000 feet..30 seconds, then descend. North Central also flew out of Madison in the early 70s.

    And the DC-10. I flew the weekend that the DC-10 went down in Chicago. Flew Rochester, NY to Cleveland to Phoenix. It was a Friday. On Sunday I flew back to Chicago on a DC-10 from Phoenix. It left at like 11:58 PM. All DC-10s were grounded as of midnight local time. My friend poured me onto the plane.

  27. 27
  28. 28
    Interrobang says:

    I’m the daughter of a retired commercial pilot (with another defunct regional airline), and I miss those things too.

    Dad started out his commercial (post-milla tree) career flying Convair 580s and then moved on to the DeHavilland Dash 8 100.

    The DC-9s were some damn pretty airplanes, albeit loud. I do have a fondness for turboprops. I really like those new Embraer 140s they use for regional flights these days.

  29. 29
    Petorado says:

    @celticdragonchick: Unfortunatey I was around for this ski accident involving cables. I worked at the local hospital at that time. It was bad.

  30. 30
    randomworker says:

    Minneapolis here. I have flown hundreds of flights on those planes.

    Well, you can still relive the glory days on an old Northwest 757 plying the skies between SEA > MSP > LGW. Watch the stewardess flight attendant try to pound the tape into the Betamax so you can watch the safety instructions on an old tube TV hanging perilously from the ceiling.

    “You’re kidding me, they flying this thing to London?”


  31. 31
    Trollhattan says:


    I remember them, and the nickname. Took them in and out of Steamboat during thunderstorm season (everything not winter, I think) and that plane lurched around like it was a rat terrier’s chewtoy.

  32. 32
    mellowjohn says:

    when i lived in Winston-Salem in the mid-80s i flew Piedmont a lot. i once took a “non-stop” flight from Greensboro to Chicago that made stops in Charlotte and Tri-Cities TN to pick up passengers.

  33. 33
    Linnaeus says:

    Never flew on Republic (but my dad did a few times on some trips to Florida); my first flight was on a Delta 767.

  34. 34
    Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason says:

    Puddle jumpers. One of my earliest memories is an Allegheny (Agony) Airlines DC-3 flight from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, about 225 miles. With two stops. Left from Harrisburg, landed in Johnstown, landed in Altoona, arrived at Pittsburgh.

  35. 35
    Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN) says:

    @srv: The really fucked up thing (relative to all of the other fucked up things involved) is that as long as Putin is determined to stick his dick into the situation, we pretty much have to ignore the fascists in the opposition coalition.

    I love Pavel Datsyuk, but there was a reason I rooted against every single Russian athlete in Sochi.

  36. 36
    evolved beyond the fist mistermix says:

    @dollared: My first was probably Frontier Convair from Rapid City to Denver to Tucson. But I flew in North Central Convairs also. DC-9 if you were lucky.

  37. 37
    phoebes-in-santa fe says:

    I was a travel agent in a Chicago suburb in May, 1979. I had stayed home from work because I was sick – okay, I was reading the new Herman Wouk book – that Friday before Memorial Day. The TV was on and about 3.30p, there was a local cut-in saying a CARGO flight for American Airlines had just crashed at O’Hare. When they gave the flight number, 191, I realised it was NOT a cargo flight, but rather their 3p daily flight ORD/LAX.

    I didn’t have anyone on that flight, though I’d certainly had had a lot of clients who took it quite regularly. That crash is still haunting to me, 35 years later. There were a lot of “book people” in the flight, heading to the ABA in Los Angeles.

    I fly American a lot and I really do love their MD80s. I love their two/three seat configuration in the coach session. That window seat on the two across side is almost as good as being in a window seat in first.

  38. 38
    theturtlemoves says:

    You must be one hell of an oldster, because my flights out of Rapid City, Sioux Falls, and Sioux City (never was there a more appropriate airport code than SUX for a town) were pretty much on Canadair RJ-Whatevers. Of course, I didn’t do a lot of flying out of any of those airports until I was well into my 20s.

  39. 39
    PopeRatzy says:

    Stationed in the Michigan UP at KI Sawyer AFB in the 70s we called it the Blue Goose.

    Marquette International Airport.
    The Airport is now the former KI Sawyer AFB.

  40. 40
    Fuzzy says:

    Way way back I recall some old high wing puddle jumpers that Ozark Air flew in the 60s. When you got on at the tail you hiked up the aisle to sit down. I think 10,000 ft was the limit because there was no oxygen system. Those pilots were nuts but could land anywhere.

  41. 41
    dollared says:

    @PopeRatzy: Went to KI Sawyer with my BS troop in about 1970. Damn those were big planes.

    You lucky guy, living in the UP during the Little Ice Age. So many scantily clad wimmin up dere!

  42. 42
    donovong says:

    @PopeRatzy: No shit?! I was at KI from Aug 73 to March 75. SP’s. Flew the “Ruptured Duck” from Chicago to Marquette, via Grand Rapids, Green Bay and some other two horse airports out in the tundra.

  43. 43
    dollared says:

    @donovong: I for one want to thank you guys for being there to protect us from the Canadian Threat. Lake Superior is not nearly big enough when you consider the danger of an invading force sailing from Thunder Bay.

  44. 44
    dave swenson says:

    Not wounded duck. We called it ruptured duck and blue goose. Remember flying from Bismark to Sioux Falls with the port engine smoking the whole way. Pilot said it always did that, not to worry.

  45. 45
    SiubhanDuinne says:


    Storm’d at with shot and shell,
    Boldly they rode and well,
    Into the jaws of Death,
    Into the mouth of Hell
    Rode the six hundred.

    I’ve been reciting bits of The Charge to myself pretty much all day today. “Well, fuck” is right.

  46. 46
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @evolved beyond the fist mistermix: My first flight was the float plane from Isle
    Royale to Houghton, MI, when I was seven.

  47. 47
    Strandedvandal says:

    Flip it around at it is dang near Lufthansa.

  48. 48
    john f says:

    @Petorado: Yes, a former boss used to tell me about working on the Sperry microwave landing system at Steamboat Springs that only Rocky mountain airways aircraft were equipped with and what a pain it was to get parts for.

  49. 49
    raven says:

    Flew from Knox to Lewis in a C-130. Also Bien Hoa-Phan Rhang-Da Nang-Plieku. Noisy but got there.

  50. 50
    PopeRatzy says:

    I was there Aug 75- Aug 80.
    410th AMS Bomb-Nav
    Marquette International Airport — “Hey, we’re International, we get Canadian Airplanes!”

  51. 51
    raven says:

    @phoebes-in-santa fe: I was on my way from Champaign to Keokuk Iowa when that happened.

  52. 52

    I remember when North Central and Lake Central were the only airlines into Traverse City, Michigan. They used to fly Lockheed Electra turboprops, and to this day the smell of jet-grade kerosene takes me back to those shuddering and shaky flights out of the frozen north — even in summer — back down south to Detroit.

  53. 53
    JoyfulA says:

    @Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason: Did you ever fly Allegheny into Scranton? I’ve heard there was a very short runway, and when you stop, the plane is <10 feet from the plate glass window of the airport.

    (I was in Scranton once, in the summer. The streets were so steep I wouldn't want to be on them with a little winter ice.)

  54. 54
    NotMax says:


    Flew into there a Monmouth Airlines prop plane as the last leg of a trip to Europe.

    NY to overseas, many flights within Europe and the U.K., back to NY, all uneventful.

    The final hop from Newark to Scranton. And that’s when my luggage was lost.

  55. 55
    Len says:

    There used to be an airline called Texas International. They flew DC-9s. I remember them well (though not entirely fondly).

  56. 56
    Matt McIrvin says:

    The thing I always dreaded about DC-9s was getting a seat in the rear near the engines. It’s kind of loud inside any jet airliner, but there were a few rear rows on a DC-9 where the sound would just become this ear-pounding throbbing.

    I remember riding one from Dulles to Cleveland when I was visiting Case Western Reserve on my high-school-senior tour of prospective colleges. The whole flight was inside one continuous cloud that was so thick the wings weren’t even visible, and at one point the plane just started violently bucking around–the most intense turbulence I’ve ever been in.

  57. 57
    Tern says:

    Ah puddle jumpers. When my youngest son was about 4, we were on a connecting flight from Minneapolis to Sioux Falls. I told him the planes were nicknamed “puddle jumpers”. Later, when recounting the flight to Grandad, he called the plane a “mud skipper”. That became a family name from then on. He’s 25 now and the family still calls them mud skippers. We all laugh every time.

  58. 58
    dollared says:

    S@Omnes Omnibus: So how did you get to Isle Royale?

  59. 59
    mellowjohn says:

    @phoebes-in-santa fe: an acquaintance of mine – judith wax – was on AA191. she and her husband were on their way to LA to hype her new book “starting in the middle.” i still get a kick out of digging out my copy and dipping into it now and then.

  60. 60
    burnt says:

    My first flight was on North Central. It was probably 1979 and one-way from Fargo to Bismarck was $21. It was cheaper than the bus. This was right at the beginning of de-regulation. Hector Field was dump then and I remember the flight was filled with smokers. Fortunately, it was on one of their DC9s so it only lasted about 30 minutes.

  61. 61
    RaflW says:

    I will not miss the DC-10. It was never a very nice airplane, from a coach pax perspective, and was ugly to boot. I miss the L-1011, with it’s more interesting scooped rear engine and – at least the ones I flew in – Rolls Royce power which I always felt was less whiny than the DC-10s.

    Now the venerable DC-9, that was a great airplane, one that should last outside the US for a while, at least until their fuel-guzzling makes them uneconomic. They are simple, durable, and reasonable to ride in (except for engine noise in the back 1/4).

    Like @srv, I think the MD 80s and 90s are excellent – though they can be slow to load & unload with that many rows of seats.

    Indeed the high wing load is nice antidote to turbulence — these days I’m on Embraer 175s a lot and while I like the wider seats and 2-2 seating, they pop around in the sky like a wine cork. I also like the close window spacing of the good ol Douglas fuselage, you always get at least one good window beside you.

    The new ‘regional’ tin cans have windows spaced for a theoretical pitch the airlines never actually use, so there’s a row mid-section with no damn window. Ugh.

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