by Jack McKillop

In 1932, the largest airliners flown by domestic U.S. airlines were the 12-19 passenger Boeing Model 80; the 18-passenger Curtiss Model 18 Condor; the 14-passenger Fokker F-10A Super Tri-Motor; and  the 10-11 passenger Ford 4-AT and the 14-passenger 5-AT Tri-Motor. The problem with all of these aircraft was that their cruising speed was less than 130 mph (209 km/h) and the aircraft were not profitable. In 1932, the Boeing Airplane Company began work on their Model 247, the first all-metal streamlined monoplane transport. When the airline industry began placing orders for the aircraft, they were told that 59 of the first 60 aircraft had already been ordered by United Air Lines and it would be two years before their orders could be filled. This was not surprising because Boeing and United were owned by the same company, the United Aircraft and Transport Corporation.

United Aircraft and Transport Corp. had been formed on 1 February 1929 when the Pratt & Whitney Engine Company merged with the Boeing Airplane Co. to form United. By 1932, United also owned the Chance Vought Aircraft Company, the Hamilton Propeller Company, the Stearman Aircraft Company, the Sikorsky Aviation Corporation and United Air Lines.

Realizing that United Air Lines would have a tremendous advantage with the Model 247 during that two year period, Jack Frye, Vice President of Operations for Transcontinental and Western Airlines (TWA), wrote to five manufacturers, Curtiss-Wright, Ford, Martin, Consolidated and Douglas, listing a set of requirements for a new aircraft that could compete with the new Boeing machine. Douglas responded and won a contract for one Douglas Commercial Model Number One (DC-1). The DC-1 made its first flight in July 1933 and proved to be superior to the Boeing Model 247. The DC-1 could accommodate 12-passengers and TWA asked Douglas to "stretch" the fuselage to accommodate 14-passengers resulting in the DC-2. The DC-2 made its maiden flight on 11 May 1934 and a total of 193 DC-2's were built for U.S. and foreign airlines and the U.S. military. The U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) purchased 58 aircraft prior to World War II and impressed (drafted) another 24 during the war; the U.S. Navy (USN) purchased five as described below.

The DC-2 was a twin-engined, all-metal, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear. The crew of two, pilot and copilot, sat side-by-side in the cockpit. The main landing gear retracted into the nacelles but about one-third of the tire was left exposed as a precaution in the event of a wheels up landing; the tail wheel was full swivelling but did not retract. The wing extended beneath the fuselage and served as a mounting for both engine nacelles. The entire aircraft, except for the control surfaces, was made of high-tension strength aluminum alloy known as Alclad; the control surfaces, i.e., ailerons, rudder and elevators, were metal framed covered with fabric. Since these were transports, the aircraft had a standard passenger door on the port (left) side of the fuselage aft of the wing. All of the DC-2's were built at the Douglas plant in Santa Monica, California.

By 1934, the USN realized that it must replace its aging and inefficient Curtiss R4C-1 Condors and Ford JR and RR Tri-Motors and an order for five DC-2's in two different series was placed. All five aircraft were designated R2D-1's. The first three aircraft were DC-2-125's that were delivered in November and December 1934; two aircraft went to the USN and one to the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC). The fourth and fifth aircraft were DC-2-142's that were delivered in September 1935, one to the USN and one to the USMC. The two suffixes, -125 and -142, indicated the interior fittings and other variations between groups of DC-2's. All five aircraft were powered by two 750 hp (559.3 kW) Wright R-1820-12 nine-cylinder, single-row, air-cooled, radial engines driving Hamilton Standard variable pitch three-bladed propellers.

The USAAC also purchased 58 DC-2's and designated them XC-32, C-33, C-34, C-39, C-41 and C-42.  During World War II, another 24 DC-2's were impressed by the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) which superseded the USAAC on 20 June 1941.


The specific history of the five aircraft is:

1. Bureau Number (BuNo) 9620, DC-2-125, manufacturers serial number (msn) 1325, was delivered to the USN on 26 November 1934. By 1 December, the aircraft was assigned to Naval Air Station (NAS) Anacostia, District of Columbia where it remained until 1938 when it was transferred to NAS Pensacola, Florida on 8 February. The aircraft was destroyed on 21 October 1941 and was struck from the inventory on 31 January 1942.

2. BuNo 9621, DC-2-125, msn 1326, was delivered to the USMC at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Quantico, Virginia on 21 December 1934 and assigned to Marine Utility Squadron SIX (VJ-6M) [redesignated Marine Utility Squadron One (VMJ-1) on 1 July 1937]. The aircraft was transferred to NAS Pensacola on 19 July 1938 but was back at MCAS Quantico on 29 October 1938. Transferred to NAS Norfolk, Virginia on 27 March 1940, the aircraft was struck from the inventory on 31 July 1940.

3. BuNo 9622, DC-2-125, msn 1327, was delivered to NAS San Diego, California on 12 December 1934 and was destroyed when it crashed there on 31 January 1941.

4. BuNo 9993, DC-2-142, msn 1404, was delivered to NAS Anacostia on 7 September 1935. The aircraft transferred to NAS Pensacola on 19 December 1939, was back at NAS Anacostia on 4 January 1940 and returned to NAS Pensacola on 28 Aug 1940. It was struck from the inventory on 28 August 1944 and was operated by civilian companies after the war.

5. BuNo 9994, DC-2-142, msn 1405, was delivered to the USMC at MCAS Quantico on 28 September 1935 and assigned to VJ-6M (redesignated VMJ-1 on 1 July 1937). Reassigned to the 1st Marine Aircraft Group at MCAS Quantico on 15 November 1939 and then to Base Air Detachment TWO (BAD-2) at the Marine Base, NAS San Diego on 15 April 1940. Transferred back to MCAS Quantico on 20 January 1942, then to NAS Norfolk on 30 March 1942 and back to MCAS Quantico on 17 October 1942. The aircraft was struck from the inventory on 5 August 1943.

The two USMC aircraft assigned to VMJ-1 were used to train the first Marine paratroopers until Douglas R3Ds and R4Ds (qv) were available.


Wing Span: 85 feet (25.9 meters)
Length: 61 feet 9 inches (18.8 meters)
Height: 16 feet 3.75 inches (5.0 meters)
Wing Area: 939 square feet (87.2 square meters)
Fuel Capacity: 510 U.S. gallons (1,931 liters)
Empty Weight: 12,408 pounds (5,620 kg)
Gross Weight: 18,200 pounds (8,255 kg)
Maximum Speed: 210 mph (338 km/h)
Cruising Speed: 190 mph at 8,000 feet (306 km/h at 2,438 meters)
Initial Rate of Climb: 1,000 feet (305 meters) per minute
Service ceiling: 22,450 feet (6,840 meters)