While reading this question about trijets I started wondering why the center engine in the DC10 and MD11 where placed where they are. Most trijets have the center engine at the very back of the fuselage with the intake in front of the vertical stabilizer. The DC10/MD11 engine is placed above the fuselage at the bottom of the vertical stab.

I'm wondering if there is some advantage to that. Does placing the engine there create an appreciable pitch down moment? And how would that relate to the pitch up moment of the underwing engines? Are there any other aircraft that have this configuration?


There are a few ways the aircraft engines can be mounted on the centerline, each with its advantages and disadvantages.

Taken from http://adg.stanford.edu/aa241/propulsion/engineplacement.html
Image from Stanford University.

One way is to mount them as in DC10, with engine above the fuselage; another one is to use a 'S' shaped inlet and put the engine at the aft of the fuselage like Dassault Falcon 7X.

The main advantage of mounting the engine as in DC10 is that the inlet distortion is minimized and there is no need to cut a hole through the fuselage for putting engine. The main disadvantages are that it increases drag (slightly) and engine maintenance is a mess.

Apparently,the DC10 engineers tried to put all three engines in the wing during design, but were not successful.

Engines mounted in high thrust line like DC10 and Piper PA47 are highly stabilizing as increase in engine thrust causes a pitch down motion as the thrust is increased. This is usually disconcerting to the pilots, who expect the aircraft to pitch up while engine power is increased.

Finally they ended up adding design changes to correct this in PA47 (to make it pitch neutral).

In DC10, a combination of underwing and high thrust line engines would've most probably caused no pitch changes at all. So I guess the main advantage is reducing inlet distortion.

As MD11 was developed from DC10, it simply inherited this design.

Note: As for the pitch down moment being disconcerting to the pilots, it is better if someone corroborates it. It is simply that most aircraft don't do this.


Are there any other aircraft that have this configuration?

For a similar engine configuration, see the Britten-Norman Trislander, a development of their successful twin Islander.

Britten-Norman Trislander

Britten-Norman Trislander (picture source)

Generally, this configuration is unusual. It was driven by the desire to use existing engines on aircraft which grew too large to work with only two engines. Only one other airliner used this layout, the Lockheed Tristar.

Technically, the different location of the engines allows to control pitch with thrust input only. However, the slow response of turbofans makes them unsuitable for maneuvering; only trim support is realistically achievable.

  • $\begingroup$ The configuration showed on the picture (the Trislander) looks like the one on the Orlyonok (T-tail, motor in front of the elevator) $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    Aug 18 '15 at 15:56
  • $\begingroup$ @ManuH: Yes, this configuration is also used in a proposed amphibian from France. But both have no wing engines, so they are not exactly the same. $\endgroup$ Aug 18 '15 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ Another aircraft with a tail-mounted engine. $\endgroup$
    – Meower68
    Mar 23 '16 at 21:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Meower68: and now imagine you have some imbalance on that tail engine. Shudder! $\endgroup$ Mar 28 '19 at 6:19

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