The Legacy of Donald Douglas Senior

Donald Douglas Snr and Donald Douglas Jr.
Donald Douglas Snr and Donald Douglas Jr. (Photo Source: Boeing)

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.

Douglas Aircraft Corporation Logo
Douglas Aircraft Corporation logo

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.

McDonnell Douglas Corporation logo
McDonnell Douglas Corporation logo

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.

Douglas World Cruiser "Chicago" equipped with float pontoons 1924 around the world flight
Douglas World Cruiser “Chicago” equipped with float pontoons
The 4 US Army Air Service pilots that flew the Douglas World Cruisers in Seward, Alaska in 1924
The 4 US Army Air Service pilots that flew the Douglas World Cruisers in Seward, Alaska in 1924 – Wade, Martin, Nelson & Smith (Photo Source: Alaska Heritage Aviation Museum)
Douglas World Cruiser "Seattle" on April 13th, 1924 in Sitka Bay, Alaska during the US Army Air Service around the world flight
Douglas World Cruiser “Seattle” on April 13th, 1924 in Sitka Bay, Alaska during the US Army Air Service around the world flight (Photo Source: Alaska Aviation Museum)

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).

Douglas World Cruiser "Seattle" wreckage at the Alaskan Aviation Heritage Museum in Anchorage in 2014
Douglas World Cruiser “Seattle” wreckage at the Alaska Aviation Museum in Anchorage 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 Chicago, Boston II, and New Orleans head toward Mitchel Field, Long Island, outside New York City on September 8th, 1924 Douglas World Cruiser
The “Chicago”, “Boston II”, and “New Orleans” head toward Mitchel Field, Long Island, outside New York City on September 8th, 1924 (Photo Source: Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum)

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.

The round the world US Army Air Service route in 1924
The round the world Army Air Service route in 1924 (Image Source: Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum)
Douglas World Cruiser "Chicago" has been restored and is on display at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington DC (I took these photos during a 2013 visit)
Douglas World Cruiser “Chicago” has been restored and is on display at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum in Washington DC (I took these photos during a 2013 visit)

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).

Two USAAF C-47A Skytrains (based on the Douglas DC-3) from the 12th Troop Carrier Wing, loaded with paratroopers on their way for the invasion of southern France (Operation Dragoon) on August 15th, 1944
Two USAAF Douglas C-47A Skytrains (based on the Douglas DC-3) from the 12th Troop Carrier Wing, loaded with paratroopers on their way for the invasion of southern France (Operation Dragoon) on August 15th, 1944 (Photo Source: USAF)
Douglas SDB Dauntless production line 1943
Douglas SDB Dauntless production line 1943
Dauntless Reading 2013
The Douglas SBD Dauntless was a deadly US Navy dive bomber and proved its mettle at the Battle of Midway in 1942 where they attacked and sank or fatally damaged all 4 Japanese carriers present at the battle! (Photo Taken at WW2 Flying Weekend, Reading PA 2013)
USAAF Douglas A-20 Havoc medium bombers in WW2
USAAF Douglas A-20 Havoc medium bombers in WW2
Douglas A-26B Invader "Feeding Frenzy" Lyon Air Museum
Douglas A-26B Invader “Feeding Frenzy” (photo taken at the Lyon Air Museum, CA 2015) in Korean War markings
Douglas C-54 Reading PA 2013
Douglas C-54 Skymaster at the World War Two Weekend 2013 in Reading, PA

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.

A Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress under final construction checks in the Douglas Long Beach Plant during World War Two (October 1942)
A Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress under final construction checks in the Douglas Long Beach Plant during World War Two (October 1942 – Photographer: Alfred T. Palmer – Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum – Photo ID: 66121(13))

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.

U.S. Marine Major Marion Carl (left) and U.S. Navy Commander Turner F. Caldwell stand next to a Douglas D-558-1 Skystreak at Muroc Army Airfield (later Edwards Air Force Base) in California (USA). Both Carl and Caldwell established world speed records in D-558-1 type aircraft in 1947
U.S. Marine Major Marion Carl (left) and U.S. Navy Commander Turner F. Caldwell stand next to a Douglas D-558-1 Skystreak at Muroc Army Airfield (later Edwards Air Force Base) in California (USA). Both Carl and Caldwell established world speed records in D-558-1 type aircraft in 1947 (Photo Source: US Navy)
D-558-1 No.1 Skystreak (101 flights) at the National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola
D-558-1 No.1 Skystreak (101 flights) at the National Naval Aviation Museum at NAS Pensacola (photo taken during my 2011 visit)
Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket 1948
Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket 1948
D-558-2 No.1 Skyrocket on display at the Planes of Fame Museum, Chino, California
D-558-2 No.1 Skyrocket on display at the Planes of Fame Museum, Chino, California (photo taken during my May 2015 visit)

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)!

Douglas A-1 Skyraider taken at a FHC Flying Day in Everett, Washington
Douglas A-1 Skyraider taken at a FHC Flying Day in Everett, Washington
A-4 Skyhawk USS Midway CV-41 San Diego USA
Douglas A-4 Skyhawk aboard USS Midway Museum – San Diego 2013
Douglas WB-66 Destroyer at the Museum of Aviation at Warner Robins AFB in Georgia
Douglas WB-66 Destroyer at the Museum of Aviation at Warner Robins AFB in Georgia (taken during my visit in 2014)
Douglas C-124 Globemaster II Museum of Aviation at Warner Robins AFB in Georgia
Douglas C-124 Globemaster II nicknamed “Old Shaky” at the Museum of Aviation at Warner Robins AFB in Georgia (taken during my visit in 2014)
Douglas DC-8 at the California Science Centre
Douglas DC-8 at the California Science Centre in 2015
Douglas AIR-2 Genie unguided air-to-air nuclear rocket at the Museum of Aviation at Warner Robins AFB in Georgia
Douglas AIR-2 Genie unguided air-to-air nuclear rocket at the Museum of Aviation at Warner Robins AFB in Georgia (taken during my visit in 2014)
USAF Convair F-106 Delta Dart of the 194th FIS, California ANG fires a Douglas AIR-2 Genie nuclear air to air rocket
USAF Convair F-106 Delta Dart of the 194th FIS, California ANG fires a Douglas AIR-2 Genie nuclear air to air rocket (Photo Source: USAF)

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-80MD-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 IIF/A-18 HornetT-45 Goshawk, KC-10 Extender and C-17 Globemaster III.

McDonnell Douglas DC-10 prototype, N10DC makes its first takeoff at Long Beach Airport on August 29th, 1970
McDonnell Douglas DC-10 prototype, N10DC makes its first takeoff at Long Beach Airport on August 29th, 1970 (Photo Source: Boeing)
American Airlines McDonnell Douglas MD-80
American Airlines McDonnell Douglas MD-80
USMC McDonnell Douglas F-4S Phantom II
McDonnell Douglas F-4S Phantom II at the Flying Leathernecks Aviation Museum in 2013
McDonnell Douglas F-15C Eagles of the USAF take flight at Nellis AFB Aviation Nation 2014
SCRAMBLE! McDonnell Douglas F-15C Eagles of the USAF take flight at Nellis AFB during Aviation Nation 2014
USAF F-15E Strike Eagles of 366th Fighter Wing based at Mountain Home Gunfighter Skies 2014
USAF McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagles of 366th Fighter Wing the “Gunfighters” based at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho (photo taken in 2014)
RAAF McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet at the Avalon Airshow
RAAF McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet at the Avalon Airshow
Spanish Navy AV-8B Harrier II landing aboard aircraft carrier Principe de Asturias (R 11) in 2007
Spanish Navy McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II landing aboard aircraft carrier Principe de Asturias (R 11) in 2007 (Photo Source: US Navy)
US Navy McDonnell Douglas T-45A Goshawks
Kingsville, Texas (June 4th, 2008) US Navy McDonnell Douglas T-45A Goshawks training aircraft cruise together during a training flight over the skies of South Texas. The T-45 is a twin-seat, single-engine jet trainer and is the only aircraft in the Navy’s inventory used specifically for training pilots to land aboard aircraft carriers (Photo Source: US Navy photo by Lt. j.g. John A. Ivancic)
McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender tanker Gunfighter Skies 2014 Mountain Home AFB
McDonnell Douglas KC-10 Extender tanker at Gunfighter Skies 2014
Boeing C-17 Globemaster III Gunfighter Skies 2014 Mountain Home AFB USAF
Boeing (McDonnell Douglas) C-17 Globemaster III at Gunfighter Skies 2014
Donald Douglas Sr. with Douglas Aircraft models
Donald Douglas Sr. with Douglas Aircraft models

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).

References:

Alaska Aviation Museum

Boeing

Museum of Flying

Wikipedia

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