“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
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 2, or DC-2.
In deciding to manufacture the DC-2, Douglas took another calculated risk. The DC-1 had cost thecompany 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.
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.
While the government planned their strategy, they set new temporary rates ranging from 41-45 cents per airline mile. The old rate had been $1.25 per mile.
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 GlendaleCalifornia, eastbound for NewarkNew Jersey.
Frye and Rickenbacker shivered and sucked oxygen bottles crossing the Rockies at 14,000 feet. Over Ohio, they ran into a storm and climbed to 19,500 feet where they found an unexpected tail wind. They landed in Newark 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.”
The presidential election had also brought a new Postmaster General into office. Walter Brown was out but the question remained of his involvement in rigging air mail contracts. Eventually, in 1941, a court vindicated him.
His replacement, Postmaster James Farley, called for new contract bidding. He excluded from the bidding process all officers of the airlines who had been at a May 1930 meeting where alleged collusion took place.
This excluded practically all the major airlines, so the airlines changed their names and reorganized. American Airways became American Airlines; Eastern Air Transport became Eastern Airlines, etc. The “new” airlines bid for their old routes, and because of this fast shuffle, most of the original carriers won the new contracts on their old routes.
By the time new regulations were in place in June, and the airlines were flying the mail again, twelve Army pilots had died and there had been 66 crashes, or forced landings.3
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.
The DC-2 was a giant step in commercial aviation. New improved technology made it the safest aircraft in the sky, and it made the Boeing 247 obsolete.
American and European airlines all wanted the new DC-2. Eastern Air Lines ordered 14, and introduced them on their East Coast routes. Pan American Airways ordered 16, and was soon using them on their Caribbean and South American routes. American Airlines took delivery of their first DC-2s in last quarter of 1934 and quickly put them into service on their New York to Los Angeles route. KLM, the oldest European airline, ordered two. They were the first to introduce it to the European air traveler along routes between Amsterdam and the principal cities in Europe. KLM ordered 18 more, but it was the initial order that would make Donald Douglas and the plane famous in Europe.
LONDON TO MELBOURNE AIR RACE
KLM’s DC-2, PH-AJU, named “Uiver” (for Stork), and 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.
TWA had introduced the DC-2 on their Newark to Chicago run and it was giving United Airlines stiff competition. The DC-2 made the trip in thirty minutes less than the Boeing 247. That was not the only advantage the DC-2 offered. It was roomier and quieter than the Boeing 247. The evolution of the commercial airplane had followed closely the evolution of the air traveler. Business travelers replaced the adventurers who flew in the Ford and Boeing trimotors, and they flew because flying was a faster and more comfortable way to travel. If an airline could cut a half hour off the trip to Chicago, the traveler would switch to that airline. United Airlines tried unsuccessfully to compete with the Douglas DC-2 spending over one million dollars to upgrade their 247s.5
To attract more passengers, United Airlines entered a Boeing 247 in the London to Melbourne air race. This shocked the aviation world. A British newspaper called it, “American propaganda . . . an audacious assumption that such a ship could expect to compete with the fastest planes and designs on the continent.”
The principal competitors of KLM’s DC-2 were three custom-built twin-engine de Havilland Comet racers, and everyone gave them an easy victory. Not many people gave the DC-2 serious consideration. It had just arrived in Europe, and there was not much data on its performance, although KLM had begun flying the aircraft in commercial service.
All three Comet airplanes had been specially modified for this race. All three were uncomfortable, hard to handle and mechanically unreliable. All had engine trouble and one piloted by Jim Mollison and Amy Johnson (Mrs. Mollison) failed to finish.
The winner of the race was the British Comet, as predicted. It averaged 160 miles per hour over 11,300 miles, completing the race in 70 hours, 54 minutes. The Comet also won the handicap section, but the pilots opted for the more prestigious speed prize.
To everyone’s surprise, the second fastest plane was the Douglas DC-2 flown by KLM pilots, Koene Dirk Parmentier, and Johannes J. Moll. Since the Comet took the speed prize, the DC-2 won the handicap section.
KLM had also imposed their own handicap on the DC-2. The Comet carried no payload, but the DC-2 flew its regular airline route 1,000 miles longer than the racecourse. It carried a pilot, copilot, navigator, mechanic, three passengers, 421 pounds of mail and made 13 stops (the Boeing made 10 stops). At one point the DC-2 even returned to a field to pick up a passenger they had left behind. The actual flying time for the Douglas DC-2 was 71 hours, 28 minutes.6
The DC-2’s performance shocked race officials and the public. No one expected the DC-2 to come in 34 minutes behind the fastest plane in Europe.
One astute British columnist in the London Morning Post on the morning of October 24, 1934, said, “The results of the England-Australia air race have fallen like a bomb in the midst of British everyday commercial and military aviation. Pre-conceived ideas of the maximum speed limitations of standard commercial aero planes have been blown sky high. British standard aeroplane development, both commercial and military, has been standing still. America now has standard commercial aero planes with a higher top speed than the fastest aeroplane in regular service in any squadron in the whole of the Royal Air Force.”
Overnight wood, wire and fabric airplanes like Imperial Airways’ Handley-Page biplanes were old “string bags,” solid as the Rock of Gibraltar, and about as fast. An airplane that could carry twice as many passengers, twice as fast, had overtaken them. Tony Fokker was no longer the world’s foremost aviation innovator. The new name to reckon with was Donald Douglas. Dr. Albert Plesman, owner of KLM, after seeing the race results ordered 10 more DC-2s.
The Boeing 247 finished third in just under 93 hours, losing valuable time because of changing winds, radio failure, navigation errors, and engine trouble. Although the Boeing gave the DC-2 a good race, it lagged behind the Douglas DC-2 in both the race and the commercial market. The race had an ironic twist. The Boeing had won second place in the handicap section, and in doing so, was compared to the DC-2. This comparison was to be its death knell.
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.
In 1935, aviation pioneer Grover Loening, characterized the DC-2 as at least as economical as the automobile. “A Douglas plane,” he said, “transporting fifteen persons at 180 miles per hour uses sixty gallons of gas per hour. That’s about three miles to the gallon, fifteen miles per gallon for a five-seat load, not any more than a Ford or Chevy.”
He took the analogy to the source of the economy. “Consider the engine,” he said. “It is cruising at 1,800 rpm but it knows not whether the plane is flying at ninety miles per hour, as on an old Condor, or at 180 miles per hour like a Douglas. So the airline, for the same engine hours, gets twice the air mileage at no extra cost. All this because the designer folded the landing gear, improved the shape of the body, made better wing sections, and devised ways of saving weight.7
In July 1934, the Scientific American said, “The DC-2 put American commercial aviation years ahead of Europe. The airlines, faced with decreasing revenues from the mails, and with competition from the railroads, showed great wisdom in not merely stepping up the speed of their service. With the DC-2 they made conscious efforts to make every air trip comfortable for the passenger. When a traveler boarded the plane, a friendly flight attendant, or copilot, handed the passenger a little package containing chewing gum, and cotton for his ears. With the improvement in noise elimination in the DC-2 the cotton soon became an artifact.”
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.8
The DC-2 impressed Tony Fokker, and when he heard Albert Plesman, president of KLM, was going to buy DC-2s, for his fleet, he beat him to the punch. KLM had always used Fokker aircraft, and was Fokker’s best customer. To have Plesman buy the DC-2 would have seriously affected Fokker’s business. Fokker captured the European market by negotiating the sales and manufacturing rights from Douglas for $100,000. At the time, more than fifty commercial airlines, in thirty countries in Europe, and the United States, were using Fokker’s planes as standard equipment.9 it was a bitter-sweet pill for Fokker to swallow.
Fokker and Douglas made it possible for the European air traveler to fly with speed, comfort, and safety. Fokker never exercised the manufacturing rights because he was as successful as a salesperson. By 1935, twenty European airlines were flying DC-2s. Its performance, and press relations were so positive that airlines without the DC-2 were at a disadvantage.
Not since the Ford Tri-Motor did an American airplane have such world-wide appeal. The first modern American transport built after the Ford was the Boeing 247, but it was not exported until it had been up-staged by the DC-2.
Spain’s “Lineas Aeroeas Postales Espanolas” (L.A.P.E.) purchased five DC-2s, and the only DC-1. These aircraft were the first Douglas Commercials to see combat, serving as transports in the Spanish Civil War. When the war began in 1936, Spain converted three DC-2s to bombers. They put machine guns in the last two windows, and a third swivel-mounted machine gun in the roof, above and behind the cockpit. A rack carried the bombs to the doorway where a crewmember threw them by hand. After the war, these aircraft went back into airline service.
Poland’s Polskie Linie Lotnicze (LOT) ordered two DC-2s from Fokker, and with the cooperation of the Douglas Company, reengineers them with Bristol 750 hp engines.
The Soviets purchased a single DC-2, copied it without license, and designated it the ANT-35. The copies had Rhone-Gnome M85 engines, and the wing, and tail contours were changed slightly.
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, purchased the rights to build the DC-2 (for $80,000) and sell it in Japan and Manchuria. To enable them to begin almost immediate production, the Nakajima Company purchased one fully assembled DC-2 (NC 14284, C/N 1323 to J-BBOI) on November 22, 1934. When it arrived in Japan, it was put on public display. The Japanese aircraft engineers and manufacturers then realized just how far behind they were technologically in design and manufacture. After engineers studied the airframe it went into service in Manchuria. The Japanese also purchased five unassembled airframes from Douglas (C/N 1418 to 1422). These airframes came with Wright Cyclone 700-hp engines. Once delivered in Japan they were modified with Japanese flight and engine instruments. Initially these aircraft flew for the Japan Air Transport Company (later to become Japan Airlines), on their Fukuoka to Taipei, Formosa route, beginning in 1936. The Japanese designated this aircraft the AT-2 (for Aerial Transport), and later the Ki-34.
Production of the DC-2 began in 1935 with the first flight of a Japanese-built DC-2 occurring in February 1936. Although flight tests had not been completed by September 12, 1936, the first Japanese DC-2 began service in Manchoukuo, Manchuria, with Manchurian Airlines. By December 1936, the airline had ordered five more Japanese DC-2s from Nakajima.
By June 1937, at least 12 Japanese-built DC-2s were flying with Manchurian Air Lines. In 1938, all civil air transport carriers in Japan came under Imperial Japanese Army control. Shortly before the Pacific War broke out in December 1941, the Japanese Army ordered Manchurian Airlines to release several DC-2s to French Indo-China, to serve as military transports. At least a dozen of these aircraft were used in the Saigon area from October 1941, through November 1944. None survived the war, and no records survive to pin-point their final disposition.
Douglas also sold a license to Airspeed Ltd. of Portsmouth, England, to build the DC-2. The Depression, and the threat of war, kept them from commencing manufacture.
Frenchman Louis Renault also bought the manufacturing rights and planned to install his own nine cylinder 600 hp engines. World War II prevented him from going ahead with his plans.
The Chinese also took an interest in the Douglas DC-2. Canton Airlines and the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) each purchased two DC-2s. Soon afterward, CNAC merged with Pan American Airways (PAA), which was expanding its base of operation onto the Asian mainland. When the DC-3 came along, PAA bought it to replace its DC-2s in the United States. PAA transferred most of the DC-2s to South America, but several went to China. This gave the Chinese modern transport aircraft they would need to defend themselves when open hostilities erupted.
Everyone applauded the big Douglas. “There is not the slightest doubt,” said one magazine “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.”10 (See Appendix D.)
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 they felt it was like an old man, afraid to bend his legs in fear his joints would crack. Pilots had good cause to worry, the landing gear sometimes tended to collapse. The problem, an apparent carry-over from the DC-1, was so serious that four Army Air Corps planes were heavily damaged during landing or taxiing.
The difficulty in landing and taxiing besides being dangerous was frustrating. Ernest Gann, an ex-DC-2 pilot, and author, in his book, Flying Circus, summed up the futility: “When taxiing, the braking system in the DC-2 was activated by a heavy horn-shaped handle protruding from the left side of the instrument panel. By simultaneous use of the rudder and handle, the desired left brake, and right brake could be applied. Since there was an inevitable lag between motion and effect, the DC-2 was stubbornly determined to chase its own tail on the ground, and in the cross-winds, sometimes switching ends to the embarrassment of all aboard.”11
Although some sophisticated instruments like the auto-pilot, and the coast-to-coast nighttime navigation system made long distance flying easier, take offs, and landings were still hard work. A hand pump raised or lowered the landing gear, and it took sixty seconds of vigorous pumping to raise the wheels in moderate temperatures. In cold weather, pilots reported the gear almost inoperable. Some pilots even instructed their copilots to begin pumping before the wheels left the ground.
Gann also relates in Fate is the Hunter as a copilot, his captain once admonished him, “There are two kinds of airplanes. Those you fly, and those that fly you. With the DC-2 you must have the distinct understanding at the very start who is the boss . . . you will learn to love this airplane; and you will also learn to hate it.”
Gann recalls the passenger’s distress in the airliners of the 1930s. “The air is annoyingly potted with a multitude of minor vertical disturbances that sicken the passengers, and keep us captives of our seat belts. We sweat in the cockpit, although much of the time we fly with the side windows open. The airplane smells of hot oil, and simmering aluminum, disinfectant, feces, leather, and puke. The stewardesses, short-tempered, and reeking of vomit, come forward as often as they can for what is a breath of comparatively fresh air.”12
The DC-2s had the landing lights in the nose. This created the same problem in bad weather of reflected glare into the cockpit which had plagued the Condors, Fords, and DC-1.
The DC-2’s windshield also leaked. The problem was serious and would get worse with the DC-3. Ernest Gann, perhaps overstated the problem but painted a soggy picture of a cockpit crew. “When flying in the rain, the cockpit windshields leaked so badly the effect within was that of a seriously depth-bombed submarine.”13
The DC-2 was unknowingly the test bed for the DC-3. It had a steam heating system with major problems. This was another system that was not designed by a captain, copilot, or even airline passenger. The heat source was the exhaust from the right engine. Water tubes were placed in the exhaust where the water was converted to steam. The steam then went to a radiator located beneath the cabin floor where air entered the nose of the plane. This air would pass over the radiator tubes and the air, now heated would circulate through the cabin and cockpit. The condensed steam would then return to the boiler in the right exhaust for recon version back to steam. The system was simple but controlling it was anything but simple.
The controls were located in the rear of the companionway just behind the cockpit. The copilot’s job was to keep a head of steam in the system by delicately balancing the various valves and the amount of water in the system. Some people have said that many copilots in the northern climates spent half of their winter flying hours at this set of gauges, and not flying the aircraft. His job was to maintain at least a 15 pound pressure and ideally about 22 pounds. The modern day flight engineer is jokingly called a “plumber,” but the copilot of the 1930s was the plumber.
Ernest Gann said, “The steam heat system, centralized about a boiler in the forward baggage compartment was alleged to have been designed by Machiavelli. Much of the time the contraption gagged, gurgled and regurgitated ominously and to the dismay of the passengers occasionally filled the entire interior of the aircraft with vapors.”14
Even with its shortcomings, the DC-2 had some real advantages. It could take more physical abuse than the wood and fabric planes, and continue to fly. It had the lowest operating cost of any airliner of its day. Eastern Air Lines doubled its passenger load in 1935, and flew three million more revenue miles with twenty-eight fewer aircraft. The DC-2 enabled Eastern to retire its obsolescent Fords, Condors, and Kingbirds.
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.
THE FIRST CRASH
Eventually there was tragedy. On December 21, 1934, KLM’s “Uiver” took off from Amsterdam, on a holiday flight to Java. Twenty-four hours later, it was a charred, twisted hunk of smoldering metal in the Syrian Desert. There were no survivors among the three crew and four passengers.
Weeks later, KLM released the results of its investigation. The DC-2 had hit the ground at full speed, all switches on, throttles wide open, the surface controls in a cruising attitude, and the landing gear retracted. The official report said lightning struck the aircraft killing all on board immediately. The aircraft continued to fly until it flew itself into the ground, somersaulting, and bursting into flames.
Five months after the crash, the public was beginning to feel confident with the airplane again. DC-2s had logged more than 20,000,000 miles of safe flying in 21 countries.
TWA Flight 323 was eastbound from Los Angeles, to Kansas City. The Kansas City tower notified the captain the field was closed because of bad weather, and advised him to proceed to an emergency field 130 miles away.
When the plane arrived over the field, the captain found the area covered in clouds. He waited until the last possible moment with his fuel nearly exhausted, before beginning his descent. Blindly he poked through the clouds looking for an opening. The plane’s angle of descent was too sharp, and by the time the pilot saw the ground, all he could do was attempt to level off. When the plane struck the ground, it narrowly missed a farmhouse, crashed through a fence, and came to rest on a roadway.
Eleven people survived the crash, but the pilot, copilot, flight attendant, and one passenger died. The passenger was senior United States Senator Bronson Cutting. It was TWA’s first fatality since the Rockne crash, and, unfortunately involved the death of a public figure. Cutting’s colleagues launched an investigation. There were public hearings, charges, and counter charges. Senator Cutting’s death had come a year after the Army’s tragic attempt to fly the mails. The bad taste of publicity with the airmail fiasco was still fresh in the mouths of the senators, and the hearings took the form of a head hunting expedition against the airlines, in particular, TWA. Newspapers played it up worse than the Rockne crash. The reputation of the DC-2 and the Douglas Company was at stake.
The official report said the crash was the result of bad weather and inadequate weather reporting. The investigation cleared the pilots, the aircraft, and its designers of any wrongdoing or poor design. There was no evidence of mechanical or structural failure. There would be other DC-2 crashes but none because of structural failure. Douglas had built a rugged and reliable airplane.
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.16
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.
Dr. P. T. Harvey, vice president of the Massachusetts Indemnity Co. wrote, “Concerning the hazards of the various modes of transportation available today, this company has, on the basis of experience, issued a ruling that executives, or salesmen traveling by air, on regularly established airlines, are to be classified as ‘A’ risks. Those traveling by automobile are to be classified ‘B’ risks ‘A’ risks being safer than ‘B’ risks).”
Grover Loening put it simply, and to the point. “Here is another fundamental principle of air transport. The plane offers the safest way to go fast. Try driving a car or bus over eighty for any length of time and see how long you’ll live. The real test of air transport is this. Can the excellence, comfort, and speed of the service given be made so great as to offset the few remaining dangers? I think it can.”17
The DC-2 had achieved the ultimate in air travel. It was the fastest and safest plane in the sky, it was more reliable than the Ford or Boeing, and had greater seat-per-mile economy. It made possible faster schedules; New York to Chicago in less than five hours, and Miami was a mere eight hours away. Overnight to Los Angeles was now a reality.
The effect of the DC-2 on commercial aviation cannot be overstated. In three decades engine power had increased 30-fold, and in ten years, the poorly equipped, single engine fabric and wood airplane had become the scientifically operated, 12-ton, multi-engine transport.
In the first six months in 1934, DC-2s flew 27 percent of all the air miles flown; yet the 42 DC-2s were only 7 1/2 percent of the total aircraft in service in the United States.
In summing up the impact of the DC-2 on commercial aviation, Igor Sikorsky, famous for his flying boats and helicopters said, “American aviation is definitely superior to European aviation. I think the only airplanes of this size being built in Germany are the Junkers three engine transports. These ships, although excellent in themselves, do not attain the performance of the DC-2.”
In referring to the greatly improved economic situation in his company, Douglas compared it to the Depression economy in the nation. “It seems to me,” he said, “this has been the golden age of aeronautics for us, although not an age of gold in America.” The humility of Douglas prevented him from mentioning his DC-2s and their effect on world commerce. He also did not mention that TWA’s DC-2s were breaking one record after another. In a two-month period they broke the New York to Chicago speed record four times. In the first few months of DC-2 service it established 19 American and world records.18
When William Douglas and Mrs. Douglas rode in the DC-2, they were thrilled with their son’s accomplishment. His father said, “It was a great ride but my back felt broken for two days after the trip.” He teased his son by saying the plane almost finished him off. Later, when his parents flew in the DC-3, his father could find nothing to tease his son about. It was perfection.19
Arthur Raymond saw the DC-2 as an interim step in the evolution of commercial air transportation. “The most important contribution,” he said, “of the DC-2 to aviation technology was its bridge to the DC-3.”20
The DC-2 was a hit with the industry. It was unlike every other airplane in the air at the time. It had structural strength and integrity, a roomy cabin and according to all experts in the industry, it was a quality product in every way.
After the introduction of the DC-2, the slow and noisy Curtiss Condors were flying practically empty even with the attraction of sleeper berths. American Airlines had put the Curtiss T-32 Condor biplane on their New York to Chicago run just two weeks before the first flight of the Boeing 247, but that did not help. Their fleet of Condors, Fords and Fokkers had lost almost one million dollars in the last six months of 1934.21 American had even tried sleeper accommodations on one of their Fords. Apparently, some people welcomed a chance to sleep, even on a noisy Ford, while traveling over the vast American Airlines route system. American Airlines needed a modern airplane, but also wanted to retain their sleeper airplanes since they attracted the luxury passengers. Although American Airlines had 16 DC-2s on the line, the DC-2 they decided was too narrow to fit a comfortable berth. American Airlines decided they needed a bigger airplane, and Douglas was the company to make the airplane they needed.
XC-32: (1936) 1 made. c/n 1414. 750 hp Wright engines;
DC-2 redesignated C-3: 14 passengers. There was no logical reason for assigning this aircraft an "X" designation since that designation is for experimental aircraft. The DC-2 had been type-certified as a civilian transport and in service at the time. A service test classification "Y" would have been more appropriate since the Army did this in the past with other "off-the-shelf" procurement.
C-32A: (1942) 24 made. 740 hp Wright engines.
C-33: (1936) 18 made. 750 hp Wright engines; larger tail/cargo door. Adapted for bulk cargo w/reinforced floor and two section 63 by 69 inch cargo door.
C-33A: 1 made. C-33 with DC-3 tailplane, nacelles, undercarriage & brakes.
YC-34: (1937) 2 made. Service test versions of the XC-32.
Revised interior. 14 passengers. Later the "Y" was dropped and they became Army 36-345 and 36-346. The first was damaged in a landing accident on 3 January 1943 and classified to "Class 26 material," a non-flying instructional airframe and the second aircraft was destroyed in a crash on 29 December 1942.
C-38: (1937) 1 remanufactured. 930 hp Wright engines. Conversion C-33
w/DC-3 tail (DC-2 1/2).
C-39: (1939) 35 made. 975 hp Wright engines; DC-2 fuselage;
DC-3 center section/tail/cargo door. 39 were ordered on the contract. Two additional C-39s later became C-42s. Another aircraft on the contract was not a DC-2 variant but a DC-3 and became a C-41.