McDonnell’s Orphan Bizjet Survivor

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My route to this year’s NBAA in Orlando took me through El Paso, Texas, where I caught a fleeting glimpse of one of the strangest, and earliest, business jets ever designed. Resembling a miniature Douglas DC-8 with four wing-mounted, underslung podded engines, the McDonnell Aircraft Model 119/220 was the defense company’s bid to break into the fledgling business jet market in the 1960s.

Seating 10 passengers, but with capacity for up to 26 in a ‘high capacity’ configuration, the original Model 119 was originally designed to compete for the U.S. Air Force's Utility-Trainer Experimental/Utility-Cargo Experimental contract. However, when McDonnell lost the contest to the Lockheed L-1329 JetStar in 1959, McDonnell made attempts to sell a commercial variant of the mini transport aircraft.  At first it seemed the plan would work when Pan American agreed to a lease deal for up to 170 Model 119s. But when no further firm orders were taken, McDonnell axed plans to produce a commercial variant. Changing tactics, it rebranded the aircraft as the Model 220 and marketed it to the emerging business jet community.



However, despite its best efforts, McDonnell could not sell the Model 220 and ended up using the little jet as a company run-around for several years. Eventually the sole prototype was donated to the Flight Safety Foundation before finding its way to El Paso, where it remains to this day.  

Yet there is an ironic twist to the tale. Such was the bitter experience involved in trying to market the Model 119/220, that it is said McDonnell never again ventured into the commercial world before its merger with Douglas in 1967. What is more, could that same experience partially explain the reluctance of the McDonnell dynasty to invest more than it did in the Douglas family? It was a policy that forced an over-reliance on derivative developments, ultimately leading to the merger with Boeing in 1996 and the effective disappearance of the historic McDonnell Douglas company names. Sitting out there in the El Paso sunshine, that little oddball jet could be more significant to the history of U.S. aerospace than anyone might credit.

 

Editor's Note: The path of the prototype to El Paso has been corrected.

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