The Douglas Aircraft Company was an American aerospace manufacturer based in Southern California. It was founded in 1921 by Donald Wills Douglas, Sr. and later merged with McDonnell Aircraft in 1967 to form McDonnell Douglas. Douglas Aircraft Company largely operated as a division of McDonnell Douglas (MD) after the company mergers. MD later merged with Boeing in 1997.
|Douglas Aircraft Company|
|Fate||Merged with McDonnell Aircraft Corporation|
|Headquarters||Santa Monica, California, Long Beach, California|
The 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 carrying out a mission to circumnavigate the Earth for the first time by aircraft, a program called "World Flight". Donald Douglas proposed a modified Douglas DT to meet the Army's needs. The two-place, open cockpit DT biplane torpedo bomber had previously been produced for the U.S. Navy. The DTs were taken from the assembly lines at the company's manufacturing plants in Rock Island, Illinois and Dayton, Ohio to be modified.
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 November 1923, upon the successful completion of tests on 19 November, the Army commissioned Douglas to build four production series 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 chosen. These were sent to airports along the route. The last of these aircraft was delivered to the U.S. Army on 11 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 the 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".
Douglas adopted a logo that showed aircraft circling a globe, replacing the original winged heart logo. The logo evolved into an aircraft, a rocket, and a globe. This logo was later adopted by the McDonnell Douglas Corporation, and then became the basis of the current logo of the Boeing Company after their 1997 merger.
The company is most famous for the "DC" (Douglas Commercial) series of commercial aircraft, including what is often regarded as the most significant transport aircraft ever made: the Douglas DC-3, which was also produced as a military transport known as the C-47 Skytrain or "Dakota" in British service. Many Douglas aircraft had long service lives.
Douglas Aircraft designed and built a wide variety of aircraft for the U.S. military, including the Navy, Army Air Forces, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard.
The company initially built torpedo bombers for the U.S. Navy, but it developed a number of different versions of these aircraft, including reconnaissance planes and airmail aircraft. Within five years, the company was building about 100 aircraft annually. Among the early employees at Douglas were Ed Heinemann, "Dutch" Kindelberger, and Jack Northrop, who later founded the Northrop Corporation.
The company retained its military market and expanded into amphibian airplanes in the late 1920s, also moving its facilities to Clover Field at Santa Monica, California. The Santa Monica complex was so large, the mail girls used roller skates to deliver the intracompany 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-engined transport plane, the Douglas DC-2, followed by the famous DC-3 in 1936. The wide range of aircraft produced by Douglas included airliners, light and medium bombers, fighter aircraft, transports, reconnaissance aircraft, and experimental aircraft.
During World War II, 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 turbojet-powered bomber, using a government-owned factory in Marietta, Georgia.
World War II was a major boost for Douglas. Douglas ranked fifth among United States corporations in the value of wartime production contracts. 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 Skytrain, the DB-7 (known as the A-20, Havoc or Boston), the SBD Dauntless dive bomber, and the A-26 Invader.
Douglas Aircraft suffered cutbacks at the end of the war, with an end to government aircraft orders and a surplus of aircraft. It was necessary to cut heavily into its workforce, letting go of nearly 100,000 workers.
The United States Army Air Forces established 'Project RAND' (Research ANd Development) 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-engined Douglas DC-6 (1946) and its last propeller-driven commercial aircraft, the Douglas DC-7 (1953). The company had moved into jet propulsion, producing its first for the U.S. Navy — the straight-winged F3D Skyknight in 1948 and then the more "jet age" style F4D Skyray in 1951. Douglas also made commercial jets, producing the Douglas DC-8 in 1958 to compete with the new Boeing 707.
The company was ready to enter the new missile business during the 1950s. Douglas moved from producing air-to-air rockets and missiles to entire missile systems under the 1956 Nike missile program and became the main contractor for the Skybolt air-launched ballistic missile program and the Thor ballistic missile program. Douglas also earned contracts from NASA, most notably for designing the S-IVB stage of the Saturn IB and Saturn V rockets.
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 and 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 (third generation version of the Douglas DC-9), ceased production in May 2006. By 2011, the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III was the last aircraft being assembled at the Long Beach facility; the final C-17 was assembled in late 2015.