“It’s eight-tenths of a DC-3.” That’s
how Museum of Flight docent Eugene Vezzetti describes the very scarce
1935 Douglas DC-2 airliner displayed on AeroShell Square at AirVenture
2010. The DC-2 is here from California with a set of freshly installed
R-1820 engines; later this year it will migrate to the museum’s home
in Washington state. The new engines are a bit sportier than the ones
the DC-2 used in 1935; horsepower is up from just over 700 to 1,000 in
the gleaming radials now installed.
If the slightly beefier DC-3 flew into
immortality as the most versatile and long-lived air transport of all
time, the DC-2 set the tone.
The 1930s saw great strides in air
transport development. Boeing ushered in the era of all-metal, low-wing
cantilever designs with its modern Model 247 of 1933. But the 247’s
10-passenger cabin was soon bested by the one-off Douglas DC-1, capable
of taking two more paying customers aloft. The DC-1 promised to give
airlines like TWA a competitive new airplane. The prototype DC-1 was
refined to become the DC-2 of 1934, now carrying 14 passengers.
Ultimate iteration of these tail-wheeled
Douglas twins was the DC-3, whose slightly enlarged fuselage
accommodated 28 passengers.
Eclipsed by their own sibling, the production run of only 195 DC-2s
largely fell into disuse as war surplus C-47 conversions filled the DC-3
market in the late 1940s.
The Museum of Flight’s DC-2 was
delivered to Pan American Airways in March 1935, bearing Douglas
construction number 1368. Subsequent service with airlines south of the
U.S. border culminated in acquisition by Johnson Flying Service in
Johnson pioneered the use of aircraft
such as the DC-2 for carrying smokejumpers to forest fire sites in the
northwest. Into the early 1980s, Vezzetti recalls Johnson kept this DC-2
on the roster.
That longevity in Missoula probably saved
the DC-2 from the scrapper; by the 1980s, appreciation of vintage
airliners was growing in breadth and sophistication. The Douglas
Historical Foundation, an employee-generated effort, obtained the DC-2
and restored it to airliner configuration, flying it occasionally.
Vezzetti says benefactors bought the DC-2
to donate it to the Museum of Flight where it joins the old Model 247
that it put out of business. The former Pan American airliner now gleams
in the silver and red livery of TWA, an airline once associated with
Charles Lindbergh; hence the slogan, “The Lindbergh Line” that TWA
painted on the fuselages of its fleet in the 1930s. The logical next
step came recently when Lindbergh’s grandson Erik Lindbergh, who
retraced his father’s solo flight across the Atlantic, autographed the
museum’s Lindbergh liner DC-2.
When the DC-2 shares ramp space with its
famous DC-3 offspring at AeroShell Square, design differences can be
discerned. Look for the unusual placement of a pair of “eyeball”
landing lights in the nose of the DC-2 instead of the DC-3’s more
traditional wing location. The DC-2’s slab-sided fuselage gives a clue
why it carries fewer passengers than the DC-3. The vertical fins and
rudders of both airliners are substantially different, and the DC-2’s
wingspan of 85 feet grew 10 feet on the DC-3. This feature gave rise to
a wartime expedient when one of the Douglas transports was damaged, and
the only available wing was from the other type. With identical bolt
patterns at the center-section joint, the odd wing was mated, creating a
slightly asymmetrical airplane christened the DC-2-and-a-half.
The DC-2 is a famous, and rare, slice of
American aviation on display at AirVenture 2010. And another American
air icon is piloting it here: air racer, motion-picture film pilot, test
pilot, and new inductee to the National Aviation Hall of Fame, Clay
DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3;
2015: July 27-Aug. 2