Fiftieth Anniversary of the First DC-8 Flight
A brief history of an aircraft that made a significant contribution to profitable commercial jet transportation. The scope of this article will cover the DC-8 program up to the time of certification of the first four models, the series 10, 20, 30 and 40. Other articles in preparation cover later aspects of DC-8 history.
While the DC brand mark was familiar to airline passengers for more than
half a century, Douglas Aircraft may never have acted as a pioneer in
commercial aircraft manufacture.
In the early 1930s the pioneering was left to
Boeing with their Model 247. The 247 was the first modern airliner to
reach series production. It produced what was, at the time, a relatively
high level of passenger comfort, high speed and safety. The 247 possessed
all-metal construction, retractable landing gear, reliable engines, and
was a low-wing monoplane. Unfortunately for Boeing, their business model
tied up production for United Air Lines which was a part of their company.
Other airlines were put at a disadvantage by the superior performance, and
attractiveness to the public, of the 247. This led other airlines,
spearheaded by Transcontinental and Western, to seek other options in
equipping their fleets.
Among the potential manufacturers approached was
Douglas Aircraft Company. Douglas had been primarily a producer of
military aircraft and a successful series of mail planes. Prior to this
time Douglas Aircraft Co. had designed and manufactured three commercial
aircraft. The lone Cloudster was modified and used by a California
airline operated by Claude T. Ryan. It must be said that the Cloudster was
not originally designed as a commercial aircraft. Rather, it was designed
to attempt a non-stop trans-continental flight. Douglas was also
responsible for the modification of several Martin flying boats for an
airline that operated between Catalina Island and the mainland in the
early 1920s. Two Dolphin amphibians were produced for chewing gum
magnate, William Wrigley’s Wilmington-Catalina Airline. Douglas did
manufacture one more Dolphin for Wrigley and two for Pan American
Airways. But these were produced after the design of the DC-1. So, the
total Douglas production of commercial aircraft prior to the signing of
the DC-1 contract with American was less than 10 aircraft!
Douglas Aircraft was a much smaller organization
than United Aircraft, to which Boeing belonged. And that turned out to be
an advantage for Donald Douglas’ company. Donald Douglas was very
trusting of those who worked for him. The environment was entrepreneurial
and management was able to . . . .
DC-8 Ship One takes off on
its first flight
Grace Airways: Silver Ships of the Andes
charming and beautiful Mexican-born actress Dolores del Rio, newcomer Fred
Astaire and veteran actress Ginger Rogers were dancing and romancing in
Thornton Freeland’s 1933 RKO production of Flying Down To Rio, the
majority of Americans were waltzing nowhere except to work or the
unemployment office during the depths of a very great depression. But here
was a story within a story for the movie was more than just a dancing
romance. It was also a promotion of Pan American Airways and its founder
and president, Juan Trippe, trying to convince those who still had money
that Pan Am had the ability of flying you to romantic and haunting
destinations which in this case was Brazil. According to the RKO files the
planes referred to in this Hollywood fantasy included the Waco Sport, the
Fairchild 71, the Buhl Pup and the Stinson Detroiter.
Bibliography for this article (PDF document)
In charge of production was a Pan American
Airways stockholder, Merian C. Cooper, which might have been the reason
the bandleader in this ever burgeoning extravaganza Gene Raymond led an
orchestra called the "Yankee Clippers." Cooper was probably best known
for his role in the production of King Kong and later with John Ford in
those memorable westerns of the 1940s and 1950s. By the time America’s
most popular and darling dance team of the 1930s had finished their boy
meets girl, boy loses girl and boys gets girl back routine for fantasy
starved audiences, an aviation scenario had taken place allowing Juan
Trippe to obtain a virtual monopoly on flights from the United States to
the Atlantic side of South America.
By 1930 Trippe had defeated Ralph A. O’Neill’s
attempt to compete with Pan American Airways along the eastern seaboard of
South America with an airline affectionately remembered as New
York-Rio-Buenos Aires (NYRBA). On March 17, 1929, NYRBA had been formally
incorporated in the state of Delaware. The airline was initially
profitable, but when O’Neill could not acquire an air mail contract from
the American government the airline foundered and in time became
financially insolvent. It was not long afterwards that all of O’Neill’s
Ford Trimotors, Sikorsky S-38s and elegant Consolidated Commodores were
flying the logos of Pan American Airways following the official merger on
August 1, 1930.
On the western side of the continent, however, a
different story was unfolding. Surely, 1929 was not the best year to begin
a business but on January 25 of that year Juan Trippe’s Pan American
Airways and the William R. Grace Company formed Pan American Grace Airways
(Panagra) to compete against SCADTA (Sociedad Colombo-Alemanos de
Transportes Aereos-also referred to as the Colombo-German Air Transport
Society). SCADTA was a German owned . . . .
Panagra Douglas DC-7B
The Aero-Engine that
Won World War II in the Pacific
success of the B-29 program and ultimately the conduct of the Pacific war
hinged on the timely development, subsequent dependability, and mass
production of the 2,200-hp Wright R-3350 Cyclone engine designed by
the Wright Aeronautical Division of the Curtiss-Wright Company of
Wright R-1820 and R-2600 Cyclone
a time when Pratt & Whitney dominated American aircraft engine
manufacturing with its Wasp and Hornet engine series, Wright
initiated its Cyclone engine series in 1923 with a Navy contract
for two of the new radial engines. In 1929 Wright merged with Curtiss and
by 1932 the two engineering departments collaborated to produce the
outstanding 9-cylinder 1,000-hp Cyclone F designated the R-1820
that were to power the Douglas airliners and the B-17 bomber. Work on a
14-cylinder engine began in November 1935 and use the hard-learned lessons
in the development of the R-1820. The 14-cylinder 1,600-hp Wright R-2600 Cyclone
was the company’s first successful two-row air-cooled radial engine.
It was used to power the Boeing 314 Clippers and would become a major
wartime aircraft engine used in the AAF B-25 and A-20 medium bombers and
the Navy’s TBM/TBF and SB2C carrier bombers.
Wright R-3350 Cyclone Development
larger engine was needed to power the B-29 and the Wright engineering
department’s developmental objective for the R-3350 was to produce one
horsepower for every pound of weight. Wright engineers mounted two
9-cylinder Cyclone engines together at a 90-degree angle from each
other to form a "V" with its open ends facing toward the line of
flight to yield a displacement of 3,640 cubic inches. Power from each
engine was transferred through a common gearbox that combined the power of
the two engines and directed it into the propeller main shaft. While
single Cyclone R-1820s had flown reliably over millions of airline
and military miles the new combined engine presented Wright engineers with
a number of problems. The gearbox added weight and there was two of every
engine accessory: two carburetors, two superchargers, two air scoops, and
dual fuel and oil lines. Although the dual engine was the standard 55
inches in diameter its cowl needed to be much wider to facilitate cooling.
engineers soon realized that the inherent problems of a combination engine
were significant and went back to the drawing boards to design an entirely
new 18-cylinder 3,350-hp flat engine that would become the company’s
financial backbone until well after the end of the war. Initially, Wright
didn’t have enough engineers to devote to the R-3350 project as they
concentrated on the R-1820 and its employment in the prewar DC-2 and DC-3
commercial market that would reach 70 percent and the military market for
the B-17. Also, at the time the potential and marketability of the R-2600
engine was thought to be greater than the R-3350. The company didn’t
assign a large number of engineers to it until 1942 when it was compelled
to do so by the awarding of the large B-29 contracts. . . . .
Wright R-3350 Cyclone
Model 4, the Elusive Luscombe
Just mention the name Luscombe to aviation types and visions of the sultry
and seductive Silvaire Model 8 will immediately flash across the
windows of one’s memory. That is if one is aeronautically normal; or in
the words of the author’s wife, aeronautically abnormal. Don Luscombe
named his first all metal creation the Phantom, producing two dozen
or so from 1934 to 1941. There was a reason for such a small total number
of these eloquently sculptured metal aircraft being produced and that
brings us to the reason for this article. Let’s briefly look back in
admired the way automobiles were produced on a production line. That saved
production costs and would be so much faster to produce than the welded
steel tube fuselage and wooden spar and rib wing structure of the
Monocoupe in which he had been involved. Now, if he could do that in the
aircraft industry, he could corner the mass produced, all-metal, light
aircraft market. Unfortunately, the beautiful compound curves of the Ivan
Driggs designed Phantom did not lend themselves well to mass
production. More metal skins wound up in the scrap heap than on an
airplane. Nick Nordyke, a talented metal smith, had to make each and every
compound curved outer skin by hand.
brought fame to Luscombe but, alas, not fortune. Every Phantom sold
for $6,000 depression dollars. It was akin to trying to sell a Duesenberg
auto in this depressed time period. The Luscombe Aircraft Development
Company needed a lower cost product if they were going to stay in the
aircraft business. First off, they needed a lower horsepower engine to
help bring down the outside costs. Although the Phantom was
advertised as being available with a choice of the . . . . .
Luscombe Model 4
Murder: The Army Flies the Mail
In 1934 the
painstakingly constructed air transportation system that had been hammered together by Postmaster
General Walter Folger Brown was devastated by the decision to cancel all existing civil air mail contracts
and to use the army to fly the mail. This decision by President
Franklin Roosevelt had catastrophic consequences for the army, the
air mail, and the commercial airlines of the day. The reasons
for, and the results of this ill-fated decision, provide a
fascinating glimpse into early airline operations, partisan politics,
and the personalities and egos of the movers and shakers of the
era. In order to clarify the events leading up to the
cancellation, we can break down the era from WWI to the beginning of WWII into four distinct periods with regard to air
During this period the Post Office initiated air mail
flights with an experimental service between New York and Washington D. C. In order to begin the experimental
service the Post Office borrowed the aircraft and pilots from the
army. From this humble beginning on May 15, 1918, the Post
Office expanded air mail operations into a transcontinental route
with numerous north-south feeder routes. These routes were designed to connect major cities and financial centers by
air. In July 1918 the Post Office acquired the first of its own
airplanes, six specially designed Standard JR-1Bs. Army pilots were replaced by six civilian air mail pilots and the Post
Office began independent flight operations on August 12, 1918.1 System development continued with the establishment of
operational and maintenance bases at various points along
the rapidly expanding routes with the ultimate goal being a transcontinental route that allowed all-season, day and
night operations. The Post Office established navigational aids, radio communications facilities and primitive weather
services along the route. The end of WWI had brought a flood of former military pilots applying for flying jobs with the
air mail service along with 100 war-surplus de Havilland DH-4 from the army.2
The DH-4 became the backbone of the Post Office fleet. By 1921 there were 98 planes operational in the air
mail service, the majority of them DH-4s.3
By 1925 the Post Office had completed the installation of
lighting along transcontinental airways. It consisted of
289 flashing beacons and 17 weather stations linked by two-way radio. Post Office pilots flew the mail from New York to
San Francisco in 29 hours 38 minutes.
Recognizing the need for better performance and larger
payloads, the Post Office ordered 40 specially built
aircraft from Douglas Airplane Company, the Douglas M-2. It had twice the capacity of the DH-4 and was significantly
faster. This was the largest non-military order for aircraft to
date and ignited the faltering airplane manufacturing industry.
Ironically, by 1925 the Post Office’s direct role in
flying the mail was coming to an end. The passage of the Kelly
Act, the Air Mail Act of 1925, mandated that the Post Office turn . . . . .
Restored de Havilland DH-4M2
National Air Races (NAR) were once more back in Cleveland. The 1936 NAR were held in Los
Angeles because of the expansion program at Cleveland Municipal Airport. The expansion
program created a 1,040 acre paved rectangular area rather than individual runways.
10,000 seats were added, the grandstands were rebuilt 1,000 feet back, and the
parking lot now had room for 30,000 cars.
The prize money pool available for the
races was $82,000, the highest to date. The race course was increased in length. The
Thompson Trophy Race was set up for 20 laps of a 10-mile course, or 200 miles. The
new rectangular course was set up mostly over farm land northwest of the airport. The
old race course east of the field was becoming too populated.
Three new racing planes were entered
in the 1937 NAR, two Seversky SEVs, civil versions of the military P-35, and Roscoe
Turner’s Laird Turner LTR-14 "Ring-Free Meteor." Earl Ortman’s mount, the Keith-Rider R-3, had new owners and several
improvements and was now named the "Marcoux-Bromberg Special."
There was a tragic fatal crash during the
qualifications. Veteran racer Lee Miles died in the crash of his Miles and Atwood Special
when a structural failure caused a wing to come off. . .
Earl Ortman’s Keith Rider R-3
of a Second American Volunteer Group: The Glenn Hagenbuch
WWII success of the First American Volunteer Group (First AVG) in the skies of Southeast Asia long
ago became legendary. To this day, loyal fans celebrate the feats of Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers by buying
books, listening to documentaries, appearing at signings and convocations, and seeking mementos from online exchanges.
The response has become equally enthusiastic in China,
since their government censorship has been relaxed.
Far less well known was the plan for a Second AVG, even
though the very name "First AVG" implies that a second
was intended. Hardly anyone has heard of a Third AVG which was part of the original plan. No books, no documentaries, no
signings, no awareness. In fact, the plans themselves died along with many Americans on December 7, 1941, with the
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Second AVG was to have included bombers, additional pursuit aircraft, crews from America, and
training programs for Chinese airmen. Chennault had been working with the Chinese government since 1937, and was
negotiating in Washington on their behalf over the winter of 1940-41, seeking military assistance in their war with Japan. On
December 20, 1940, Chennault proposed that he be placed in command of American heavy and medium bombers that would
stage out of bases in Southern China and bomb the
industrial heartland of Japan.
As ostensible agents of the Chinese government, the
American bombers and their crews would help counter the relentless and brutal war of aggression the Chinese had
been losing since the first Japanese invasion in 1931. The full
story of alternatives considered for aid to China is recounted in Alan Armstrong’s book, Preemptive
Strike (Hartford: Lyon
Press, June 2006). An even broader view of the entire two-theater war effort is in Joseph Persico’s
Secret War NY: Random House, 2001).
General Marshall vetoed the initial bomber proposal. He
was concerned that America not be flagged as the aggressor
in the escalating tense relationship with Japan. But the
White House continued to seek ways to assist China, and an
element of the Joint Army/Navy Board Plan 355 ("the plan")
evolved into providing fighter defenses to the Burma Road area of Southeast Asia. By late in the winter of 1940-41 the plan
was to send the covert First American Volunteer Group under Chennault’s leadership. Recruitment began in February
1941. The first Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawks and volunteers reached
Burma in July, and the last of the pilots arrived in
November. The Flying Tiger/POW story of one of the pilots in this
First AVG, Vice Squadron Leader Lewis Bishop, is told in Shiela Bishop Irwin’s
from Hell: An AVG Flying Tiger’s Journey (Bloomington,
IL, Tiger Eye Press, 2004).
By November 1941, recruitment was underway for a
Second AVG, this one to be based on bombers and supporting pursuits. The plan was aborted a month later by the attack on
. . . .
B-17 "Bugs Bunny" and crew
B-17D-BO, 40-3097: Better Known as "The Swoose"
B-17E, F and G models were mass produced during WWII and became famous. The earlier B-17C
and D saw limited action with only fair results, but a few individual aircraft put in some very spectacular
Before December 7, 1941, a mix of 35 B-17Cs and Ds
were sent to the Philippines to reinforce their air
defenses. After the Japanese attack on Hawaii and the Philippines
only half of the fleet of B-17s was airworthy. One of the
B-17Ds, 40-3097, later known as "The Swoose" is the only known
U.S. military airplane to have flown a combat mission on the
first day of the U.S. entry in WWII, and to remain in continuous military flying service throughout the war. 40-3097 was
transferred from Del Monte in the Philippines to Batchelor Field in Australia on December 17, 1941. It was
transferred from Batchelor Field to Malang, Java, on December 30,
1941. 40-3097 was the only B-17 of the 19th Bomb Group to
survive the Java operation.
Combat damages sustained during missions flown against
the Japanese were repaired with parts scavenged from other B-17s that were no longer flyable. The aircraft got its
name from 19th Bomb Group pilot Captain Weldon Smith, after the tail of 40-3091 was grafted onto 40-3097. It was at this
time 40-3097 became "The Swoose" recalling the Kay Kaiser College of Musical Knowledge
of this time "Alexander the Swoose, neither a swan or a goose it was a
Lieutenant General George H. Brett, Deputy Commander
of Allied Forces in Australia, lost his personal Convair
LB-30 in a Japanese air raid at Broome, Australia, on March 3,
1942. "The Swoose" became General Brett’s personal
transport. As a command plane, "The Swoose" remained in service long after it might have been scrapped. Even so, the sturdy
ship continued to log an average of 150 hours a month in the
air. General Brett’s pilot was Captain Frank Kurtz, one-time Olympic champion.
General Brett was relieved of his command in the Pacific
(because of his inability to get along with Gen. MacArthur
and his chief of staff Sutherland). Brett’s new assignment
was the Caribbean Defense Command. He took "The Swoose" with him. Flown by Major Frank Kurtz, "The Swoose" departed
Brisbane, Australia, for Washington, D.C., on August 8,
1942, with General Brett and Brigadier General Perrin. The
elapsed time on the flight to Washington, D.C., was 36 hours, a
record time. After a tour of the U.S., it was assigned patrol
duty in the Caribbean. "The Swoose" returned to the U.S. on
November 17, 1944, and went to Kingman, Ariz., for storage. Major Kurtz and his enduring effort to save the aircraft kept
"The Swoose" from the scrap heap at Kingman. "The Swoose"
was flown to Los Angeles in April 1946 to be displayed as a
war memorial. The city of Los Angeles purchased "The Swoose" for $300. Three years passed and no agreement could be
made where to display the aircraft. Los Angeles donated the
plane to the Smithsonian Air Museum. "The Swoose" was
refurbished at March Field, Calif., for the delivery flight. The plane
was flown by Major Kurtz to a USAF storage facility at . . . .
Boeing B-17D, 40-3097, "TheSwoose"
C. O’Keefe, Aviation History Detective
Philip C. O’Keefe
(1935-2008) was one of the major figures in the development of the Bradley Air Museum.
The really ancient aviation history buffs remember the Bradley Air Museum as CAHA "” the Connecticut
Aeronautical Historical Association, which was (and is)
the museum’s parent organization. Today, the museum is known as the New England Air Museum. The museum should place a
memorial to Phil somewhere, but with all the various tasks
he performed, the tough part will be figuring what and where.
I met Phil when we were both engineers at UARL (United
Aircraft Research Laboratories), now known as UTRC "” the big wind tunnel complex off Silver Lane in East Hartford,
Conn., "” and we worked together for about 15 years. Providing a list of Phil’s positions in CAHA’s
leadership would tell you nothing of the man. Providing a list of his accomplishments "” research on air racing, on the P-39
tumble, on how to get better cooperation among aviation museums worldwide, and many other similar projects would
also show you little of the Phil I am proud to have known.
Phil and I were Harvey Lippincott’s "trouble shooters."
Two humorous incidents will illustrate Phil’s wide
aviation history expertise, and also his "Sherlock Holmes"
brilliance and personality. In the 1960s and 1970s, Royal Frey was (among other things) Chief Curator of the Air Force Museum
at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Whenever an artifact
that he personally enjoyed entered the museum collection, it
would remain on a table in Royal’s office, just behind his
desk, for a week or two. It was usually covered or disguised in some manner. The game, for aviation historians, was to smoothly
move the subject of the discussion from whatever business
they had come to see Royal about to a subject related
(sometimes remotely) to what they believed the partly hidden object
to be. They would then mention that artifact and ask to see it.
If they were correct, they got to "play with it." As these
artifacts were ones not yet mentioned in a press release or anything, one needed to be both a smooth talker and a good
detective. O’Keefe went on a CAHA trip to see Royal "” a trip no
doubt made by detouring from a legitimate business trip (CAHA’s travel budget being non-existent). Phil noticed an
odd-sized old suitcase peeking from under "that table." He
considered the size briefly, and then adroitly moved from the plane CAHA wanted to obtain as a loan from the Air Force Museum, to
the extent to which the Air Corps affected popular culture in
the 1940s, to the fact that this included music, and from
there to "And while we are at it, let me play a few licks on Glenn . . .
When - Shinn 2150A
For those of us who recall the period, a boom in general aviation was to take place following World War II. It was anticipated that
returning airmen would trade their wartime aircraft, flown in hostile
skies, for light planes flown over peaceful American terrain. The return
of many veteran pilots, aviators and airmen was to be the catalyst behind
the figurative statement "an airplane in every garage," and it gave
impetus to artists’ conceptions of smiling families flying to vacation
destinations in futuristic light planes. Aviation magazines of the day
reinforced this vision by depicting modern-day housing developments with a
runway and individual taxiways leading up to each new home.
Aircraft companies and subcontractors shared this
optimism as they converted their wartime facilities into the manufacturing
of general-aviation aircraft. Soon their drawing boards were busy as they
transitioned from the manufacturing of bomber and pursuit aircraft of war
to the postwar pursuit of building light planes. In some cases, and for
expediency, their aircraft were prewar or updated designs. Other
companies, however, capitalized on wartime knowledge and transferred newly
developed technology into modern and innovative aircraft designs.
New light-plane designs and prototypes from major
aircraft manufacturers, including Douglas, Grumman, Lockheed, North
American and Republic, entered into development. Additionally, new light
planes from many other aircraft companies entered the developmental stage
at the end of the war (see listing of aircraft). Concurrently, production
was resumed on prewar aircraft, including the ERCo Ercoupe, Globe Swift,
and the Luscombe Silvaire.
However, the aviation boom was not to be. Many
war-weary pilots turned their vision from the sky to earthbound goals,
including home, automobile, family and peacetime employment. Also, the
exigencies and economic conditions at the time helped to fuel the death
knell of the aviation boom.
Shinn 2150-A marketing
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