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B-18 assembly line

Assembly line in the Santa Monica plant during production of the initial batch of B-18As.

Douglas B-18A Bolo

The Douglas Aircraft Company developed the B-18 to replace the Martin B-10 as the Army Air Corps' standard bomber. Its design was based on the DC-2.

Women at work on Douglas bomber

Women at work on a bomber, Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, California.

B-25 medium bombers at Douglas plan

The B-25 medium bomber was one of America's most famous airplanes of WW II. It was the type used by General Doolittle for the Tokyo Raid on April 18, 1942.

Douglas A-20G Havoc

The versatile A-20 Havoc was used in the Pacific, Middle East, North African, Russian, and European theaters during World War II.

Douglas A-26C Invader

The A-26 Invader, a follow-up airplane to the A-20 Havoc, made its first flight on July 10, 1942. The bomber, and its follow-on B-26, flew in World War II, the Korean War, and during the Vietnam War.

AD/A-1 Series, Skyraider attack bomber

The Douglas Skyraider was the only aircraft that could deliver 8,000 pounds of bombs with dive-bombing precision against such difficult targets as mountain bridges and hydroelectric dams. The first Skyraider was delivered in 1946.

C-74 Globemaster I military transport

Douglas began developing the C-74 Globemaster I in 1942.

XF3D-1 airplane

The F3D Skyknight was the first jet fighter designed for use as a carrier-based night fighter. It was delivered to the U.S. Navy in late 1950.

C-124, Globemaster II military transport

The Douglas C-124 Globemaster II could carry more than 200 troops. Deliveries of the plane began in May 1950.

A3D-1 Skywarrior

The A3D Skywarrior entered service in 1956. It was the U.S. Navy's first twinjet nuclear bomber.

Skyhawk takes off

Douglas built almost 3,000 Skyhawks between 1954 and 1979. Its combat career began in 1964.

Douglas Aircraft From the Late 1930s

The Douglas DC-3 was not the only Douglas aircraft of the late 1930s and 1940s. In August 1934, the U.S. Army Air Corps had invited American manufacturers to design a new multiengine strategic bomber. Boeing entered its four-engine Model 299, later to become famous as the B-17, while Douglas and Martin submitted twin-engine designs: the DB-1/B-18 based on the Douglas DC-2 airliner, and the Model 146, based on the Martin B-10.

On October 30, 1935, Boeing's Model 299 crashed following takeoff when the controls accidentally locked. Before the crash, the U.S. Army had been about to order 65 B-17s, but in January 1936, production contracts instead went to Douglas for 131 twin-engine B-18s, which were also less than half the price of Boeing's 299. These would serve as the standard heavy bomber until the B-17 replaced it. The first B-18s were delivered in February 1937. An additional 177 were ordered in June 1937. In 1938, Douglas received a final order for another 40. Changes in the basic B-18 airframe led to a new version, the B-23 Dragon, which had a new and more-streamlined fuselage, a large elevator and rudder, and the DC-3's stronger wings. Thirty-eight Dragons were ordered in 1939.

Although the B-18 was soon eclipsed by the superior Boeing B-17, the plane had been available in quantity at a crucial time, and thousands of much-needed airmen were therefore available to transition to the B-17s when it entered into service.

Two other designs also proved successful: the SBD Dauntless, which went to the U.S. Marine Corps, and the DB-7/A-20 series, which was first delivered to France in late 1939. (Also called Boston/Havoc, it would number more than 7,000.) The DB-7 was based on a design by Jack Northrop and developed by Ed Heinemann, the talented Douglas project engineer. Heinemann would remain with Douglas until 1960 and would become the company's greatest aircraft designer, designing all its major combat aircraft during World War II and the post-war years.

During the war, the military placed huge orders for large numbers of aircraft of many types, and the existing manufacturing facilities of all the aircraft suppliers quickly became inadequate to meet wartime needs. Thus, the government implemented the Emergency Plant Facilities program. This program provided that manufacturers would pay for constructing new facilities and the government would reimburse them over a five-year period and assume title to the facilities. The government, therefore, would avoid a huge outlay of funds and still relieve the manufacturers of the risk of owning excess factory space when the war ended. Under this program, Douglas built a new plant in Long Beach, California, which began operating in November 1941. It would remain at full activity throughout the war. But even three plants in California were insufficient for all its wartime production, and Douglas leased additional factory space in the Midwest.

At the end of the war, Douglas could claim to be the largest aircraft manufacturer in the United States. But soon after, the company had to fight hard to remain competitive. Its major competitor and rival was Lockheed, which came out with its four-engine Constellation airliner series to challenge Douglas's primacy in the commercial market. Douglas had the four-engine DC-4, but it did not have a pressurized cabin, was slower, and could carry fewer people. Douglas had more success meeting the Lockheed Constellation competition with its DC-6, which was first delivered to United and American airlines in November 1946 and which entered service on April 27, 1947 with United Airlines. Following two accidents in November, all DC-6s were withdrawn from service but they returned to the skies in March 1948 after the cause of the accidents was corrected. The plane was very successful and around 700 were built. It emerged as the most economical of the piston-powered airliners of the period.

Continued interest from American Airlines led to development of the DC-7, followed by the DC-7B and –7C models. The DC-7 began service with American in November 1953, and Pan Am began flying the 7C in April 1956. By late 1958, Douglas had produced more than 1,000 DC-6 and DC-7 aircraft, including two military transport versions. Lockheed had produced around 900 Constellations, making Douglas the winner in the competition for four-engine transports.

Meanwhile, Douglas continued providing military aircraft such as the AD Skyraider attack aircraft; F3D Skyknight naval night fighter; B-26 bomber; and C-74, C-124 (Globemasters), C-47, and C-54 transports to meet the demands of the late 1940s and the Korean War. The worsening Cold War situation also resulted in more orders for the A3D Skywarrior, F4D Skyray, C-124 Globemaster II, and new aircraft such as the B-66 Destroyer, A4D Skyhawk, and Boeing-designed B-47. Douglas increased production substantially at its three California plants, and the government-owned factory at Tulsa, Oklahoma, was reopened for B-66 and B-47 production.

The world had also entered the jet age. But Douglas was slow in joining. It had flown the jet-powered D-558-1 and –2 and the X-3 research planes in the early 1950s but seemed reluctant to enter the jet airliner market. Boeing flew the first U.S. commercial jetliner, the Boeing 707, in 1954, which virtually forced Douglas to participate. It announced on June 7, 1955, that it would enter the jet transport field with the DC-8. The airliner first flew on May 30, 1958, but it appeared too late to successfully challenge Boeing. It also failed to achieve its guaranteed range. Sales were dismal, dropping from 73 in 1955 to 11 in 1958. In 1959, they numbered 18, and in 1960 only three were ordered. The DC-8 Series 50 first flew on December 20, 1960. It was the first DC-8 to use a turbofan engine rather than tubojets. It entered service with KLM on April 3, 1961, and a total of 50 were built.

Although employment and profits rose dramatically during the 1950s as a result of large military orders, and net sales reached an all-time high in 1958, after the Korean War ended, production orders for many of the military aircraft began to dry up. The company's failure to win orders for new types of military aircraft plus its late entry into the commercial jet market led to new difficulties and eventually contributed to its demise.

The years 1959 and 1960 resulted in heavy losses and though the company became profitable again in 1961, many fewer DC-8s had been sold than Boeing planes. To counter Boeing, Douglas signed an agreement with Sud Aviation of France to manufacture Caravelle twinjet transports in America. However, in June 1962, TWA canceled its option for 40 Caravelles and ordered Boeing planes instead. Douglas' arrangement with Sud Aviation fell apart.

Douglas, instead, began working on a new, smaller, short-range plane—the twinjet DC-9. Delta Air Lines ordered 15 DC-9s in May 1962 but only 58 had been sold by the time the airliner debuted on February 25, 1965. Despite this poor start, the DC-9 became the most successful of Douglas' commercial jet transports, with more than 800 sold to airlines and almost 50 built for the military. It would be the last type of aircraft developed solely by Douglas.

By 1965, Douglas was building DC-8s and -9s, A-4 Skyhawks, and missile and space vehicles. Since World War II, its missiles and space launch vehicles had included Nikes, Sparrows, nuclear-armed Genies, Rocs, Skybolts, "Honest Johns," Thors, Deltas and Saturns. But in spite of all this, three events signaled Douglas' end. First, its winning Manned Orbiting Laboratory design was canceled by the Defense Department because of its need to reallocate funds to Southeast Asia. Then Douglas lost the contract for the huge C-5A cargo aircraft to Lockheed. And finally, in the commercial sector, Douglas' 650-seat airliner lost out to Boeing's 747.

By the end of 1966, it had become obvious that Douglas needed both new capital and, in the opinion of the Wall Street firm Lazard Frères that was helping Douglas with its problems, new management .On January 13, 1967, Douglas accepted an offer from McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, headed by James S. McDonnell, to buy a large amount of Douglas stock, providing Douglas with the cash it needed, and to merge. Government approval followed quickly, and the Douglas Aircraft Company gave way to the McDonnell Douglas Corporation. The new company began operations on April 28, 1967.

—Judy Rumerman

References and Further Reading:

Bowman, Martin W., compiler. Douglas - Images of America. Stroud, Gloucestershire, England: Tempus Publishing Limited, 1999.

Francillon, Rene J. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920. London: Putnam, 1979.

Morrison, Wilbur H. Donald W. Douglas: A Heart With Wings. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1991.

Pattillo, Donald M. Pushing the Envelope – The American Aircraft Industry. Ann Arbor, Mich.: The University of Michigan Press, 1998.

Pearcy, Arthur. Douglas Propliners: DC-1 – DC-7. Shrewsbury, England: Airlife Publishing Ltd., 1995.

Woods, George Bryant. The American Manufacturing Industry: Present and Future Prospects. New York: White, Weld & Co., 1946.

Educational Organization

Standard Designation (where applicable

Content of Standard

International Technology Education Association

Standard 6

Students will develop an understanding of the role of society in the development and use of technology.

International Technology Education Association

Standard 8

Students will develop an understanding of the attributes of design.

C-133, Cargomaster military transport

The Douglas C-133 Cargomaster, a four-engine turboprop transport, was larger and faster than earlier Douglas military cargo airplanes. It first flew in 1956.


The Douglas DC-4 could carry about 42 passengers. Its military counterpart was the C-54 Skymaster.


Only 12 DC-5 two-engine transports were built, 1939.

DC-6/C-118 Liftmaster commercial/military transport

The Douglas DC-6 was one of the first airplanes to fly a regularly scheduled around-the-world route. The larger, all-cargo DC-6A first flew in September 1949. Douglas built 175 DC-6, 77 DC-6A, and 286 DC06B.

DC-7 commercial transport

The DC-7 was the last of the Douglas propeller-powered transports. It was introduced in 1953.

Skyray landing

The one-seat Douglas Skyray was named after the undersea manta ray it resembled. It could climb to 40,000 feet in two minutes and reach Mach 1 during a dive. In 1953, it was co-winner of the prestigious Collier Trophy.


The DC-8, powered by four jet turbine engines and capable of speeds of more than 600 mph, first flew on May 30, 1958.

C-9A interior

The C-9A, based on the DC-9-30, was adapted for Air Force use to transport sick and injured military personnel. The Navy also ordered 19 under the designation C-9B.

Model 188 airline demonstration

The Model 188 short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft was a demonstration aircraft designed to demonstrate civil and military capabilities, 1969.


The DC-9 made its first flight on February 25, 1965 and entered airline service in December of the same year. At 976 total units produced in eight variations, the DC-9 ended its 17-year production run in 1982.


Since its first flight in September 1970, the versatile DC-10 has been popular on transcontinental and intercontinental routes that do not need the seating capacity of the 747.

Donald Douglas

Donald Douglas.