Miss Santa Monica and the DC-9

It’s quite a long way from Amsterdam to Santa Monica. Passengers have never flown this route, because the American city isn’t part of KLM’s network. But Santa Monica does have an important historical link with KLM, as I’ll explain this blog, which is all about KLM’s DC-9 fleet. The first was called the “Amsterdam” and the last the “Santa Monica”, which is where the McDonnell-Douglas factories were located.

On 26 March 1966, KLM celebrated a European first, welcoming the brand new DC-9 “Amsterdam” with all due pomp and ceremony, accompanied by the KLM brass band. All the others were also named after European cities except the last, but they didn’t know that back in 1966.

Second step in the Jet Age
The arrival of the DC-9 marked KLM’s second step in the Jet Age, after the introduction of the DC-8. Despite having a higher number, the DC-9 was smaller than its predecessor. The aircraft had two engines mounted at the rear end of the fuselage. The KLM configuration seated 73 passengers; 65 in Tourist Class and eight in First Class, with rows of three and two seats on the aisle. The DC-9 had a maximum range of 2,200 kilometres and an average cruising speed of 900 km/h.

With the arrival of the DC-9, KLM took leave of two propeller-driven aircraft, the Vickers Viscount and the Lockheed Electra, both of which were mostly flown on European routes, which was exactly where the DC-9 was to be deployed.

After the last Lockheed Electra left the fleet in 1969, KLM had a highly balanced fleet consisting almost entirely of jet-propelled McDonnell-Douglas aircraft (there were two propeller-driven Fokker F27s).

Popular screeching bird
During the 1970s and ‘80s, the DC-9 was a popular visitor at European airports. Because the DC-9 fleet consisted of various different types, it offered flexible capacity. But not everyone was equally pleased, with one Dutch cabaret artist singing about a DC-9 screeching low over Buitenveldert, an Amsterdam suburb that lies under one of the approach routes to Schiphol Airport. The song will, no doubt, have contributed to the fame of the aircraft.

Special occasion
The delivery of the 25th KLM DC-9 was a special occasion for KLM as well as the manufacturer, which had made a lot more of these aircraft, of course. In fact, this was the 1000th DC-9 to roll out of the factory. In short, an auspicious occasion, which was acknowledged with a one-off break with the naming tradition, which led to the PH-DOB being named “Santa Monica”. The christening of the aircraft was preceded by an almost ritual gathering of European river water from the Rhine, Danube, Seine, Thames and even the Amstel. This water was then brought to California and mixed with water from Santa Monica Bay, which was then poured over the aircraft by none other than Miss Santa Monica 1980-81. Unfortunately, European river water was a lot less clean in those days, which meant the christening left the aircraft with a grey streak running down its side.

From nine to 100
The final farewell came in 1989, nine years after the “Santa Monica” joined the fleet. KLM’s 25 DC-9s had flown a combined total of 770,000 flight hours, completing 700,000 flights, carrying 40 million passengers. All the more reason for a spectacular farewell party.

More than 200 KLM staff gathered at Schiphol East on a muggy March morning, for a roundtrip with the two last remaining DC-9s, the “Utrecht” and the “Santa Monica”. The two aircraft flew out to Soesterberg airbase, where the “Santa Monica” was escorted by two US Air Force F15s before landing. This marked the end of an era. By then the DC-9s had been replaced by the Fokker 100, which was a lot less screechy.

Frido Ogier