McDonnell-Douglas DC-10 & MD-11

When the first wide body aircraft were developed, engines were not yet that powerfull. Therefore manufacturers has to use three or four engines to get enough power. Douglas, soon to merge with McDonnell to be come McDonnell-Douglas, opted for three engines. Two hang under the wings while the third is located at the base of the vertical stabiliser. Other distinctive features of the DC-10 and MD-11 are the relatively large cockpit side windows and a third main landing gear leg on most versions. 

The cockpit side windows, especially the last ones, are quite big compared to the others and other aircraft types.

The third engine at the base of the vertical stabiliser is the obvious recognition point for the DC-10 and MD-11.

Different versions

The different versions of the DC-10 and MD-11 can be distinguished by:

  • the length of the fuselage
  • the presence of winglets
  • the number of main landing gears
  • the presence and location of a large cargo door
  • the shape of the tail engine nacelle
  • the presence of a refuelling boom under the rear fuselage
  • the presence of cabin windows 

DC-10-10 & DC-10-15

Both are the first pure passenger versions of the DC-10, of which the -15 has higher rated engines than the -10. They can be recognised by the absence of a third, centre main landing gear, so it has only two main landing gears. 

Although partially hidden by the engine nacelle and the concrete of the runway you can still see that this DC-10 has just two main landing gears, making it a DC-10-10.


Being a version that could be converted between passenger and cargo aircraft the DC-10-10CF has a cargo door in the left forward fuselage, but retains cabin windows.

A DC-10-10CF, distinguished by the cargo door, many cabin windows and two main landing gears.

DC-10-10F & MD-10-10F

Being a version that could be converted between passenger and cargo aircraft the DC-10-10CF has a cargo door in the left forward fuselage, but retains cabin windows.

MD-10-10F is the designation of DC-10-10Fs with a modernized, two crew cockpit.

Many DC-10-10s were converted to cargo aircraft for FedEx, and later upgraded to MD-10-10F like this aircraft. The key features are the two main landing gears, cargo door and no cabin windows.

DC-10-30 & DC-10-30ER

The increased range of the DC-10-30 meant a higher maximum take-off weight and that necessitated the addition of a third main landing gear with two wheels. It is located between the existing four wheel main landing gears. This is the main recognition point, although the wing span was also increased compared to the DC-10-10.

With the additional of an extra fuel tank in the belly the standard DC-10-30 becomes a DC-10-30ER, with extended range.

The DC-10-30 was the most produced version of the DC-10 and is characterised by the third main landing gear.

Here is a clear view on the two wheel, third main landing gear than became standard from the DC-10-30 on.


The DC-10-30 also had a convertible freighter (CF) version. It has a large cargo door in the left front fuselage, but also many cabin windows.

The cargo door of this DC-10-30CF is not clearly visible but you can see that a cabin window is missing below the B of SABENA. This is where the left edge of the door is.

DC-10-30F & MD-10-30F

Converted DC-10-30s and dedicated freighter are both called DC-10-30F, although the latter are also known as DC-10-30AF (all freighter). Both have (cabin) window plugs, even the ones that have been built as cargo aircraft from the start.

FedEx also converted her DC-10-30Fs with upgraded avionics, and named them MD-10-30F.

Although this DC-10-30F has always been a cargo aircraft, you can still see plugs in place of the cabin windows.


A DC-10-30 with Pratt & Whitney JT9D engines is designated DC-10-40. These engines have a slightly larger diameter. Therefore the air flow channel of the centre, tail engine has two bulges, at the front and the back. The standard version has a centre main gear like on the DC-10-30.

Northwest (Orient) Airlines was one of the main customers for the DC-10-40, as they wanted Pratt & Whitney engines like on their Boeing 747s.

The two arrows point at the locations where the nacelle of the DC-10-40 has a larger diameter than General Electric powered versions.


Specifically meant for the Japanese domestic market the DC-10-40D (D for domestic) has a lower maximum take-off weight, so the centre main landing gear is not needed. For the rest it is extermally the same as the DC-10-40.

The DC-10-40D has the same wider diameter of the centre engine, but lacks the centre main landing gear. (photo: JetPix/WikiMedia)

KC-10A Extender

The United States Air Force bought sixty KC-10A Extenders as tanker and transport aircraft. They are based on the DC-10-30CF, but without cabin windows. Additionally, they have a refuelling boom under the rear fuselage.

KC-10A Extender is the US military version of the DC-10-30CF. It is recognised by the lack of cabin windows and a tank boom.


The Royal Netherlands Air Force converted two exisiting DC-10-30CF aircraft. Unlike the KC-10s they still have cabin windows. Otherwise these KDC-10s are the same as the KC-10.

The presence of cabin windows is the way to distinguish the KDC-10 from the KC-10.

MD-11 & MD-11ER

The MD-11 can be considered as the second generation DC-10. The fuselage was stretched, winglets added and engines modernised. The winglets have a big part pointing up and a small part pointing down.

With an extra fuel tank the MD-11 is marketed as MD-11ER.

The standard passenger version of the MD-11 has no cargo door.


The combi version of the MD-11 has a large cargo door in the left rear fuselage, behind the wing. It retains the cabin windows as the MD-11C can be used a full passenger aircraft as well. 

Behind the winglet you can observe a large cargo door, which makes this an MD-11C. (photo: Konstantin von Wedelstaedt/WikiMedia)


Besides a combi aircraft McDonnell-Douglas dveloped a convertible version, the MD-11CF, that can be used as full passenger aircraft or full freighter. It has a cargo door in the left forward fuselage and the full range of cabin windows.

The MD-11CF has many cabin windows and a large cargo door in the left front fuselage as key features.


Both converted passenger MD-11s and purpose built freighters are designated MD-11F. All have metal plugs in place of the cabin windows, also the aircraft that were built as freighter from the start. The large cargo door is in principle in the left forward fuselage, but there are also converted MD-11Cs that retain the door in the rear fuselage.

This MD-11F is a converted passenger aircraft and has the cargo door in the front fuselage.

Here is a rare example of an MD-11C converted to MD-11F, so with only a cargo door in the rear fuselage.

Confusion possible with

Lockheed L-1011 TriStar

l 1011

The aircraft you could most likely confuse the DC-10 and MD-11 with is the Lockheed TriStar. Obviously, because both aircraft have two engines under the wings and one at the back. While the air intake is at the same loca­ tion, the L-1011 has an S‑shaped duct, leading the air to the engine in the rear fuselage.

Boeing 777

b777 200

We only list the Boeing 777 here because the forward fuselage, including the cockpit windows, are quite similar to the DC‑10/MD‑11. For the rest, they are totally different, in the first place the Triple Seven being a twin jet.