Ending its 41-year commitment to a workhorse aircraft, the U.S. Navy retired the last C-9B Skytrain II on June 28 to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group based in Tucson, Arizona.
As of January, the Navy had four C-9B aircraft remaining in its inventory — one was retired in February and two were transferred to Marine Transport Squadron (VMR) 1 at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, where they will continue service until replacement aircraft are purchased.
In 2001, C-40A aircraft began replacing the C-9 fleet. “While many see the retirement [Navy C-9 Skytrain] as the end of an era, PMA-207 looks forward to the future with the C-40A Clipper,” said Doug Dawson, program manager for Tactical Airlift, Adversary and Support Aircraft program (PMA-207). “The improved avionics, longer range and greater payload capacity greatly improve our ability to meet fleet mission requirements.”
The McDonnell Douglas C-9 aircraft was first purchased by the Air Force in 1966, and named the C-9 Nightingale. It wasn’t until 1972 that the Navy ordered its first five McDonnell Douglas aircraft and accepted delivery of the first one in May 1973. Breaking the conventional military naming tradition of similar aircrafts retaining the same name, the Navy chose to name its C-9B variant after the World War II version of the DC-3, calling it the Skytrain II.
From 1973 until 1982, the Navy accepted 15 aircraft and the Marine Corps accepted two. As combined personnel and cargo haulers, the Skytrain II was widely touted as bringing the Navy into the jet transport age. Its ability to change interior configurations to meet specific airlift demands made the C-9B a flexible mission aircraft supporting a variety of passenger and cargo mission requirements.
The Navy procured 12 more commercially used DC-9 aircraft from 1983 to 1985 to augment the C-9B fleet. This presented unique challenges to the operators, maintainers and the program office because the aircraft were purchased from different airlines and built to different detail specifications.
By the mid-1980s, the Navy C-9B fleet had expanded to 29 aircraft located throughout the continental U.S., Europe and Asia. Flown by the U.S. Naval Reserve and the Marine Corps, each C-9B was normally crewed by a pilot, co-pilot, crew chief and two loadmasters.
1985 brought changes to the C-9B program office when it transitioned to the Naval Air Systems Command, from the Weapon System Managers office in Norfolk, Virginia. When the Navy created the Tactical Airlift, Adversary and Support Aircraft Program Office (PMA-207) in 1987, the C-9B became one of the organization’s original aircraft. PMA-207 will continue to provide sustainment support for the two remaining Marine Corps C-9B.