Donald Wills Douglas, Sr.

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Donald Wills Douglas, Sr.

 Douglas Aircraft Dynasty

Donald Wills Douglas, Sr. was born April 6, 1892 in Brooklyn, New York was a United States aircraft industrialist and founder of the Douglas Aircraft Company in 1921.

Donald was the second son of an assistant cashier at the National Park Bank and attended the Trinity Chapel School. He was an aviation enthusiast; after he graduated in 1909, he enrolled in the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

In the fall of 1908, at the age of 16, he convinced his mother that he needed to witness the Fort Myer trials of the Wright Flyer, and he later built model airplanes, some with rubber-band and other motors, in his dormitory room at Annapolis and tested them on the grounds and in the academy’s armory. In 1912 he resigned from the academy in order to pursue a career in aeronautical engineering. After being turned down for jobs by Grover Loening and Glenn Curtiss, Douglas enrolled in MIT. He received his Bachelor of Science in Aeronautical Engineering—the first person to receive such a degree from MIT—in 1914, but remained there another year as an assistant to Professor Jerome Hunsaker.

In 1915 Douglas joined the Connecticut Aircraft Company, participating in the designing of the Navy’s first dirigible, the DN-1. In August 1915 Douglas left for the Glenn Martin Company where he was, at 23 years old, chief engineer. Shortly after Glenn Martin merged with Wright Company to form Wright-Martin, Douglas resigned to become, in November 1916, the chief civilian aeronautical engineer of the Aviation Section of the US Army Signal Corps. Soon thereafter he returned to the newly reformed Glenn L. Martin Company, in Cleveland, Ohio, again becoming their chief engineer. Douglas would design the Martin MB-1 Bomber.

In March 1920 Douglas resigned from his $10,000 a year job to return to California, where he had met and, in 1916, married his wife, Charlotte Marguerite Ogg. He soon started his first aircraft company, Davis-Douglas Company with financing from partner David Davis. They worked together to attempt to build an aircraft that could fly coast to coast nonstop, the Douglas Cloudster. Following an unsuccessful attempt, Davis left the partnership, and Douglas founded the Douglas Aircraft Company.

The Douglas Aircraft Company

The Douglas Aircraft Company was founded by Donald Wills Douglas, Sr. on July 22, 1921 in Santa Monica, California, following dissolution of the Davis-Douglas Company.

An early claim to fame was the first circumnavigation of the world by air in Douglas airplanes in 1924. In 1923, the U.S. Army Air Service was interested in pursuing a mission to be the first to circumnavigate the earth by aircraft, a program called “World Flight”.

Donald Douglas proposed a modified Douglas Aircraft Company DT to meet the Army’s needs. The two-place, open cockpit DT biplane torpedo bomber had previously been supplied to the Navy. The DTs to be modified were taken from the assembly lines at the company’s manufacturing plants in Rock Island, Illinois and Dayton, Ohio.

The modified aircraft known as the Douglas World Cruiser (DWC), also was the first major project for Jack Northrop who designed the fuel system for the series. After the prototype was delivered in 1923, upon the successful completion of tests in November, the Army commissioned Douglas to build four production aircraft. Due to the demanding expedition ahead, spare parts, including 15 extra Liberty L-12 engines, 14 extra sets of pontoons, and enough replacement airframe parts for two more aircraft were specified and sent to way points along the route. The last aircraft was delivered in March 1924.

After the success of the World Cruiser, the Army Air Service ordered six similar aircraft as observation aircraft. The success of the DWC established Douglas Aircraft Company among the major aircraft companies of the world and led it to adopt the motto “First Around the World – First the World Around”. The company also adopted a logo that showed aircraft circling a globe, replacing the original winged heart logo. The Douglas logo evolved into an aircraft, a rocket, and a globe and was later adopted by the McDonnell Douglas Corporation, and then became the basis of the logo of the Boeing Company.

The company is most famous for the “Douglas Commercial” or “DC” series of commercial aircraft, including what is often regarded as the most significant transport aircraft ever made: the DC-3.

The DC-3 was also produced as a military transport known as the C-47 Skytrain or “Dakota.” Many Douglas aircraft had unusually long service lives, and many remain in service today. Actually now, regaining new life as “Turbo conversions” by Bassler which are totally refurbished and certified by the FAA as “zero time” air frame.

Douglas also created a wide variety of aircraft for the US armed forces, the Navy in particular.

The company initially built torpedo bombers for the US Navy, but developed a number of variants of these aircraft, including observation aircraft and a commercial airmail variant. Within five years, the company was building over 100 aircraft annually. Among the early employees at Douglas were Edward Heinemann, “Dutch” Kindelberger, and Jack Northrop, who later founded Northrop Aircraft Manufacturing Company.

The company retained its military market and expanded into amphibians in the late 1920s, also moving its facilities to Clover Field at Santa Monica. The Santa Monica complex was so large that the mail girls used roller skates to deliver the intra-company mail. By the end of World War II, Douglas had facilities at Santa Monica, El Segundo, Long Beach, and Torrance, California; Tulsa and Midwest City, Oklahoma; and Chicago, Illinois.

In 1934, Douglas produced a commercial twin engine transport, the DC-2, followed by that famous DC-3 in 1936. The wide range of aircraft produced by Douglas included airliners, light and medium bombers, fighters, transports, observation aircraft, and experimental aircraft. During WWII, Douglas joined the BVD (Boeing-Vega-Douglas) consortium to produce the B-17 Flying Fortress. After the war, Douglas built another Boeing design under license, the B-47 Stratojet.

World War II was a major boost for Douglas. The company produced almost 30,000 aircraft from 1942 to 1945, and its workforce swelled to 160,000. The company produced a number of aircraft including the C-47 also based on the DC-3, the DB-7 known as the A-20, Havoc or Boston, the Dauntless and the A-26 Invader. The company suffered following the end of hostilities, with an end to government aircraft orders and a surplus of aircraft. It heavily cut its workforce, laying off almost 100,000 people.

The United States Army Air Forces established Project RAND with the objective of looking into long range planning of future weapons. In March 1946, Douglas Aircraft Company was granted the contract to research on intercontinental warfare. Project RAND later become the RAND Corporation.

Douglas continued to develop new aircraft, including the successful four engine DC-6 in 1946 and its last propeller driven commercial aircraft, the DC-7 in 1953.

The company had moved into jet propulsion, producing its first for the military the conventional F3D Skyknight in 1948 and then the more ‘jet age’ F4D Skyray in 1951. Douglas also made commercial jets, producing the DC-8 in 1958 to compete with the new Boeing 707.

Douglas was a pioneer in related fields, such as ejection seats, air-to-air, surface-to-air, and air-to-surface missiles, launch vehicles, bombs and bomb racks. Douglas was eager to enter the new missile business in the 1950s. Douglas moved from producing air-to-air rockets and missiles to entire missile systems under the 1956 Nike program and became the main contractor of the Skybolt air-launched ballistic missile program and the Thor ballistic missile program. Douglas also earned contracts from NASA, notably for designing the S-IVB stage of the Saturn V heavy-lift rocket.

In 1967, the company was struggling to expand production to meet demand for DC-8 and DC-9 airliners and the A-4 Skyhawk military attack aircraft. Quality and cash flow problems, DC-10 development costs, combined with shortages due to the Vietnam War, led Douglas to agree to a merger with McDonnell Aircraft Corporation to form McDonnell Douglas. Douglas Aircraft Company continued as a wholly owned subsidiary of McDonnell Douglas, but its space and missiles division became part of a new subsidiary called McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Company.

McDonnell Douglas later merged with its rival Boeing in 1997. Boeing combined the Douglas Aircraft Company with the Boeing Commercial Airplanes division, ending more than 75 years of Douglas Aircraft Company history. The last Long Beach-built commercial aircraft, the Boeing 717 a third generation version of the Douglas DC-9, ceased production in May 2006. In 2011, the C-17 Globemaster III was the last aircraft to be assembled at the Long Beach facility before closing.

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3 Responses to Donald Wills Douglas, Sr.

  1. Thanks for telling me so much about the Douglas aircraft!Its nice to know that there are people around that make the effort as you have done to supply this information.
    Thank you so much and well done.
    Best Wishes
    Alan Letcher

    • Thank you for your comment. It make it so much more worthwhile to know our efforts are appreciated by the readers. We know the readers are there by the thousands of hits from all over the world we get, however it is a shame there are such a few comments made.
      It is people like you that do take the time and effort to make comments that gives all the “want” to continue to do the research and take time to write these articles. Thank you. “JR”

  2. Commercial aviation owes a great debt to Donald Douglas. When Douglas merged with Boeing a great company helped make a unique aviation company

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