My dad, Allen Spencer, went to work for Douglas Aircraft Company on May 19, 1942. He was a young man of just 18 years. Dad wasn’t with Douglas Aircraft Company for very long, because of World War II, and his enlistment in the Army Air Force on March 12, 1943. Nevertheless, the job my dad had while he was at Douglas Aircraft Company would play a big part in his future military assignment as a flight engineer on a B-17 Bomber during World War II, stationed at RAF Great Ashfield in Suffolk, England. Because of Dad’s job there, I have always had an interest in Douglas Aircraft Company.
While people might think they don’t know much about Douglas Aircraft Company, they really do, just under a different name. 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. With that merger, Douglas Aircraft Company ceased to exist. The name McDonnell Douglas might be a bit more familiar to people, but it was really when McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing in 1997 that the company became a household name. Everyone has heard of Boeing Aircraft Company.
While Douglas Aircraft Company no longer exists, they made great strides in the aerospace industry during their time in business. One early claim to fame was the first circumnavigation of the world by air in Douglas airplanes in 1924. That was just 21 years after the first powered flight, taken by the Wright Brothers. That may sound like a long time, but to go from the rickety-looking plane the Wright Brothers flew, to something that was capable of making the flight around the world in just 21 years is truly outstanding. The circumnavigation mission was first presented to Douglas Aircraft Company in 1923, when the US Army Air Service, interested in carrying out a mission to circumnavigate the Earth for the first time by aircraft, approached Douglas Aircraft Company to present it to them. The mission was 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 US 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.
Four of these modified aircraft left Seattle, Washington, on April 6, 1924, flying west, and two of these returned there on September 28 to great fanfare. Unfortunately, one plane had been lost under fog conditions, and another was forced down over the Atlantic and sank. The DWC prototype was then rechristened and joined the other two in completing the North American leg of the flight. With the success of this flight, the Army Air Service ordered six similar aircraft as observation aircraft.
In 1934, Douglas produced a commercial twin-engined transport plane, the Douglas DC-2, which was 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. While these were all important types of aircraft, it would really be the work they did during World War II, that really put them on the map in my opinion. With so many young men heading off to war, the women really stepped up at this time and built many of the World War II planes. During that time, Douglas joined the BVD (Boeing-Vega-Douglas) consortium to produce the B-17 Flying Fortress. As far as I’m concerned, that was one of the greatest planes every produced. I suppose that sounds odd, considering that it was so long ago, but for its time, the B-17 was and really still is legendary. And while I don’t know if my dad had a part in building the B-17 Bomber, I know that he repaired them and knew them inside and out. I am proud of the work my dad did on the airplanes he helped to build, and proud of his time with Douglas Aircraft Company.