Jets and Moon Rockets: 1957-1970

The Douglas Aircraft Co. ... Jets on the Tarmac

We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man.

-- President John F. Kennedy, Rice University, Houston, Texas, Sept. 12, 1962

After 1955, Douglas found itself at the height of an economic boom; the company had survived the post-war recession and become a leading manufacturer of commercial and military transports.

Donald Douglas Sr. decided to relinquish some responsibility for the massive company he had created 35 years before. He had trained his son, Donald Douglas Jr., to take over. The younger Douglas had studied engineering at Stanford University and at the Curtiss-Wright Institute and had been vice president of the company after World War II. In October 1957, Donald Douglas Jr. became president of the company, although Donald Douglas Sr. remained chairman of the board.

At the time, airlines were becoming more and more interested in jet propulsion. However, the propeller-powered Douglas DC-7 had dominated the commercial transport field well into the 1950s, so Douglas was committed to its production, despite the changing times.

The ensuing battle for the jetstream pitted the Douglas DC-8 against the Boeing 707. The 707 flew first and was in service first. The DC-8 first flew May 30, 1958, and entered service with United and Delta Airlines on Sept. 18, 1959.

It was followed by the DC-9, which flew first in 1965. This time Douglas beat Boeing to the tarmac. The popular DC-9 was out two years ahead of its Boeing competitor, the 737.

The DC-9 entered airline service with Delta, two months ahead of schedule and was the most successful Douglas transport since the DC-3. It was converted into the C-9A Nightingale for the Air Force, into the C-9B Skytrain II for the Navy and Marine Corps, and into three VC-9C Skytrain II executive military transports.

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