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1956 - 2023, Celebrating over 65+ Years of Service

Excerpts from
AAHS Journal, Vol. 54, No. 1 - Spring 2009
Table of Contents 

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

Pan American Grace Airways: Silver Ships of the Andes

    While the 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. 
     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  . . . .  

Complete Bibliography for this article (PDF document)

Panagra Douglas DC-7B

The Aero-Engine that Won World War II in the Pacific

     The 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 Paterson, N.J. 

Wright R-1820 and R-2600 Cyclone Engines

     At 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

     A 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.
     Wright 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

Luscombe 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 time. 
     Don Luscombe 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.
     The Phantom 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

Legalized 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 transportation.


     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

     1937 National Air Races 


     The 1937 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

Traces of a Second American Volunteer Group: The Glenn Hagenbuch Story 

     The early 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 Roosevelt’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 Escape 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

Boeing B-17D-BO, 40-3097: Better Known as "The Swoose"

     The Boeing 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 performances. 
     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 tune of this time "Alexander the Swoose, neither a swan or a goose it was a swoose."
     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"

Philip 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 . . . . 

Remember 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