DOUGLAS AIRCRAFT CORPORATION
In 1927 the Douglas Aircraft Corporation was established in Santa Monica, California by Donald Wills Douglas Senior (April 6th, 1892 – February 1st, 1981). He was company president until 1957 when his son Donald W. Douglas Junior (July 3rd, 1917 – October 3rd, 2004) took over that role. Douglas Senior then assumed the role of chairman of the board.
McDONNELL DOUGLAS CORPORATION
Douglas was a major competitor of Boeing but on April 28th, 1967 aged 75 years old Douglas senior merged his company with the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation which had been founded by James Smith McDonnell on July 6th, 1939 in St. Louis, Missouri. The new company became the McDonnell Douglas Corporation (the company remained headquartered in St. Louis). Both companies were experiencing financial difficulties in the early 1960’s and Douglas was behind schedule in airliner deliveries, so the merger was beneficial for both companies.
Douglas Senior retired upon the merger but remained as honourary chairman for the rest of his life. Douglas Junior became Senior Corporate Vice President of McDonnell Douglas from 1967 to 1974 and then as a member of the board of directors from 1967 to 1989. James McDonnell became Chairman and CEO of McDonnell Douglas from 1967 to 1972 and then Chairman of the Board from 1972 until his death in 1980. Boeing had well and truly taken over as a leader in commercial aviation by the 1980’s and the end of the Cold War (1947 to 1991) along with cancelled and reduced military and airline contracts severely curtailed orders resulting in financial difficulties for the company once again. In August 1997 McDonnell Douglas merged with long time rival Boeing.
DOUGLAS AIRCRAFT HISTORY
Around the World Flight
In 1923 Douglas had his first major success that gained world-wide renown. He fulfilled a US Army Air Service requirement for an aircraft capable of circumnavigating the world. The Douglas World Cruiser was the successful result. It was an adaptation of the Douglas DT-2 torpedo bomber built for the US Navy in 1921. Fuel capacity was significantly increased from 435 litres (115 gallons) to 2,324 litres (614 gallons), a new tail design was implemented and the cockpits of the pilot and flight mechanic were moved closer to improve inflight communication.
5 Douglas World Cruisers were built and 4 of them with a two-man Army crew in each were flown to Seattle on March 17th, 1924 in preparation for the round the world flight. Everything went very smoothly with the delivery by Douglas and interestingly Boeing assisted them in fitting pontoon floats to the aircraft when they arrived in Seattle (they had a wheeled undercarriage during that first flight from Santa Monica but were about to undertake long flights over various oceans). The aircraft where then named after major US cities: Chicago (North), New Orleans (South), Boston (East) and Seattle (West) and set off on this epic flight on April 6th, 1924. Supplies, parts, spare engines and spare pontoons were located around the world in advance of the journey to ensure the aircraft were well maintained and the crews were ready for any mechanical issues that may arise.
Unfortunately Seattle crashed on an Alaskan mountain in heavy fog on April 30th, 1924 and was written off. The crew survived and walked for 10 days in the frigid wilderness to get to Dutch Harbour! Today the wreckage of the aircraft is displayed at the Alaska Aviation Museum in Anchorage (which I saw in 2014).
The other 3 aircraft continued on their journey across the Pacific Ocean to Japan, then onto China, French Indochina and Burma through some treacherous conditions and terrain to India. Upon arrival in Calcutta, India on June 26th they switched backed to a wheeled undercarriage. By July 30th they had made it to Scotland and were fitted with the pontoons again in preparation for their onward flight across the Atlantic Ocean to Nova Scotia, Canada. Once again a misfortune hit and on August 3rd Boston was forced down into the ocean off the Faroe Islands. The aircraft was lost but the crew were rescued safe and sound. They rejoined the others in Canada on September 3rd and a couple of days later the prototype Douglas World Cruiser was flown to Canada and named Boston II so the original crew could complete this epic journey. The aircraft were converted back to wheeled undercarriages for the final stage of the journey.
The aircraft completed the round the world journey landing back in Seattle on September 28th, 1924 some 6 months and six days after they originally set off from Seattle, following 69 scheduled stops in 28 countries across 44,342 kilometres (27,553 miles) with 371 hours of flying time! This was the most important aviation feat to date, these men had achieved an amazing adventure and Douglas took the mantle of the first around the world aviation company. The success of the Douglas World Cruiser led to Army orders for the Douglas O-5 observation aircraft which was a further development of the World Cruiser.
Douglas DC-3 & World War Two
In the 1930’s the Douglas Aircraft Corporation designed the Douglas DC-2 and DC-3 and changed air travel forever (by the start of World War Two Douglas aircraft made up an incredible 80% of all commercial aircraft in service!). These successes helped the company survive the Great Depression (1929 to 1939) and Douglas went on to build numerous warplanes and military aircraft in World War Two including the SBD Dauntless dive bomber that was so instrumental in crippling the fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy, along with transports like the legendary Douglas C-47 Skytrain/Dakota and C-54 Skymaster; and medium bombers such as the A-20 Havoc and A-26 Invader (the latter went on to conduct highly effective combat roles during the Korean War 1950 – 1953 and S.E. Asian conflicts revolving around the Vietnam War in the 1960’s).
Donald Douglas Senior was instrumental during World War Two in arranging for all major aircraft manufacturers and other manufacturers like Ford to work together and share their factories to build aircraft for the war effort, regardless of which aviation company originally designed them. As an example Boeing built Douglas A-20 aircraft in Seattle, Washington whilst Douglas built Boeing B-17’s in Long Beach, California.
“Although separated by miles and communities, we are one in purpose and policy … To build the largest number possible of the best airplanes in the shortest possible time.”
– Donald Douglas Senior.
To keep up with war production requirements Douglas expanded factories to include Long Beach and El Segundo in California plus facilities in Chicago, Illinois (the site would later become O’Hare International Airport) and Oklahoma (Oklahoma City and Tulsa). Douglas manufactured 29,385 airplanes for the war between 1942 and 1945 which was 16% of aircraft produced during that period and employed up to 160,000 workers at the peak of production (figures reported by Boeing).
Douglas Experimental Jet Aircraft of the 1940’s
As the world entered the jet age, Douglas was there in the forefront of jet research aircraft. The Douglas D-558-1 Skystreak which first flew on April 14th, 1947 (capable of Mach 0.99 in level flight but only supersonic in a dive) and the Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket which first flew on February 4th, 1948 (Mach 2.0 capable) helped develop future jet technology especially for military application.
Douglas in the 1950’s & 1960’s
In the 1950’s and 1960’s the Douglas Aircraft Corporation continued to produce highly successful combat aircraft like the A-1 Skyraider, A-3 Skywarrior, A-4 Skyhawk and B-66 Destroyer; transports such as the C-74 Globemaster and C-124 Globemaster II along with famous passenger aircraft including the DC-8 and DC-9. They also developed missiles and rockets such as the Douglas AIR-2 Genie unguided air-to-air nuclear rocket with a 1.5kt W25 nuclear warhead (deployed by the USAF 1957–1985)!
McDonnell Douglas Aircraft
Following the merger with McDonnell in 1967 the success of the company did not end with McDonnell Douglas producing many excellent aircraft designs. Their successes included passenger aircraft like the DC-10, MD-80, MD-11 and MD-90; and excellent military aircraft such as the F-4 Phantom II (originally under development by McDonnell), F-15 Eagle, F-15E Strike Eagle, AV-8B Harrier II, F/A-18 Hornet, T-45 Goshawk, KC-10 Extender and C-17 Globemaster III.
The legacy of Donald Douglas Senior on the aviation industry is legendary to say the least! In my next post I will feature the Douglas DC-3 Monument at the Museum of Flying in Santa Monica, California which pays a great tribute to this mans influence on aviation across the world (I made a visit to this museum in March 2015).