The McDonnell 119/220: The plane that nobody wanted

From the Planes You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of Department of Wingspan, we bring you the McDonnell 119/220.


In the 1950s, the US Air Force was in the market for an airplane that didn’t yet exist. They identified a need for a relatively small, jet-powered aircraft that could perform the dual utility role of training and logistics, and the UTX-UCX program (utility-training, utility-cargo, experimental) was born. Though it was eventually canceled for budgetary reasons, the program produced three aircraft, and also unwittingly created the modern business jet along the way. The competition was ultimately won by the Lockheed JetStar, and a second contract was later awarded for the North American Sabreliner. But perhaps the most intriguing entrant into the competition was the aircraft that didn’t win: the McDonnell 119.


The McDonnell Aircraft Corporation had made a name for itself during WWII as an aviation parts supplier, and didn’t field its first aircraft until early 1944 with the innovative yet unsuccessful XP-67 Bat. Following the failure of the propeller-powered Bat, McDonnell moved on to jets, eventually producing the famed F-4 Phantom II. But with the UTX-UCX competition, McDonnell took the opportunity to move away from fighters and interceptors to develop a more utilitarian aircraft. The 119 was similar in size to its competitors, but, unlike the JetStar, which grouped its four engines in sets of two at the rear, McDonnell placed the 119's engines in separate pods under the wings, giving the aircraft the appearance of a scaled-down airliner (the Boeing Dash-80, with a similar arrangement, had first flown 5 years earlier). It’s four Westinghouse J34 turbojets gave the 119 a cruising speed of 520 mph and a range of 2,340 miles while carrying up to 26 passengers along with two pilots and a flight attendant.

Photographer unknown

But with the loss of the lucrative Air Force contract to Lockheed, McDonnell was stuck with an airplane that had no buyers. So they decided to rebrand the 119 as the 220 (in honor of the company’s second 20 years in business) and to market it instead as a business jet in hopes of taking advantage of the nascent bizjet market. At first, they tried to draw up a deal with Pan Am to lease 170 aircraft, but at the time, the idea of producing so many aircraft solely for lease made no business sense. McDonnell then contacted over 700 businesses to see if there was any interest in the 220. There was not a single taker, not even for the single prototype that had been built.

Stripped of its livery, the 220 sites on the tarmac at Albuquerque in 1975 (photo by Uli Elch via Wikimedia Commons)

Following the failure of the 119/220, McDonnell left the civilian aircraft business for good, and didn’t re-enter it until after their 1967 merger with the Douglas Aircraft Company. Rather than scrap the unsuccessful jet, McDonnell operated it themselves as an executive transport, and eventually donated the 220 to the Flight Safety Foundation for use as a research aircraft. The sole prototype was transferred to private ownership and it has remained in storage ever since. Today, its future remains unknown, though it may yet return to the skies, or find a home in a museum.

If you enjoy these posts, please join in the conversation and let me know. If you missed an episode, you can find them all at Wingspan. Other aircraft also-rans can be found at Planes You’ve (Probably) Never Heard Of.


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