“There is not the slightest doubt that American airliners now surpass the designs of every other country. Without prejudice to the other fine ships, the Douglas DC 2 may be recorded as the supreme American achievement in transport design.” Scientific American, January 1935
This American Air Lines ship #A79 NC 14278, c/n 1312 was delivered to American in December 1934. They sold it to the BPC on May 10, 1941. It crashed at Bathurst, Gambia on its delivery flight. Photograph courtesy McDonnell Douglas.
DC-2 Museum of Flight
Once TWA took possession of the DC 1, it did not take long for them to realize they had a unique airplane. They saw a chance to recapture the market lost after the Rockne crash, so they ordered 20 more DC 1s with some improvements. Some were in the interest of enhancing performance and others for passenger comfort. Combined these changes resulted in a major redesign of the airframe.
Producing an improved DC 1 was not just a matter of mass producing the DC 1 with some assembly line changes. It meant new drawings, a mock up, and new tooling. The Wright Engine Company had just introduced their 855 hp engine, and with the increased power, Douglas could stretch the DC 1 airframe. He added two feet to the fuselage, which allowed for another row of seats. Stretching the cabin changed the center of gravity so the wing had to be moved, effectively creating a new transport. The Douglas engineers reviewed the changes and decided to call the new aircraft the Douglas Commercial 2or DC-2.
In deciding to manufacture the DC 2, Douglas took another calculated risk. The DC 1 had cost the company more than $350,000. TWA agreed to pay $65,000 for each DC 2 (sans engines) and Douglas was betting the DC 2 would catch on so he could recoup his research and development costs. When the 76th DC 2 rolled off the line, it put Douglas in the black, clearing the research, development, and losses on the DC 1, and the first 25 DC 2s. The DC 1 had taken 58,000 man hours to build and the experts said they had to cut the time to 38,000 hours if they wanted to show a profit. The first 25 DC 2s came off the line before the arrival of Henry Guerin’s hydro presses. Guerin’s presses eliminated much of the manual shaping of the metal, and cut production time down to 32,000 hours.
A line drawing of the DC-2. Courtesy McDonnell Douglas.
Shown in this Douglas shop photo are: foreground (l) TWA ship #301, NC13711, c/n 1237. Immediately behind it is ship #302, NC 13712, c/n 1238. To the rear is ship # 307, NC 13717, c/n 1243. TWA sold this ship to Northeast Airlines on April 16, 1941. Who in turn sold it to the Treasury Department on July 24, 1942. It was designated a C-32A and was used for pilot training. Its final disposition is unknown; Behind ship #307 is #306, NC 13716, c/n 1242. Photograph courtesy The Boeing Company.
AIR MAIL CRISIS
On February 9, 1934, commercial aviation suffered a major setback when President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 6591. With the stroke of a pen, he canceled all airmail contracts with the airlines. This action resulted from an investigation into airmail contracts awarded by Postmaster Walter Brown, under the Hoover Administration. Accusations of graft, collusion, and favoritism in parceling out the contracts to the big airlines had prompted Roosevelt to take action.
TWA # 301, NC13771, c/n1237 was sold to Cox & Stephens on February 26, 1941. It was later sold to the RAF and carried the registration DG477 and went to RAF Squadron "Z." After the war it was sold to Indian Air Lines and registered VT-OAZ and reported to have been named, "ALLYSLOPER." Its final fate is unknown. Photograph courtesy TWA.
Roosevelt called on the Army Air Corps to bridge the gap, and fly the mail. Their outdated equipment consisted of a motley bunch of old bombers, and fighter planes. The pilots had little bad weather or night flying experience. They improvised by removing seats and used the bomb bays to hold the mail sacks, and they flew dangerously overloaded machines. During the week of training, before they began flying the mail, three pilots died in crashes. During the first week of actual operations, violent storms covered most of the mail routes. Two more pilots died, six were injured, and eight planes destroyed. Eddie Rickenbacker, vice president of Eastern Air Transport, called it, “legalized murder.”
On February 18, 1934, the day before TWA’s mail contract expired, Jack Frye called Donald Douglas and asked if he could use a new DC 2 coming off the line. Douglas replied that none would be ready until April. Frye had an idea. He wanted to show that private operators could fly the mail more efficiently than the Army, and he wanted to showcase the new airplanes the airlines were pioneering.
Frye called Rickenbacker and told him of his plan and Rickenbacker agreed to help. They loaded the TWA DC 1 with as much mail as it would hold, and departed Glendale, California, eastbound for Newark, New Jersey.
They landed at Newark Airport 13 hours, 2 minutes later, and set a cross country speed record. They also delivered the last sacks of contracted mail safely. The DC 1 averaged 230 miles per hour over the 2,609 mile trip (including two stops for gas), bettering the previous record by five hours.2 One newspaper reported on the flight saying, “the DC 1 made all other air transport equipment obsolete in this country and Europe.”
DC 2 A GIANT STEP IN AVIATION
"TWA received the first of their DC-2s on May 14, 1934, with the delivery of ship #301. It made its first airline flight on May 18, when it flew the Columbus - Newark - Pittsburgh route. (See Appendix C.)
To assure a marketplace, TWA introduced in-flight movies on the new Douglas. “The Flying Hostess” was the first feature film.4 This “extra” drew even more passengers.
American and European airlines all wanted the new DC-2. Eastern Air Lines..."
LONDON TO MELBOURNE AIR RACE
"KLM’s DC-2, PH-AJU, named “Uiver” (for Stork), would go on to world fame, by winning the 1934 MacRobertson London to Melbourne Air Race. The prize was a $2,000 gold trophy and $75,000 in cash. More importantly, the winning aircraft earned a solid reputation.
There were twenty-two entries in the race, and three were American, a Boeing 247, a Gee Bee Racer, and the Douglas DC-2..."
DC-2 FLOODS THE MARKET
"The DC-2 was such a success that orders poured into Santa Monica. Douglas had estimated he might have to fill orders for fifty to saturate the market. To Douglas’ surprise, six months after the introduction of the DC-2, he had orders for 75..."
"Donald Douglas introduced the DC-2 into the world market with a clever series of marketing moves. Everywhere it went it was in demand. When Douglas shut down production of the DC-2, it carried the flag of 21 foreign countries.
The DC-2 impressed Tony Fokker, and when he heard Albert Plesman, president of KLM, was going..." JAPANESE DC-2s
"When the DC-2 arrived on the scene in 1934, the Nakajima Company of Japan immediately showed an interest. Japan was building its industrial power, and it needed modern air transportation. This led Japan’s Nakajima Aircraft Company to open negotiations with the Douglas Aircraft Company. At the time, Japan was looking to replace its ageing Fokker Super Universals and trimotors, and the DC-2 caught their attention as it did elsewhere around the world.
On March 27, 1934, the Japanese aircraft builder, Nakajima Hikoki KK..."
"The DC-2 was a revolutionary airplane but it did have some undesirable characteristics. Landing gear malfunctions made some landings unpredictable. Pilots also complained that the plane was stiff-legged. The plane absorbed the shock of landing, but..."
BACK IN THE UNITED STATES
"Back in the United States the DC-2 was not only capturing the attention of the commercial airlines, it was also capturing the private market for executive use. Corporations like Swiftlite, and Standard Oil (the only operator to use the nine-cylinder Pratt & Whitney engines in their DC-2)15 found economy and comfort in the new airplane. Swiftlite even entered their machine in the 1936 Bendix Air Race, from New York to Los Angeles. Although it came in fourth behind a Beech C-17R, a Lockheed Orion, and a Vultee V-1A, it nevertheless continued to show its potential..." AIR SAFETY — A NEW AGE
"The growing concern for public safety forced the airline industry to become more professional. Douglas equipped the DC-2 with the latest navigational aids, and radio equipment. Flying became less physically demanding, and more professional. The airlines established tests for candidate pilots. They took rigorous written and physical exams. Background checks weeded out those with mental problems, and the preferred candidates were college graduates.
Douglas’ new airplane also changed the insurance industry’s hostile attitude regarding life insurance policies for air travelers. Using statistical studies, and meetings with insurance societies, aviation proponents proved air travel was now safe.
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