The Early Years: 1927-1938

Douglas Aircraft Co. ... Leading with the DC-3

In 1935, the Northrop Corp., the Douglas subsidiary at El Segundo, Calif., started building 56 BT-1 dive bombers for the Navy. With their perforated wing flaps, the BT-1s were immediate forerunners of the "Dauntless" dive bomber. In 1936, Northrop produced the A-17 attack bomber for the Army Air Corps, originally designed for export.

In 1938, Donald Douglas bought out the Northrop subsidiary and changed the name to the El Segundo Division of Douglas Aircraft Co. That same year, Jack Northrop left Douglas and, in 1939, founded Northrop Aircraft, where his designs included the P-61 World War II night fighter and the post-war flying wing bombers, the B-35 and B-49.

The next Douglas transport, the DC-3, was first delivered in 1936. It began with a request from American Airlines for a stretched and widened DC-2 that could include Pullman-type berths for transcontinental "sleeper" services. The Douglas Sleeper Transport (DST) version of the DC-3 first flew on Dec. 17, 1935, the 32nd anniversary of the Wright brothers' first flight.

The day-plane version of the DC-3 revolutionized the aircraft industry, with two seats per row on one side of the aisle and one per row on the other side, and made air transportation more affordable and more profitable.

However, peacetime pleasures were ending in 1939 as World War II began in Europe. The demand for commercial aircraft soon gave way to military production. Douglas engineers used the DC-2 airliner as the basis for the B-18 Bolo bomber and the Douglas B-23 Dragon bomber used the DC-3's wing.

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