by Jack McKillop

By the summer of 1938, over 100 Douglas DC-3's, designated R4D, q.v., when used by the U.S. Navy (USN), had been delivered to U.S. airlines and were being used on long-haul routes with high-density traffic. Douglas began work during the summer on a 16-passenger aircraft designed for short-haul feeder routes. The Douglas design team had just completed work on the Douglas Bomber Model Number 7 (DB-7) which became known as the A-20 in U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) service and the BD, q.v., in USN service during World War II. The design of the new aircraft, the Douglas Commercial Model Number 5 (DC-5), was strongly influenced by the work on the DB-7.

The DC-5 was an all-metal, twin-engined, high-wing monoplane with retractable tricycle landing gear. The crew of two, pilot and copilot, sat side-by-side in the cockpit. The control surfaces, i.e., ailerons, rudder and elevators, were metal framed and covered with fabric. The main wheels of the landing gear retracted outward towards the wingtips into a recess in the wing. All of the DC-5's were built at the Douglas plant in El Segundo, California.

Orders for 21 civil versions of the DC-5 had been placed by airlines in the U.S., Europe and South America. The U.S. Navy also placed an order for seven aircraft, three for the USN and four for the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC). The aircraft made its first flight on 20 February 1939 and aerodynamic problems were encountered during the test program. This tail buffeting problem was solved by giving the horizontal tail surface pronounced dihedral. Unfortunately, the problem was not solved until after the start of World War II and orders for 17 of the 21 civil aircraft that had been ordered were canceled.

The seven aircraft for the USN and USMC were powered by two 1,000 hp (745.7 kW) Wright R-1820-44 nine-cylinder, single row, air-cooled, radial engines driving a three-bladed hydromatic, full-feathering propeller.


R3D-1: Three 16-seat personnel transports ordered for the USN. The first aircraft crashed at Mines Field, Los Angeles, California on 1 June 1940 before delivery; the other two were delivered in July 1940. These aircraft had a standard passenger airliner door located aft of the wing on the port (left) side of the fuselage.

R3D-2: Four transport aircraft for the USMC delivered in September and October 1940. The aircraft was designed to carry aircraft engines, propellers and other heavy freight. A winch, hoist, loading platform and ramp were provided to aid in loading/unloading cargo through a 66 x 80 inch (1.68 x 2.03 meter) loading doors on the port side of the fuselage aft of the wing. Alternately, 22 bucket seats could be installed for paratroop training.

R3D-3: The DC-5 prototype was purchased by William E. Boeing of the Boeing Airplane Company and delivered on 19 April 1940. In February 1942, the aircraft was impressed (drafted) by the USN to replace the R3D-1 that crashed.


A brief history of the eight aircraft follows.

1. R3D-1, Bureau Number (BuNo) 1901, manufacturers serial number (msn) 606: This aircraft crashed at Mines Field, El Segundo, California on 1 June 1940 prior to delivery.

2. R3D-1, BuNo 1902, msn 607: Delivered to the USN on 3 July 1940 and transferred to Naval Air Station (NAS) Anacostia, District of Columbia on 6 July. Transferred to NAS San Diego, California on 28 July 1941 and then NAS New York, New York on 25 October 1941. The aircraft was stricken from the inventory on 31 January 1946.

3. R3D-1, BuNo 1903, msn 608: Delivered to the USN on 5 July 1940 and delivered to NAS Anacostia on 8 July. Transferred to NAS San Diego on 3 March 1941. The aircraft was transferred to the Pacific in May 1943 and is believed to have been used briefly by General Douglas MacArthur. Stricken from the inventory on 31 January 1945.

4. R3D-2, BuNo 1904, msn 609: Delivered to USMC 11 September 1940 and assigned to Marine Utility Squadron Two (VMJ-2) at Marine Corps Air Station Ewa, Territory of Hawaii. VMJ-2 redesignated VMJ-252 on 1 July 1941. The aircraft was transferred to the Pacific shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and crashed on an island off the Australian coast after being shot down by a Japanese submarine on 31 January 1942.

5. R3D-2, BuNo 1905, msn 610: Delivered to VMJ-2, later VMJ-252, at MCAS Ewa on 14 November 1940.  Transferred to Commander, Air, Battle Force, U.S. Fleet at NAS Pearl Harbor on 24 November 1941. Reassigned to VMJ-252 and tehn back to Pearl Harbor on 18 November 1942. Transferred to NAS Alameda, California on 2 November 1942 and then to Marine Base, NAS San Diego on 25 April 1943. Reassigned to Air Base Group Two (ABG-2) at NAS San Diego on 15 November 1943. ABG-2 moved to MCAS El Toro, California in June 1945 and the aircraft was struck from the inventory on 31 October 1946.

6. R3D-2, BuNo 1906, msn 611: Delivered to VMJ-1 at MCAS Quantico, Virginia on 22 September 1940. VMJ-1 was redesignated VMJ-152 on 1 July 1941. The aircraft was struck from the inventory on 31 October 1946.

7. R3D-2, BuNo 1907, msn 612: Delivered to VMJ-1, later VMJ-152, at MCAS Quantico on 22 October 1940. This aircraft was reassigned to ABG-2 at NAS San Diego and later MCAS El Toro, date unknonw. It ws struck off the inventory on 31 October 1946.

8. R3D-3, BuNo0 08005, msn 411: The prototype DC-5 that was impressed by the USN on 2 February 1942 and delivered to NAS Norfolk, Virginia. Transferred to NAS Banana River, Florida on 22 January 1944 for Project Baker, experiments involving blind landing equipment. The aircraft remained there until stricken from the inventory on 30 June 1946.


Wing Span: 78 feet (23.77 meters)
Length: 62 feet 2 inches (18.96 meters)
Height: 22 feet 7 inches (6.88 meters)
Wing Area: 824 square feet (76.55 square meters)
Empty Weight
   R3D-1: 14,188 pounds (6,436 kg)
   R3D-2: 13,863 pounds (6,288 kg)
Gross Weight: 21,000 pounds (9,525 kg)
Maximum Fuel: 650 U.S. gallons (2,461 liters)
Maximum Speed: 221 mph at 5,800 feet (356 km/h at 1,770 meters)
Initial Rate of Climb: 1,000 ft/min (305 meters/minute)
Service Ceiling: 19,000 feet (5,790 meters)
Maximum Range
   R3D-1: 1,440 miles (2,315 km)
   R3D-2: 935 miles (1,505 km)
Armament: None