AAHS Logo  American Aviation Historical Society

1956 - 2023, Celebrating over 65+ Years of Service

Excerpts from
AAHS Journal, Vol. 55, No. 4 - Winter 2010
Table of Contents 

75 Years of DC-3s in Flight

      December 17, 2010, marks the 75th anniversary of the first flight of the DC-3 series of air transports. It truly was the aircraft that created practical commercial air transportation. The Ford Trimotor, the Boeing 247 and the DC-2 paved the way. However, the DC-3 series was the first to provide commercial aviation with a financially viable aircraft on which to build profitable operations in a broad spectrum of markets. And, it was produced in greater numbers than any other aircraft used in commercial air transportation. Other aircraft have eclipsed the DC-3 series in performance, comfort and profitability. Yet, there are large numbers operating regularly and profitably 75 years after the first flight.
     In this article we will examine how the Great Depression, government policies, entrepreneurism and WWII came together to bring air transportation to people in every part of the world. The focus of this article is on the first designed, built and fl own in the DC-3 series, the Douglas Sleeper Transport, or DST. The first DST flew on December 17, 1935, 32 years to the day after Orville and Wilbur Wright accomplished the first powered, controlled flights. This DST was powered by two Wright engines. The first flight of the Wright fl yer was a mere nine feet longer than the wing span of the DST.
     The DST was a collaborative effort. As has often been the case at Douglas Aircraft Company, a major product line was created by a customer overcoming resistance from Douglas to pursue development. In this case the customer was American Airlines and its leader Cyrus R. Smith. American Airlines was a new organization that had emerged as one of the winners in the Postmaster General Walter Folger Brown meeting to divide airmail contracts among the four major airlines. Smith and American had transcontinental passenger route aspirations. On May 5, 1934, American began to operate services between Newark, N.J., and Grand Central Terminal in Glendale, Calif., using Curtiss Condor sleeper and DC-2 equipment. Grand Central Terminal was the major Los Angeles commercial terminal in the late 1920s and the 1930s. American’s Southerner Service operated the faster DC-2s on the daylight portion of the route, from New York to Fort Worth. Passengers transferred at Fort Worth to Curtiss Condor sleepers for the overnight flight to Grand Central Terminal. Eastbound transcontinental flights operated with Curtiss Condor sleepers from Grand Central to Fort Worth and DC-2s from Fort Worth to New York. American’s transcontinental Route 1 covered 2,759 miles. Rival TWA took delivery of its first DC-2 in May 1934. In August, TWA opened service with their DC-2s between New York and the Grand Central Terminal following a more direct northern route authorized in Brown’s airline reorganization meeting. TWA’s transcontinental Route 19 covered 2,583 miles via Chicago and 2,555 miles via Columbus. TWA operated the faster DC-2 . . .

First Douglas DST, NX14988, shortly after first flight


     In April 1923 in the U.S. aviation press, there appeared several articles on the Dutch Fokker F.V airliner. It was described as a logical successor in the line of earlier Fokker transport aircraft. Of these, the F.IV, or Air Service T-2, was already well known in the U.S. for its world endurance record and long distance flights. Its nonstop transcontinental flight had yet to come. 
     As Anthony H.G. "Tony" Fokker stated after his four-minute first flight in the F.V that it flew like a mob, the positive introduction in the contemporary press was at least remarkable. When the War Department instructed the Air Service on June 24, 1923, "to take all necessary actions to procure all available data on the Fokker F-5 Transport and the Davis-Douglas Cloudster...and to procure one of these planes for test" 1 in relation to the round-the-world flight project, one had to admit that the aircraft was marketed very well in the New World. Nevertheless, only a prototype of the F.V was ever produced and finally sold in Austria at a substantially lowered price.
When, some years ago, a large part of the contemporary correspondence between the Dutch company and its New York branch was rediscovered, it became clear how the F.V received so much attention in the U.S. Being a contender to the USAAS Circular No. 2354 on January 1923 for 10 transport aircraft, much effort was expended to sell the aircraft and to locate its production in the U.S. These efforts were the first steps towards an American Fokker factory.

Foothold in the U.S.

In the early 1920s, Anthony Fokker put a lot of energy and cost into selling his hardware in the U.S. A branch of his Dutch company had an office at 286 Fifth Ave. in New York with Robert B.C. Noorduyn in charge. With WWI still fresh in people’s minds, the branch was named Netherlands Aircraft Manufacturing Co. (NAMC), omitting the Fokker name, which was also dropped from the Dutch firm’s title at the time: N.V. Nederlandsche Vliegtuigenfabriek (NVNV). Originally the Fokker name was printed only on the branch’s letterhead, although later on the well known logo was added. After his initial visit to the U.S. in 1920-21, Fokker was encouraged by some orders for his aircraft and especially the U.S. Army Air Service proved to be a rather promising customer. Although the designated quality standard of the U.S. clients gave Fokker and especially Noorduyn a number of hard edges in the delivery of their aircraft, sale efforts stayed strong.
     Buying foreign aircraft was at the time much criticized by the U.S. aviation industry and especially the Manufacturers Aircraft Association, Inc. Noorduyn realized that the only way to get lasting acceptance of Fokker products in the U.S. was to start an American production unit. As the level of aircraft production was very low at the time, and to avoid great risks, such a start could only be justified by a substantial launching . . .

Fokker F.V Monoplane

Harold Ross Harris 

     1895, Lord William Thomson Kelvin, mathematician, physicist and president of the British Royal Society, declared: "Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible," and, in that year, Percy S. Pilcher built gliders that successfully flew. Among notable births were Sir Hudson Fysh, Australian aviator and co-founder of Qantas; and aircraft designers and industrialists John Knudsen Northrop, Leroy Grumman, and James "Dutch" Kindelberger.
     Noted in the local vital statistics sections of Chicago’s newspapers was a birth announcement of baby whose name was never as well-known as the persons mentioned above but who became one of America’s premier military test pilots, a respected administrator of Air Transport Command during WWII and later forged a career as a successful business executive with various commercial airlines.
     Chicago was just recovering from 12 inches of snow that descended on the city from November 25-26, nearly paralyzing the area. The local event that occurred on December 20 was the birth of future general Harold Ross Harris to Allen Ross, M.D. (an ear, nose and throat specialist) and Mae Irvine Plumb Harris of Streator, Ill., who were joined in matrimony on August 16, 1893, and whom the groom termed "the best girl in the United States." Later Harold would share the home with his two younger sisters, June (six years younger) and Jessica (10 years younger).
     In his youth the family moved to Los Angeles where Harris attended and was graduated from Manual Arts High School a year earlier than Jimmy Doolittle (who graduated in 1914) along with Doolittle’s future wife Josephine Daniels, and two of his dearest friends, Holland Kinkaid and Harold Morton, a future corporate lawyer.
     In subsequent years the young Harris studied at the Throop College of Technology in Pasadena founded by Amos Throop in 1891, which two years later became known as Throop Polytechnic Institute. This learning establishment eventually evolved into the California Institute of Technology and from which Harris graduated in 1922 with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. In spite of his father’s opposition, Harris played three years of varsity football at Throop, participated in an all-male chorus and joining an engineering fraternity. The daughter of the future general, Alta Mae Harris Stevens, noted that her physician grandfather was anxious "about his children’s health that led him to imagine that none of the three would ever live to adulthood." Nonetheless, Harold Harris would overcome his father’s sense of doom and live 92 years.
     Harris later remembered developing an ardent desire to fly at a very young age, after witnessing an air show at Long Beach in 1910; and from that moment he stated that he was sure aviation would be his future. At the same . . . . 

Complete Bibliography for this article (PDF document)

Boeing GA-1 was the production version of the GAX flight tested by Harris

The Incredible Douglas F3D

      The was designed in 1946 and was a complete flop. A few years later, during the Korean War, she was a resounding success and was the first jet night fighter in history to down an enemy jet aircraft. No other jet night fighter can make that claim and in fact that record, which was set some 57 years ago, has yet to be equaled. She was as fat as a pig and slower than any self respecting fighter aircraft had a right to be. The F3D, please allow me to translate the Navy jargon for you. The F3D was a Fighter and the Third fighter that the Navy had bought from Douglas Aircraft. It was really a simple and defining designation system. Years later, when someone thought that they had a better system, she was redesignated as an EF10B, which is sort of meaningless.
     As WWII wound down, everybody had been mightily impressed by the German jet aircraft and the Navy wanted a jet night fighter that could fly at 500 knots at 40,000 feet and possess radar intercept range of 125 miles. Someone had assured the planners that such capabilities were compatible. The sailors of that day were being misled. The other birds on the drawing board at that approximate time were slim aerodynamic specimens that could attain the altitude, but they all had trouble with the speed specifications. The FH-1, the first jet Phantom ever built, could attain roughly 36,000 feet and about 480 mph. Not knots or nautical miles per hour, but miles per hour. The difference is significant - 480 mph equals 425 knots. It was the sort of a game played by the manufacturers. For example, Douglas claimed that the F3D was capable of attaining 517 mph, which was roughly 450 knots and to achieve that speed she would probably have to be going straight down. Actually, when going straight down at full power, you could get going a lot faster than you wanted to be moving. My driver and I got into that situation on one dark night. We immediately reduced the throttles and popped the speed brakes and the brakes instantly slammed back into the fuselage. We kept milking the brakes to open them and slow down and they kept slamming back until we slowed sufficiently and changed the direction from straight down to something approximating level flight. We had started this maneuver at 28,000 and recovered to level flight in the gloomy murk at about 6,000 feet. That was the last time that we ever attempted to roll the F3D at 28,000 feet at night, or in the daytime for that matter. I say we. I was the guy in the right seat and as we got half way through the roll we executed a split-S. Allow me to translate that bit of aviator talk for the uninformed, we started a roll, but about half way through the maneuver, when we were inverted something went wrong. I suspect that the pilot who was supposedly on instruments at the time suffered from vertigo or some other such extreme ailment and allowed the nose to drop below the horizon. Fortunately there was still a glimmer of a sun set on my side and I suddenly realized that the tricks were all over and that we going straight down at full power.
     The difficulty for the F3D in attaining the desired speed . . . 

Douglas XF3D-1 during flight testing

The Douglas XB-19 

     Called both the "Winged Colossus of Santa Monica" and the "Guardian of a Hemisphere," the XB-19 was essentially conceived in 1930 on the drawing boards of Army Air Corps engineers at Wright Field. Though budgets for development of new bomber aircraft were nonexistent in the early depression years, some visionaries foresaw a future need for the development of a long-range, heavy-bombardment aircraft. The General Staff disagreed, and thus when funds finally became available, only twin-engine bombers of limited range were purchased. (Among these were the B-18 and B-23 bombers which Douglas produced in quantity. Though obsolete before WWII, they served the Air Corps well during the lean years.) By 1935, however, approval had at last been granted for the development of four-engine bombers.


     In the fall of 1935, specifications for an airplane that would surpass all others in range, payload and equipment were sent to a number of aircraft companies.
     Douglas and Sikorsky each submitted preliminary designs to Wright Field. Both were given contracts for final designs and mockups. Douglas’s was designated XBLR-2 and Sikorsky’s, XBLR-3. (The XBLR-1 was the Boeing XB-15.) Three months and $150,000 later, the Douglas mockup was completed. In April 1936, Douglas was announced the winner of the competition, and the Sikorsky XBLR-3 was cancelled.
     Progress on the XBLR-2 progressed rather slowly due to the shortage of funds caused by the limited military budget allocated for research and development during the Depression years 1935 to 1937.
     The aircraft was conceived as a large, four-engine, low-wing monoplane. The tricycle undercarriage rather unusual . . . 

Douglas XB-19 on its maiden flight

The P-51D/K Mustangs of the 
Royal Netherlands East Indies Air Force

     The interest of Dutch Military Aviation (ML) in the Dutch East Indies in the P-51 Mustang dates back to 1941. Urgent attempts by the Netherlands Purchasing Commission (NPC) to buy sufficient fighters for the ML resulted in a request to the U.S. government for delivery of 100 Bell P-39 Airacobras. The request was turned down but accompanied with the message that the Royal Air Force (RAF) would supply 100 P40Es from their consignment. It is unclear why, but the ML did not accept this offer immediately and requested on July 10, 1940, to acquire 100 fighters of North American Aviation’s NA73 type instead. Again the U.S. government refused but stated that the offer of the 100 P-40s was still valid, but would expire on October 15, 1941. The ML again requested Airacobras, which was refused again. When the Japanese forces attacked the Dutch East Indies in December 1941 the ML still had no modern fighters.

Mustangs after all
     After Java fell in 1942 the ML moved their operations to Australia and New Guinea and by 1943 were flying Curtiss P-40Ns. By 1945, this war-weary fighter was nearing the end of its usefulness and for the reequipment of ML No. 120 Squadron a request (N-2075) was sent to the U.S. for the acquisition of 41 Mustangs. This request for P-51s was finally granted. The aircraft were pulled from U.S. contracts and received Dutch marking while still on the production line. Delivery of the first 10 P-51Ks occurred in March 1945, followed by 10 P-51Ds in April with the remaining 21 P-51Ds arriving in June 1945. However, only 40 Mustangs actually reached Australia and got ML serials N3-600 to N3-640. The exception was N3-632 (USAFF 44-84795) that was not delivered. In Australia the ML Mustangs were made airworthy at RAAF aircraft depots and the first 19 (N3-600 to N3-618) were speedily delivered during May and June 1945 to the Dutch Personnel and Equipment Pool at Bundaberg, Queensland, located about 300km north of Brisbane well before the Japanese surrender. After VJ Day activities slowed and the remaining aircraft were delivered between October 1945 and March 1946. This slow down may have been a sign of lower priority on behalf of the RAAF and a changed attitude by the Australian government towards the Dutch "colonial" ambitions.

Flying to Java
     With the Mustang the ML obtained a top-of-the-line fighter that had proven its worth in battle, as well as one whose faults had been ironed out. The P-51 was heavily armed, had good range and was easy to fly. That there were two different versions did not matter from either a service or operation perspective with the differences being only distinguishable by their props.
     During April and May 1946 the 40 Mustangs were flown in three groups from Bundaberg to Tjililitan Airbase at Batavia (now Jakarta). They flew via Cloncurry, Darwin, Timor, Bali and Soerabaja, a distance of 3,200 miles. These flights were . . .

Flight of four P-51s of RNEIAF 122 Squadron

The Final Flight of Ensign Paul Blair

     At the southern end of Manhattan Island in Battery Park, about 150 yards from the South Ferry subway station on the IRT line, there stands the East Coast Memorial, a battle monument commemorating some 4,611 fallen soldiers, sailors, marines, coast guardsmen, merchant marines and airmen who gave their lives in the western waters of the Atlantic Ocean during WWII. The monument is a silent sentinel commemorating all WWII servicemen who went missing in action in the Western Atlantic, later deemed KIA, who perished in America’s great struggle against fascism, never to return to their native land. The monument is appropriately oriented toward the Statue of Liberty, sitting as it has for over a century, proclaiming America’s commitment to freedom for all who seek refuge on her soil. Inscribed on the western wall of the battle monument, among the names of other honored servicemen, is a simple engraving: "Ensign Paul B. Blair - USN Reserve - Texas." The simplicity and dignity of the monument and its simple inscription is a metaphor for the man himself.
     Born in the small town of Alvarado, Tex., on September 30, 1919, Paul Blair was an honor student, a fine high school athlete and, above all, a devoted family man who during the war maintained a steady correspondence with his parents, his sister Betty and his brother Thomas.1 And like thousands of young men from towns both large and small, Paul Blair went to war to do a terrible job and longed only for the day when he could return and be with his incredibly close-knit family in Texas. There is no bravado, no tales of daring-do and no inflated feeling of self-importance in Blair’s sense of himself. There is, instead, only the sense of necessity and a desire for the final day when it would all be over.
     Throughout his naval career Blair kept up a prolific correspondence to his family. Indeed it is possible to trace his naval career, however brief, through his letters home, most notably to his mother and father.
     After enlisting in the U.S. Navy and attending flight school in Pensacola beginning in May 1943, Paul Blair’s naval odyssey began in PBYs, his first airplane. "Well," he writes to his parents on June 15, 1943, "am back at the main base (Branson) taking basic - trying to fly on instruments." However, his stay at Branson was short lived. "I just got settled down and learn that routine at one base and they up and transfer me! The first week here we will be studying gunnery. It is kinda dull learning all the names and parts to the machine guns, but I suppose it is necessary." Writing home to his mother on August 9, 1943, Blair notes that, "You ask about P Boats, mom, . . . they are kinda large (4 bunks) a pilots compartment, radio compartment, and rear compartment. Two engines of 1,250 horsepower each burn 300 gallons of gas, and lately I have been flying everyday."
     On August 27, 1943, Blair sent a telegram to his mother stating that he "Received commission and wings today - nothing definite until Thursday." Blair was then ordered first to Norfolk, Va., and then to Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn where he notes that he . . .

This Martin PBM-5 is a later version to the PBM-3s flown by VP-203

Remember When:  Commander 200

      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. 

Commander 200 sales brochure