The War Years: 1939-1945

The Douglas Aircraft Co. ... Building Up for War

Although separated by miles and communities, we are one in purpose and policy ... To build the largest number possible of the best airplanes in the shortest possible time.
-- Donald Douglas Sr.

During World War II, Douglas Aircraft rapidly expanded its operations to meet the need for military airplanes. In addition to the three Southern California plants, Douglas wartime plants also were located at Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla., and near Chicago, Ill., at a site that would later become O'Hare International Airport. Under the coordinated manufacturing program, Douglas built Boeing B-17s at Long Beach, Calif., while Boeing built Douglas DB-7s in Seattle, Wash.

Between 1942 and 1945, Douglas built 29,385 airplanes -- about 16 percent of all the U.S. airplanes produced -- and peak wartime employment at Douglas was recorded at 160,000 workers.

The largest facility was at Long Beach, Calif., with more than 1,422,350 square feet of covered workspace -- nearly as much as the Santa Monica and El Segundo plants combined. The plant was camouflaged with paint, patterns, trees and shrubs; was a "blackout" facility with limited, light-proof access; and was the country's first fully air-conditioned factory. During peak production, the Long Beach plant produced an airplane an hour.

The first airplane produced at the Long Beach plant was the C-47/R4D Skytrain. Based on the DC-3, it rolled out Dec. 23, 1941, and became one of the most popular Douglas-built military transports, with 10,174 built.

Designated C-47 by the USAAF and R4D by the Navy and Marine Corps, the transport collected a variety of nicknames, including the Dak, the Tabby, the Gooney Bird, Spooky, and Puff the Magic Dragon. More than 2,000 were transferred to Britain for use by the RAF and other Commonwealth air forces and called Dakotas (said to be based on the acronym for Douglas Aircraft Co. Transport Aircraft).

In addition, just before war broke out in Europe, United Air Lines, now no longer part of the Boeing United Air Transport Corp., gave Douglas $300,000 to build the company's first four-engine passenger transport, the DC-4E (E for experimental). Also contributing financially to the new transport were TWA, American, Eastern and Pan American airlines. There were 24 orders for the slightly smaller production model, the DC-4. Then war necessitated the plane's reconfiguration as the C-54 Skymaster military transport. One C-54, nicknamed the "Sacred Cow," was the official presidential transport, serving both Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.

Another Douglas commercial transport that evolved into a military transport was the twin-engine DC-5. The Navy bought 7 of the 12 built and designated them R3Ds. In 1944, Douglas began building a pressurized C-54E called the C-112. The war was over by the time it made its first flight, but it led to the successful post-war DC-6 commercial transport.

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