TimeTravel: Celebrating a century of heavy lifting

From the Cloudster to the Queen, pulling their own weight (and then some)

December 18, 2020 in Innovation, Technology

Investor David R. Davis inside the record-setting airplane in the Los Angeles area in 1921.

Boeing Archives photo

In July 1920, in the back of a Los Angeles barbershop, engineer Donald Douglas and investor David Davis formed the Davis Douglas Co. with one goal in mind: build an airplane that would become the first to fly nonstop across the U.S. The result — a wooden biplane called the Cloudster — first flew Feb. 24, 1921, and attempted the cross-country journey that June.

Departing from California, the single-engine, long-range aircraft made it about one-third of the way but had to land at Fort Bliss, Texas, due to engine issues. Disappointed following the unsuccessful flight, Davis lost interest and left the company. Douglas then formed his own company, The Douglas Co., which became Douglas Aircraft Co. in 1928.

While the Cloudster did not achieve the nonstop, transcontinental flight, it did make history by becoming the first airplane to carry a useful load exceeding its own weight. At just 3,850 pounds itself, the Cloudster transported a load exceeding 5,000 pounds — at the time, the most ever by a single-engine plane.

Despite having been fierce competitors for most of the 20th century, Boeing and Douglas are now part of a shared heritage that spans more than a century of aerospace innovation. In 1967, Douglas merged with McDonnell Aircraft Corp., which in turn merged with Boeing in 1997.

The 747-8F could carry the weight of 79 Cloudsters.

Ed Turner/Boeing photo

Today, Boeing is proud to honor the Douglas Aircraft legacy by continuing to build on its success. The 747-8 Freighter is the newest and largest variant of the 747, which for decades has been affectionately called the Queen of the Skies. It has a payload of 303,700 pounds, 61 times more than the Cloudster’s then record-setting haul of 5,000 pounds.

Given it was made mostly of wood, the Cloudster appeared in a 1921 ad for varnish.

Boeing Archives photo