In the aftermath of the First World War, the stream of government money dried up and the manufacturing of aircraft declined drastically. In this period, when the market for new aircraft was almost nonexistent, it hardly seemed time for a new enterprise to start manufacturing aircraft. But there were those with the desire to design and build airplanes.
One such person to form a new company during this period was Donald Douglas. The establishment of Douglas Co. (later Douglas Aircraft Co.) in southern California was historically important, as it had a long-term impact on the industry.
Also important was the company’s role in producing future leaders of the aircraft industry. They were designers who would achieve fame while with Douglas or form their own companies after working with Douglas.
The first Douglas aircraft was the “Cloudster,” designed as a long-range plane for a trans-continental non-stop flight. It was the first aircraft to carry a load greater than its empty weight. The Cloudster became the basis for Douglas’s first Navy contract, the DT-1 Torpedo Bomber. That order was what really got Douglas established in the aircraft manufacturing business, as 90 of the DT series would be built.
When the Army was looking for a design to fly around the world in 1923, the DT series was chosen as the basis for what became the DWC — Douglas World Cruiser.
Among the famous designers working for Douglas at that time were Jack Northrop, later of flying wing fame, and Donald Hall, later the designer of Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis.”
The success of the World Cruisers led to large Army contracts for observation and transport aircraft. Those contracts, along with continued Navy orders, saw a great expansion of the Douglas Co. Among the new employees hired at that time were Arthur Raymond, Jerry Vultee and Ed Heineman, all of whom would make their own contributions to the aviation industry.
The Douglas payroll ledgers, located in the archives of the Museum of Flight in Seattle, bring to life the employment of those famous designers and industrial leaders. The documents help to determine hire dates and pay rates for those famous designers and future industry leaders.
In 1923, when Douglas set up its first true production line for the Navy’s order of 38 DT-2s, Jack Northrop was hired as the chief engineer. He had done some work for the Loughead (Later Lockheed) Co., previously. After a stint in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, he returned to Loughead in 1918 only to have the company go out of business. He then worked for his father’s construction company until he was able to join Douglas. He remained with Douglas until 1926, when he joined the new Lockheed Co.
He is associated with many design breakthroughs, ranging from the famous Lockheed Vega of the 1920s to the giant Northrop flying wings of his own company in the 1940s.
Donald Hall, a graduate of the Pratt Institute in New York, had accrued some experience at Curtiss by the time he joined the engineering department at Douglas on June 7, 1924. He left the company in 1926 to become an Army Air Corps cadet. He joined Ryan in January 1927, just in time to become involved in the design of the “Spirit of St. Louis” for Charles Lindbergh.
After working with Ryan, Hall formed his own company. In 1937 he joined Consolidated, where he had a role in the development of the B-24 Liberator bomber.
Arthur Raymond graduated with honors from Harvard and later attended MIT, where he earned a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering. He joined Douglas in May 1925 as a metal worker.
In a strange twist of fate, at about the same time, Donald Douglas wrote MIT — his old school — for help in locating an aerodynamacist, only to be informed that he had an excellent person working in his metal shop. In June Raymond was transferred to the engineering office. He became instrumental in the design of the DC-1, DC-2 and DC-3 transports. He ended his career as a vice president at Douglas.
Gerard (Jerry) Vultee built his first aircraft as a student at Caltech.
After working for Ford as a sales engineer, Vultee joined Douglas in 1925. In 1927 he followed Northrop to Lockheed, becoming chief engineer there when Northrop left to form his own company.
While at Lockheed, Vultee designed the first float version of the Vega and the low-wing Sirius for Lindbergh.
In 1932, Vultee formed his own company with the backing of Errett Cord, who controlled not only the Cord, Dusenberg, and Auburn car companies, but also Stinson Aircraft.
As a teenager, Edward Heinemann witnessed the first flight of the Douglas “Cloudster.”
Later, he worked on and off with Douglas for years, as a draftsman tracing drawings for various aircraft projects. During layoffs he worked for such companies as Standard Oil and Moreland Aircraft, where he designed his first aircraft, a high-wing trainer. He then joined Northrop Aircraft. When its operations moved to Wichita, he rejoined Douglas.
His first successful aircraft design at Douglas was the Dolphin amphibian, but his real claims to fame were his outstanding attack aircraft designs, including the World War II Dauntless, Havoc and Invader, and the later AD Skyraider. His design talents would continue into the jet era with such aircraft as the F4D Skyray, A3D Skywarrior and A-4 Skyhawk.
Dennis Parks is Curator Emeritus of Seattle’s Museum of Flight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.