Tag Archives: Douglas Aircraft Company

26 February 1966, 16:12:01.37 UTC (T plus 0.37)

Apollo-Saturn IB AS-201 launch from Pad 34, Kennedy Space Center, 26 February 1966. (NASA)

26 February 1966: AS-201, the first Apollo/Saturn IB, was launched, carrying the first complete Block 1 Apollo Command and Service Module on an unmanned suborbital test flight. The launch took place at Launch Complex 34, Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Cape Kennedy, Florida.

saturn-ib-config
An illustration of an Apollo/Saturn IB space vehicle, with approximate dimensions. (Department of Special Collections, M. Louis Salmon Library, University of Alabama, via heroicrelics.org)

This flight was a demonstration of the combined Apollo Command Module and the Service Module. The second production Apollo capsule, CM-009, and the first production service module, SM-009, were launched by the first Saturn IB, SA-201.¹ (When combined, the capsule and service module are referred to as the CSM.)

The command to ignite the eight H-1 first stage engines was sent from the Mission Control Room at T-3.038 (16:11:56.962 UTC).² The engines ignited at T-2.45 and began to build thrust. First motion occurred at T+0.11.

Liftoff ³ was at 16:12:01.37 UTC, T+0.37. AS-201 climbed vertically for 11.2 seconds before beginning a pitch and roll maneuver which carried the space vehicle to its planned trajectory. Control of the mission was shifted from the Cape Kennedy Air Force Station to Mission Control at the Manned Spacecraft Center, Houston, Texas. Flight Director Glynn S. Lunney was now in charge.

AS-201 reached Mach 1 at T+65.7. The vehicle experienced its maximum dynamic pressure (max q) at T+77.7.

Maximum acceleration was reached at T+141.5, just as the first stage engines were shut down.

The S-IB first stage inner engines cutoff (IECO) occurred at T+141.5, and outer engine cutoff (OECO), at T+146.9. The vehicle had reached an altitude of 31.4 nautical miles (36.1 statute miles/58.2 kilometers) and was 33.9 nautical miles (39.0 statute miles/62.8 kilometers) downrange. It was traveling at 7,499.66 feet per second (5,113.4 miles per hour/8,229.2 kilometers per hour). The first stage was jettisoned.

Apollo/Saturn IB AS-201 first stage separation. (NASA)

The S-IVB second stage engine ignition occurred at T+149.3. The Launch Escape System (LES) was jettisoned at T+172.6. The vehicle continued to accelerate until its J-2 engine cut off at T+602.9. The vehicle had now reached an altitude of 141.2 nautical miles (162.5 statute miles/261.5 kilometers) and was 857.9 nautical miles (987.3 statute miles/1,588.8 kilometers) downrange, traveling 22,769.23 feet per second (15,524.5 miles per hour/24,984.2 kilometers per hour). The S-IVB and Command and Service Module separated at T+844.9.

The Apollo CSM reached a maximum altitude (apogee) of 265.7 nautical miles (305.8 miles/492.1 kilometers) at T+1020.0. As it began to descend, the Service Module’s Service Propulsion Subsystem (SPS) was tested. The SPS was powered by a non-throttleable, restartable, AJ10-137 rocket engine, built by Aerojet General Corporation of Azusa, California. This engine was fueled by Aerozine 50, a hypergolic 50:50 mixture of Unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) and nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4). It produced 20,500 pounds of thrust (91.19 kilonewtons) in vacuum. It was designed for a 750 second burn, or 50 restarts during a flight. The first burn was from T+1211.2 –1395.2 (184 seconds), and the second, from T+1410.7–1420.7 (10 seconds). The engine did not operate exactly as planned during the flight. Thrust was erratic, possibly as a result of helium ingestion into the engine oxidizer feed line.

CM/SM separation occurred at T+1455.0, at an altitude of 138.9 nautical miles (159.8 statute miles/257.2 kilometers) and 3,660 nautical miles (4,211 statute miles/6,778 kilometers) down range. The command module was now traveling at a speed of  25968 fps (17,705 miles per hour/28,494 kilometers per hour). During reentry, the maximum deceleration was 14.3 gs. The Apollo capsule landed near Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean, 4,577 nautical miles (5,267 statute miles/8,477 kilometers) from Cape Canaveral, and about 45 miles from the primary recovery ship. (S. 8.18°, W 11.15°) Total duration of the flight was 37 minutes, 19.7 seconds.

The Apollo spacecraft was recovered by USS Boxer (LPH- 4), a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, and taken to Norfolk, Virginia.

Mission AS-201 was successful, though several problems occurred during the flight. These were identified and corrected on the following production vehicles.

Apollo/Saturn IB AS-201 at Launch Complex 34, 4 February 1966. (NASA S-66-21307)

Apollo/Saturn IB AS-201 was approximately 223 feet, 4 inches (68.072 meters) tall. The total vehicle weight was 1,320,220 pounds (598,842 kilograms).

The Apollo command module of AS-201 was Spacecraft 009 (CM-009), a Block I capsule. (Various crew equipment had not been installed for this test flight.) The Apollo was a conical space capsule designed and built by North American Aviation’s Space and Information Systems Division in Downey, California, to carry a crew of three astronauts on space missions of two weeks or longer. The capsule had a length of 11 feet, 1.5 inches (3.3909 meters) and maximum diameter of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.9116 meters). The service module, also built by North American Aviation, was 12 feet, 11 inches (3.937 meters) long and 12 feet, 10 inches (3.9116 meters) in diameter.

Construction of CM-009 began in 1963. It was accepted 20 October 1965 and shipped to the Kennedy Space Center, arriving at the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building (MSOB) on 25 October. The CSM was stacked on the vehicle 26 December 1965. The Launch Escape System was added 24 January 1966.

Between the CSM and the Saturn IB was the Spacecraft-Lunar Module Adapter (SLA) structure, also built by NAA. This conical section had a length of 28 feet, 0 inches (8.5344 meters) and tapered from a diameter of 12 feet, 10 inches (3.9116 meters) to 21 feet, 8 inches (6.604 meters). No Lunar Module was carried on this flight.

Saturn IB SA-201 at Launch Complex 34. The launch vehicle consists of an S-IB first stage, S-IVB second stage, and an Instrumentation Unit. (NASA 65-H-2067)

The Saturn IB two-stage launch vehicle was numbered SA-201. It consisted of an S-IB first stage, an S-IVB second stage, an Instrumentation Unit, and various fairings and adapters. It was capable of launching a 46,000 pound (20,865 kilogram) payload to Earth orbit.

The Saturn IB SA-201 S-IB first stage is lifted onto Launch Pad 34, 19 August 1965. Several of the stage’s eight stabilizing fins are not present during this maneuver. (NASA KSC-65C-5347)

The S-IB first stage was built by Chrysler Corporation Space Division at the Michoud Assembly Facility near New Orleans, Louisiana. The S-IB was 80 feet, 2 inches (24.435 meters) long, with a diameter of 21 feet, 5.0 inches (6.528 meters). The empty weight of this stage was 92,500 pounds (41,957 kilograms). Eight Redstone rocket fuel tanks containing the RP-1 fuel (a highly-refined kerosene) surrounded a Jupiter rocket tank containing the liquid oxygen oxidizer (LOX). It had a propellant capacity of 880,500 pounds (399,388 kilograms). The stage had eight stabilizing fins.

The S-IB was powered by eight Rocketdyne H-1 engines. The H-1s were built by the North American Aviation Rocketdyne Division, Canoga Park, California. Total thrust of the S-IB stage was 1,666,460 pounds (7,417.783 kilonewtons) at Sea Level,⁴ and it carried sufficient propellant for a maximum 4 minutes, 22.57 seconds of burn. This could lift the vehicle to an altitude of 37 nautical miles (69 kilometers).

A Saturn IB S-IVB second stage with its Rocketdyne J-2 engine and adapter section. (This S-IVB was part of Saturn IB SA-206.) (NASA 67-HC-26)

The S-IVB second stage was assembled at the Douglas Aircraft Company Missile & Space Division, Huntington Beach, California. The S-IVB was 61 feet, 4.555 inches (18.708497 meters) long, with a maximum diameter of 21 feet, 8.0 inches (6.604 meters). The second stage had an empty weight of 23,400 pounds (10,614 kilograms), and fuel capacity of 228,500 pounds (103,646 kilograms).

It was powered by a single Rocketdyne J-2 engine, fueled by liquid hydrogen (LH2) and LOX. The J-2 produced 229,714 pounds of thrust (1,021.819 kilonewtons), at high thrust, and 198,047 pounds (880.957 kilonewtons) at low thrust). The second stage carried enough fuel for 7 minutes, 49.50 seconds burn at high thrust.

The Instrumentation Unit, containing the Saturn’s guidance systems and attached to the top of the S-IVB stage, was designed by NASA’s Manned Space Flight Center (MSFC), and built by IBM at the Space Systems Center, Huntsville, Alabama. It was 3 feet, 0 inches (0.9 meters) tall with a diameter of 22 feet, 0 inches (6.7056 meters).

After being recovered, the AS-201 Apollo command module was used for drop tests. It is at the Strategic Air and Space Museum, Ashland, Nebraska.

Apollo Command Module CM-009. (HrAtsuo)
Apollo Command Module CM-009 at the Strategic Air and Space Museum, Ashland, Nebraska. (HrAtsuo)

¹ NASA vehicle designations can sometimes be confusing. In this case, “AS-201” designates the all-up Apollo/Saturn IB Space Vehicle, number 201, including the first and second stages, the instrument package, lunar module adapter, service module, command module CM-009, and Launch Escape System (LES). “Spacecraft SC-009” refers to the LES, the CSM and the SLA. The “Saturn IB SA-201,” refers to just the two-stage launch vehicle, number 201: the S-IB first stage, S-IVB second stage, and the Instrumentation Unit. It does not include the payload.

² Range Zero, T-0 (“tee minus zero”), is the last full second before liftoff. This is the time reference for all mission events. In this case, T-0 was 16:12:01.000 UTC (11:12:01 a.m., Eastern Standard Time).

³ Lift off is defined as the instant of Instrumentation Unit umbilical disconnect. This is distinct from “First Motion.”

⁴ The total thrust the the eight H-1 engines of the S-IB first stage was only slightly more than that of just one of the five Rocketdyne F-1 engines of the Saturn V’s S-IC first stage booster.

© 2024, Bryan R. Swopes

25 February 1965

The first Douglas DC-9, N9DC, ready for takeoff at Long Beach Airport, 25 February 1965. (Douglas Aircraft Company)
The first Douglas DC-9, N9DC, ready for takeoff at Long Beach Airport, 25 February 1965. (Douglas Aircraft Company)

25 February 1965: At 11:26 a.m., Pacific Standard Time, the first Douglas DC-9 twin-engine airliner, serial number 45695, with Federal Aviation Administration registration mark N9DC, took off from Long Beach Airport (LGB), on the coast of Southern California, on its first flight. In the cockpit were Chief Engineering Test Pilot George R. Jansen, DC-9 Program Test Pilot Paul H. Patten, and Flight Test Engineer Duncan Walker.

The duration of the first flight was 2 hours, 13 minutes. N9DC landed at Edwards Air Force Base (EDW) where the test program would continue.

Douglas DC-9 N9DC (Douglas Aircraft Corporation)
Douglas DC-9 N9DC (Douglas Aircraft Corporation)

The Douglas DC-9 is a short-to-medium range twin-engine airliner, operated by a flight crew of two pilots. It was designed to carry up to 109 passengers. The initial production model is retroactively identified as the DC-9-10. This variant is 104 feet, 4¾ inches (31.820 meters) long with a wingspan of 89 feet, 5 inches (27.254 meters) and overall height of 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters). The airliner has an empty weight of 49,020 pounds (22,235 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 90,700 pounds (41,141 kilograms).

Douglas DC-9 N9DC photographed by Jon proctor at Los Angeles International Airport, 6 March 1965. (Wikipedia)
Douglas DC-9 N9DC was photographed by Jon Proctor at Los Angeles International Airport, 6 March 1965. (Wikipedia)

The DC-9-10 was powered by two Pratt & Whitney JT8D-5 turbofan engines, producing 12,250 pounds of thrust (54.49 kilonewtons), each. The JT8D was a two-spool engine with a 2-stage fan section, 13-stage compressor (6 low- and 7 high-pressure stages), nine combustion chambers and a 4-stage turbine (1 high- and 3 low-pressure stages). The JT8D-5 was 3 feet, 6.5 inches (1.080 meters) in diameter, 10 feet, 3.5 inches (3.137 meters) long, and weighed 3,096 pounds (1,404 kilograms).

The airliner had a cruise speed of 490 knots (564 miles per hour, 907 kilometers per hour) at 25,000 feet (7,620 meters). It has a range of 1,590 nautical miles (1,830 miles, 2,945 kilometers).

Miss Carol Koberlein christens Delta's first Douglas DC-9, N3304L, Delta Prince, with water from 20 rivers in the airline's area of operations. (Delta Digest)
Miss Carol Marie Koberlein christens Delta’s first Douglas DC-9, N3304L, Delta Prince. Miss Koberlein served with Delta Air Lines until she retired, 31 May 2000. (Delta Digest)

Delta Airlines was the lead customer for the Douglas DC-9. Delta’s first DC-9, serial number 45699, F.A.A. registration N3304L, was delivered in a ceremony at the Douglas plant at Long Beach Airport, 7 October 1965. Using a bottle containing water from twenty rivers in Delta’s area of operations, Stewardess Carol Marie Koberlein christened the airplane Delta Prince. Later that day it was flown to Atlanta by Delta’s legendary Captain Thomas Prioleau Ball, the airline’s Director of Flight Operations. The duration of the flight was 4 hours, 19 minutes.

The first DC-9, s/n 45695, was leased to Trans Texas Airways in 1966, registered N1301T. (Ed Coates Collection)
The first DC-9, s/n 45695, was leased to Trans Texas Airways in 1966, registered N1301T. (Ed Coates Collection)

After the flight test and certification program was over, 45695 was leased to Trans Texas Airways and re-registered N1301T. It served with Trans Texas from 1966 to 1982, when the airline merged with Continental Airlines. It retained the same N-number but was named City of Denver.

In 1983 49695 was sold to Sunworld International Airlines, a Las Vegas, Nevada charter company. After five years it was sold to another charter airline, Emerald Airlines of Dallas, Texas. In 1990, Emerald sold the DC-9 to Canafrica Transportes Aereos, based in Madrid, Spain. While operating for that company, 45695 was registered EC-622 and EC-FCQ. Returning to the United States in 1991, it was briefly owned by Viscount Air Service, Tucson, Arizona, registered N914LF.

DC-9 45695 in service with Canafrica Aeros, registered EC-FCQ, circa 1991. (Unattributed)
DC-9 45695 in service with Canafrica Transportes Aereos, registered EC-FCQ, circa 1991. (Unattributed)

Now 25 years old, ownership of the first DC-9 returned to the McDonnell Douglas Corporation. It was placed in storage at North Texas Regional Airport (GYI), Sherman, Texas, in 1992 and was used as a source for parts.

The Douglas DC-9 was produced in five civil variants, the DC-9-10 through DC-9-50. 41 were produced for the U.S. military, designated C-9A, C-9B and VC-9C. Production closed in 1982 after 976 aircraft had been built.

Miss Carol Marie Koberlein, with Delta Air Lines’ first Douglas DC-9, N3304L (Ship 204), October 1965. (Atlanta Journal-Consitution)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

24 February 1957

Scandinavian Airlines Douglas DC-7C Guttorm Viking
Scandinavian Airlines System Douglas DC-7C LN-MOD, Guttorm Viking (SAS)

24–25 February 1957: Scandinavian Airlines System began flying regularly scheduled passenger flights from Copenhagen to Tokyo, via the North Pole, with the new Douglas DC-7C Seven Seas airliner, LN-MOD, named Guttorm Viking. The route of flight was Copenhagen, Denmark to Anchorage, Alaska, and onward to Tokyo, Japan. The airliner took of at 11:35 a.m. local time (11:35 UTC). The flight crew included Captain Hedell Hansen and Captain Kare Herfjord.

Simultaneously (8:35 p.m., 24 February), Reidar Viking, LN-MOE, took off from Tokyo, en route Copenhagen. The two airliners rendezvoused over the North Pole at 21:37, 24 February, UTC. ¹

En hälsning från Tokio med första reguljära SAS-turen via Nordpolen - den snabbaste hälsning Ni någonsin fått från Japan." "A greeting from Tokio with the first regular SAS-flight via the North Pole - the fastest greeting You ever have got from Japan." This SAS postcard was mailed 26 February 1957. (Famgus Aviation Post Cards)
En hälsning från Tokio med första reguljära SAS-turen via Nordpolen – den snabbaste hälsning Ni någonsin fått från Japan. “A greeting from Tokio with the first regular SAS-flight via the North Pole – the fastest greeting You ever have got from Japan.” This SAS postcard was mailed 26 February 1957. (Famgus Aviation Post Cards)

The polar route cut 2,000 miles (3,219 kilometers) and took a total of 32 hours, rather than the previous 50 hour flight. The airliner returned on February 28, after 71 hours, 6 minutes.

Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) had invited hundreds of media representatives and more than a thousand others to attend the send off from Københavns Lufthavn, Kastrup. To ensure that there were no problems to delay the departure, a second fully-fueled and serviced DC-7C was standing by.

Guttorm Viking, a Scandinavian Airlines System Douglas DC-7C, LN-MOD, at Stockholm-Arlanda Airport, August 1967. (Lars Söderström )
Guttorm Viking, a Scandinavian Airlines System Douglas DC-7C, LN-MOD, at Stockholm-Arlanda Airport, August 1967. (Lars Söderström )

There were 47 passengers aboard the Guttorm Viking, including Prince Axel of Denmark, and Thor Heyerdahl (Kon-Tiki). Reidar Viking carried 45, with the Prince and Princess Mikasa of Japan.

Guttorm Viking made a refueling stop at Anchorage, Alaska, landing at 2:22 a.m. (07:22 UTC, and departing on schedule at 9:00 a.m. (14:00 UTC). It landed at Tokyo at 8:15 a.m., 26 February, Japan Standard Time (23:15, 25 February, UTC), 15 minutes ahead of schedule. The elapsed time of the flight was 32 hours, 31 minutes.

Reidar Viking landed at Copenhagen at 8:45 a.m. local time, Monday 24 February (08:45, 24 February, UTC), 35 hours, 40 minutes after departing Tokyo. The airliner had to make an additional fuel stop at Oslo, Norway, because of unexpected headwinds.

Reidar Viking, a Scandinavian Airlines System Douglas DC-7C, LN-MOE, at Stockholm-Arlanda Airport, May 1967. (Lars Söderström )
Reidar Viking, a Scandinavian Airlines System Douglas DC-7C, LN-MOE, at Stockholm-Arlanda Airport, May 1967. (Lars Söderström )

The DC-7C Seven Seas was the last piston-engine airliner built by Douglas Aircraft Company, intended for non-stop transcontinental and transatlantic flights. The DC-7 combined the fuselage of a DC-6 with the wings of a DC-4. The DC-7C version had 5 feet (1.524 meters) added to the wing roots for increased fuel capacity. By moving the engines further away from the fuselage, aerodynamic drag was reduced and the passenger cabin was quieter. The DC-7 had an extra 40-inch (1.016 meters) “plug” added to the fuselage just behind the wing. The DC-7C added another 40-inch plug ahead of the wing. The engine nacelles were also lengthened to provide room for additional fuel tanks.

The DC-7C was operated by two pilots, a navigator and a flight engineer. It had a maximum capacity of 105 passengers, requiring 4 flight attendants.

The airliner was 112 feet, 3 inches (34.214 meters) long with a wingspan of 127 feet, 6 inches (38.862 meters) and an overall height of 31 feet, 10 inches (9.703 meters). The empty weight was 72,763 pounds (33,005 kilograms). The maximum takeoff weight was 143,000 pounds (64,864 kilograms).

The Seven Seas was powered by four 3,347.662-cubic-inch-displacement (54.858 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, fuel-injected, turbocompound Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 18 988TC18EA1 or -EA3 two-row, 18-cylinder radial engines (also known as the Duplex-Cyclone), with a Normal Power rating of 2,800 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m., and  3,700 horsepower at 2,900 r.p.m for takeoff. (A turbocompound engine uses exhaust-driven power recovery turbines to increase power to the crankshaft through a fluid coupling. This increased the engine’s total power output by approximately 20%.) The Cyclone 18 engines drove 13 foot, 11 inch (4.242 meters) diameter, four-bladed, Hamilton Standard Hydromatic 34E60 full-feathering, reversible-pitch, constant-speed propellers through a 0.4375:1 gear reduction. The 988TC18EA1 was 7 feet, 5.53 inches (2.274 meters) in long, 4 feet, 10.59 inches (1.437 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,645 pounds (1,653 kilograms).

These engines gave the airliner a cruise speed of 308 knots (354 miles per hour/570 kilometers per hour) at 23,500 feet (7,163 meters). The service ceiling was 28,400 feet (8,656 meters) and maximum range was 4,900 nautical miles (5,639 statute miles/9,075 kilometers).

Douglas built 122 DC-7C airliners from 1956 to 1958. Scandinavian Airlines System bought 14 of them. The arrival of the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 turbojet-powered airliners soon made these piston-driven propeller airliners obsolete. Many were converted to freighters, but most were scrapped after only a few years service. Guttorn Viking and Reidar Viking were both scrapped in 1968.

¹    SAS announced that the Guttorm Viking passed the North Pole at 21:37 G.M.T. and the Reidar Viking at 21:43 G.M.T. The planes met at 21:40 G.M.T.

Manchester Guardian, No. 34,419, Monday, 25 February 1957, Page 1, Column 4

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

18–19 February 1934

Transcontinental & Western Air, Inc.’s Douglas DC-1, NC223Y, “City of Los Angeles,” at Grand Central Air Terminal, Glendale, California, 1934. This is the aircraft that carried the mail on a transcontinental flight, 18–19 February 1934. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

18–19 February 1934: The final commercial air mail flight before United States Army took over the U.S. air mail set a new transcontinental speed record. An estimated 15,000 people were present at the Grand Central Air Terminal to witness the takeoff.

Because of a controversy as to how several long-term air mail contracts had been issued by the U.S. Postal Service, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt cancelled all of the commercial contracts by executive order, then ordered the U.S. Army to take over flying of the mail.

The airplane, the prototype Douglas Commercial Model 1 (DC-1), NC223Y, took off from Glendale, California, under the command of William John (“Jack”) Frye, vice president and chief pilot of Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc. Two other T.W.A. pilots, Silas Amos (“Si”) Morehouse and Paul Ernest Richter, Jr., completed the flight crew. Also aboard were Edward Vernon (“Eddie”) Rickenbacker, president of Eastern Air Transport, the leading US. fighter ace of World War I. Six journalists rode as passengers during the flight. Approximately 3,300 pounds (1,497 kilograms) of mail were carried.

Douglas DC-1 NC223Y, “City of Los Angeles,” at Grand Central Air Terminal, Glendale, California, 1934. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

The route of the flight was from Glendale, California, to Albuquerque, New Mexico; Kansas City, Kansas; Columbus, Ohio; and Newark, New Jersey. The DC-1, named City of Los Angeles, departed Grand Central Air Terminal at 8:56 p.m., Pacific Standard Time (04:56 UTC) and arrived at Newark after a total elapsed time of 13 hours, 4 minutes, 20 seconds. The refueling stops at Albuquerque, Kansas City and Columbus were approximately ten minutes each.

Transcontinental & Western Douglas DC-1, NC223Y, “City of Los Angeles,”at Grand Central Air Terminal, 1934. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

The Los Angeles Times reported:

SKY TRAVEL MARK SET

NEW YORK TRIP TIME SLASHED

Latest T.-W.A. Liner Reaches Goal in Thirteen Hours, Four Min., Twenty Sec.

Best Passenger Transport Run Eclipsed by More than Six Hours

     [Aviation writer for the Los Angeles Times, Jean Bosquet, on invitation of officials of Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc., represented this newspaper on the history-making, record-smashing flight of the air line’s new Douglas transport plane from Los Angeles to New York.]

BY JEAN BOSQUET

     NEW YORK, Feb. 19. (Exclusive) Los Angeles to New York in thirteen hours, four minutes and twenty seconds.

     Incredible as it may seem, an air liner of Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc., constituting herself a winged representative of the American aviation industry, accomplished today the feat of carrying a capacity load of passengers and air mail across the continent in slightly more than thirteen hours, faster than the best previous time of a passenger plane in coast-to-coast flight by more than six hours.

     Shattering all existing speed and efficiency records for multimotored transport aircraft, the T.-W.A. liner City of Los Angeles performed the amazing gesture designed, in part, to impress the Federal government with the high efficiency attained by civilian aviation in the United States.

DEBUT AND CHALLENGE

    The performance of the Douglas monoplane, making its maiden flight across the continent, served as a protest against the government decree threatening the existence of the aviation industry by cancellation of air-mail contracts held by major air lines.

     The great gray liner’s epochal flight was at once a debut and a challenge.

     Slipping through the night skies, the swift monoplane rushed over almost 1500 miles of continent between Los Angeles and Kansas City in seven hours and eight minutes, elapsed time, maintaining an average of 210 miles an hour. A ten-minute stop was made at Albuquerque for refueling. The 715 miles between Los Angeles and the New Mexico point were spanned in three hours and fifteen minutes, 220 miles an hour being her average speed. Normal flying time for this run, in ships to be replaced next April by a fleet of these Douglas planes,is at present more than seven hours.

DETAILS OF FLIGHT

     The City of Los Angeles took off from Grand Central Air Terminal in 8:56 p.m. yesterday and reached Albuquerque as 12:11 a.m. today, Pacific standard time. Three hours and forty-four minutes were required for the next leg of the maiden flight, to Kansas City, which point was reached at 4:05 a.m., Pacific standard time.

     Refueling in ten minutes, the T.W.A. transport sped eastward, reaching Newark less than six hours after taking off from Kansas City and that following a stop at Columbus, O.

     At Columbus the landing was made in a flurry of snow. Undaunted by threat of storm, the angle of the blades on the flashing controllable-pitch propellers was changed and the mighty craft stuck its nose into the flurries and climbed like a condor until it road above the storm at 18,500 feet.

     At Lebanon, Pa., it had dropped to 14,000 feet and, riding the radio beam through a dull and cloudy sky, it soared into Newark under a broken ceiling of approximately 7000 feet.

SHIP STEAM-HEATED

     When the ship had reached its highest altitude, some of the six news writers and cameramen on board were seized with violent headaches. The portable oxygen tank was brought out and everybody had a few whiffs “to bring down the altitude.” Outside sleet smacked the metal sides of the aircraft and the temperature was 30 deg. below zero. Inside it was warm and cozy—the ship is steam-heated.

     From Columbus to a point east of Allentown, Pa., somewhat off the regular course, the plane was flying completely blind, depending on the radio beacons. Near the Delaware Water Gap the weather was clearing and the transport made its landing without difficulty before the fog caught up with it.

STOP ELIMINATED

     A third stop scheduled for Pittsburgh was eliminated, when the storm made it advisable to take on a heavier load of fuel at Columbus for the direct hop to New York.

     Although a sixty-mile tail wind at the 18,500-foot level enabled the aircraft to increase its speed to between 240 and 260 miles an hour, the plane for most of the distance was not helped by favoring winds. For the most part, according to Capt. Rickenbacker, there were cross winds. Fair weather was encountered most of the distance to Columbus.

     The amazing performance was unexpected even to T.W.A. officials, who had hoped their new liner would make the flight in fifteen hours with favorable weather. Aviation circles nationally were astonished by the speed of the transport, product of scientific engineering genius of the Southland.

SPLENDID SHOWING

     It was as though the great ship were aware of the trust reposed in her by her owners and by the rest of the nation’s aviation industry as well, when she roared out of Los Angeles, swept majestically over 12,000-foot mountain peaks and burst into the mist of morning over Kansas City.

     It was not alone the tremendous speed of the sleek liner which stood out as her flight progressed. She astonished a group of newspapermen and surprised even the flight host, Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, World War ace, with the quiet of her luxurious cabin, her steadiness in flight over mountain country, and the ease with which she sped on her course, the roaring of her two Wright Cyclones heard but faintly in her cabin.

     As she made her record-smashing way eastward her passengers slept in reclining chairs held steadier than berths in railroad trains.

LAST MAIL CARGO

     In the after compartment of the liner was the last consignment of mail to be carried by civilian aircraft, the governmental order canceling air-mail contracts taking effect three hours after the ship took off in Los Angeles.

     Veteran pilots forming the liner’s crew grimly hummed “The Last Round-up” as they sent the swift craft into the east.

     The  nine-ton monoplane with her 3300-pound pay load swept over treacherous terrain which now must be spanned by army aircraft and pilots ill-equipped for the task.

      Leaving Los Angeles the craft climbed to a height of 14,000 feet, rushing upward at the rate of 600 feet a minute at a speed of 190 miles an hour. Soon she was clearing the loftiest mountain peaks along her course by at least 2000 feet, disdainfully soaring over them.

VETERAN AVIATORS

     At her controls when the City of Los Angeles began her flight were Jack Frye, veteran airman and vice president of T.-W.A.; Paul Richter, superintendent of operations for the line’s western region, and Si Morehouse, senior pilot of T.-W.A. The combined flight hours of the three veterans totaled more than 15,000. Commenting on this during the flight, Capt. Rickenbacker pointed out the perilous undertaking of the army pilots now flying the mails with averages of less than 400 hours each.

     Other pilots replaced Richter and Morehouse as division points were reached, but Frye remained in the ship’s control room throughout her record breaking flight.

Los Angeles Times, Vol. III, 20 February 1934, Page 1, Column 6, and Page 2, Column 4

Douglas DC-1 X223Y, at Clover Field, Santa Monica, California, 1 July 1933. (San Diego Air & Space Museum, Michael Blaine Collection, Catalog #: Blaine_00263)

The Douglas DC-1 was a prototype commercial transport, built by the Douglas Aircraft Company, Santa Monica, California. It was a twin-engine, all-metal, low-wing monoplane with conventional landing gear. It had a flight crew of two pilots, and seats for 12 passengers.

The new airplane had been requested by Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc., in August 1932. Originally intended as a three-engine transport, the new airliner was required to have a maximum speed of at least 185 miles per hour (298 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 21,000 feet (6,400 meters). It would be required to take off from Winslow, Arizona—at 4,941 feet (1,506 meters) above Sea Level, the highest airfield in the T.W.A. route system. It was required to carry more passengers than the Boeing Model 247, and to have a landing speed of 65 miles per hour (105 kilometers per hour).

The DC-1 was 60 feet, 0 inches (11.288 meters) long, with a wing span of 85 feet, 0 inches (25.908 meters), and height of 16 feet, 0 inches (4.877 meters). Its empty weight was 11,780 pounds (5,343 kilograms), and gross weight, 17,500 pounds (7,938 kilograms).

Passenger cabin of the Douglas DC-1. (Dick Whittington Studio)
Reclining seats in the passenger cabin of the Douglas DC-1. (Dick Whittington Studio)

The DC-1 was powered by two supercharged, air-cooled, Wright Cyclone SGR-1820-F3 nine-cylinder radial engines, These engines had a compression ratio of 6.4:1 and required 87-octane gasoline. They were rated at 700 horsepower at 1,950 r.p.m. They turned three-bladed variable-pitch propellers through a 16:11 gear reduction. The -F3 was 3 feet, 11-3/16 inches (1.199 meters) long, 4 feet, 5¾ inches (1.365 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,047 pounds (475 kilograms).

The DC-1 had a cruise speed of 190 miles per hour (306 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed of 210 miles per hour (338 kilometers per hour). Its range was 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers), and the service ceiling was 23,000 feet (7,010 meters).

Only one DC-1 was built. It was rolled out of its hangar 22 June 1933. Registered X223Y, it made its first flight, 1 July 1933, at Clover Field, Santa Monica, California, with test pilots Carl Cover and Fred Herman in the cockpit.

The prototype Douglas DC-1, X223Y, takes off from Clover Field, Santa Monica, California, 1 July 1933. (Airport Journals)
The Douglas DC-1, X223Y, in flight. (Larry Westin)

NC223Y was retired from passenger service in 1936. T.W.A. loaned it to the U.S. government for  high altitude research. It was then sold to Howard Hughes. In May 1938 NC223Y was sold to Viscount Forbes of the United Kingdom, 27 May 1938, transported across the Atlantic aboard a freighter, then registered G-AFIF, 25 June 1938. The airplane was re-sold to France in September 1938.

Spanish-registered Douglas DC-1 EC-AGN, owned by Lineas Aéreas Postales Espanolas. (Iberia Airlines)

The DC-1 was again sold, this time to Spanish Republican government, and operated by Lineas Aéreas Postales Espanolas, also known as LAPE. The airplane made a forced landing at Malaga, Spain, in December 1940. It was damaged beyond repair.

Wreck of the Douglas DC-1, Malaga, Spain. (Weird Wings)

The single DC-1 prototype led to an order for 20 improved 14-passenger DC-2s for T.W.A. This, in turn, resulted in the development of the legendary Douglas DC-3.

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes

15 February 1946

Douglas XC-112A Liftmaster 45-873 (U.S. Air Force)
Douglas XC-112A 45-873 (W. T. Larkins Collection/Wikipedia)

15 February 1946: First flight of Douglas XC-112A (s/n 36326) 45-873.

In 1944, the U.S. Army Air Corps had requested a faster, higher-flying variant of the Douglas C-54E Skymaster, with a pressurized cabin. Douglas Aircraft Company developed the XC-112A in response. It was completed 11 February 1946 and made its first flight 4 days later. With the end of World War II, military requirements were scaled back and no orders for the type were placed.

Douglas saw a need for a new post-war civil airliner to compete with the Lockheed L-049 Constellation. Based on the XC-112A, the prototype Douglas DC-6 was built and made its first flight four months later, 29 June 1946.

Prototype Douglas DC-6 civil transport. (Century of Flight)

The Air Force ordered the twenty-sixth production Douglas DC-6 as a presidential transport, designated VC-118, The Independence. Beginning in 1951, the Air Force ordered a variant of the DC-6A as a the C-118A Liftmaster military transport and MC-118A medical transport. The U.S. Navy ordered it as the R6D-1.

The Douglas DC-6 was flown by a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and a navigator on longer flights. It was designed to carry between 48 and 68 passengers, depending on variant.

The DC-6 was 100 feet, 7 inches (30.658 meters) long with a wingspan of 117 feet, 6 inches (35.814 meters) and overall height of 28 feet, 5 inches (8.612 meters). The aircraft had an empty weight of 55,567 pounds (25,205 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 97,200 pounds (44,090 kilograms).

The initial production DC-6 was powered by four 2,804.4-cubic-inch-displacement (45.956 liter), air-cooled, supercharged Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp CA15 two-row, 18 cylinder radial engines with a compression ratio of 6.75:1. The CA15 had a Normal Power rating of 1,800 h.p. at 2,600 r.p.m. at 6,000 feet (1,829 meters), 1,600 horsepower at 16,000 feet (4,877 meters), and 2,400 h.p. at 2,800 r.p.m with water injection for take off. The engines drove  three-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic 43E60 constant-speed propellers with a 15 foot, 2 inch (4.623 meter) diameter through a 0.450:1 gear reduction. The Double Wasp CA15 was 6 feet, 4.39 inches (1.940 meters) long, 4 feet, 4.80 inches (1.341 meters) in diameter, and weighed 2,330 pounds (1,057 kilograms).

The Douglas DC-6 had a cruise speed of 311 miles per hour (501 kilometers per hour) and range of 4,584 miles (7,377 kilometers).

XC-112A 45-873 was redesignated YC-112A and was retained by the Air Force before being transferred to the Civil Aeronautics Administration at Oklahoma City, where it was used as a ground trainer. 36326 was sold at auction as surplus equipment, and was purchased by Conner Airlines, Inc. Miami, Florida and received its first civil registration, N6166G, 1 August 1956. The YC-112A was certified in the transport category, 20 August 1956.

Conner Airlines sold 36326 to Compañia Ecuatoriana de Aviación (CEA), an Ecuadorian airline. Registered HC-ADJ, Ecuatoriana operated 36326 for several years.

It was next re-registered N6166G, 1 August 1962, owned by ASA International. A few months later, 1 May 1963, 36326 was registered to Trabajeros Aereos del Sahara SA (TASSA) a Spanish charter company specializing in the support of oil drilling operations in the Sahara, registered EC-AUC.

XC-112A was operated as a DC-6, EC-AUC, by TASSA Air Charter, seen here at London Gatwick, 29 August 1964. (RuthAS)
The XC-112A was operated as EC-AUC by TASSA Air Charter, seen here at London Gatwick, 29 August 1964. (RuthAS)

In 1965, with a private owner, 36326 was once again re-registered N6166G. Just two weeks after that, 1 June 1965, 36326 was registered to TransAir Canada as CF-TAX.

A TransAir DC-6
A TransAir DC-6

Two years later, 13 June 1967, Mercer Airlines bought 36326. This time the airplane was registered N901MA. Mercer was a charter company which also operated a Douglas C-47 and Douglas DC-4.

N901MA at Hollywood-Burbank Airport (Bureau d'Archives des Accidents d'Avion)
N901MA at Hollywood-Burbank Airport (Bureau d’Archives des Accidents d’Avion)

A Las Vegas, Nevada, hotel chartered Mercer Airlines to fly a group of passengers from Ontario International Airport (ONT), Ontario, California, to McCarran International Airport (LAS). On 8 February 1976, 36326, operating as Mercer Flight 901, was preparing to fly from Hollywood-Burbank Airport (BUR) where it was based, to ONT. The airliner had a flight crew of three: Captain James R. Seccombe, First Officer Jack R. Finger,  Flight Engineer Arthur M. Bankers. There were two flight attendants in the passenger cabin, along with another Mercer employee.

Weather at BUR was reported as 1,000 feet (305 meters) scattered, 7,000 feet (2,134 meters) overcast, with visibility 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) in light rain and fog. The air temperature was 56 °F. (13.3  °C.), the wind was 180° at 4 knots (2 meters per second).

At 10:35 a.m. PST (18:35 UTC), Flight 901 was cleared for a rolling takeoff on Burbank’s Runway 15. While on takeoff roll, Flight Engineer Bankers observed a warning light for engine (inboard, starboard wing). He called out a warning to the Captain, however, the takeoff continued.

Immediately after takeoff, a propeller blade on failed. The intense vibration from the unbalanced propeller tore the engine off of the airplane’s wing, and it fell on to the runway below.

The thrown blade passed through the lower fuselage, cut through hydraulic and pneumatic lines and electrical cables and then struck the engine (inboard, port wing), further damaging the airplane’s electrical components and putting a large hole in that engine’s forward accessory drive case. The engine rapidly lost lubricating oil.

Flight 901 declared an emergency and requested to land on Runway 07, which was approved by the Burbank control tower, though they were informed that debris from the engine was on the runway at the intersection of 15/33 and 07/25. The airplane circled to the right to line up for Runway 07.

Just prior to touchdown, warning lights indicated that the propeller on the engine had reversed. (In fact, it had not.) Captain Seccombe announced that they would only reverse and (the outboard engines, port and starboard wings) to slow 36326 after landing, and the airplane touched down very close to the approach end of the runway.

Because of the damage to the airplane’s systems, the outboard propellers would not reverse to slow the airplane and the service and emergency brakes also had failed. N901MA was in danger of running off the east end of the 6,055 foot (1,846 meters) runway, across the busy Hollywood Way and on into the city beyond.

The flight crew applied full power on the remaining three engines and again took off.  The landing gear would not retract. The electrical systems failed. The engine lost oil pressure and began to slow.

The DC-6 circled to the right again and headed toward Van Nuys Airport (VNY), 6.9 miles (11.1 kilometers) west of Hollywood-Burbank Airport. They informed Burbank tower that they would be landing on Van Nuys Runway 34L which was 8,000 feet (2,438 meters) long. Because of the emergency, the crew remained on Burbank’s radio frequency. The engine then stopped but the propeller could not be feathered.

Bob Hope Burbank irport is at the right edge of this image, and Van Nuys Airport is at the left. Woodly Golf Course is just south of VNY. (Google Earth image)
Hollywood-Burbank Airport (BUR) is at the right edge of this image, and Van Nuys Airport is at the left. Woodley Lakes Golf Course is just south of VNY. (Google Earth image)

Van Nuys weather was reported as 600 feet (183 meters) scattered, 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) overcast, with visibility 10 miles (16.1 kilometers) in light rain, temperature 55 °F. (12.8 °C.). The airliner was flying in and out of the clouds and the crew was on instruments. [1045: “Special, 1,200 scattered, 10,000 feet overcast, visibility—10 miles, rainshowers, wind—130° at 4 kn, altimeter setting—29.93 in.”]

Because of the drag of the unfeathered engine propeller and the extended landing gear, the Flight 901 was unable to maintain altitude with the two remaining engines. The airplane was not able to reach the runway at VNY.

A forced landing was made on a golf course just south of the airport. The airplane touched down about 1 mile south of the threshold of Runway 34L on the main landing gear and bounced three times. At 10:44:55, the nose then struck the foundation of a partially constructed building, crushing the cockpit. All three flight crew members were killed by the impact.

N901MA-2
Douglas YC-112A serial number 36326, N901MA, shortly after crash landing at Woodley Golf Course, Van Nuys, California, 8 February 1976. (Bureau d’Archives des Accidents d’Avions)

Both flight attendants were trapped under their damaged seats but were able to free themselves. They and the passenger were able to escape from the wreck with minor injuries.

Los Angeles City Fire Department firefighters attempted to rescue the crew by cutting into the fuselage. Even though the area around the airplane had been covered with fire-retardant foam, at about 20 minutes after the crash, sparks from the power saw ignited gasoline fumes. Fire erupted around the airplane. Ten firefighters were burned, three severely. N901MA was destroyed.

"Feb. 8, 1976: Firemen scatter after saw ignites gas fumes at crash site of DC-6 in Van Nuys. Three trapped crew members of Mercer Enterprises DC-6 charter plane died. Ten firemen were injured." (Boris Yaro/Los Angeles Times)
“Feb. 8, 1976: Firemen scatter after saw ignites gas fumes at crash site of DC-6 in Van Nuys. Three trapped crew members of Mercer Enterprises DC-6 charter plane died. Ten firemen were injured.” (Boris Yaro/Los Angeles Times)

At the time of the accident, YC-112A 36326 was just three days short of the 30th anniversary of its completion at Douglas. It had flown a total of 10,280.4 hours. It was powered by three Pratt & Whitney R-2800-83 AMS, and one R-2800-CA18 Double Wasp engines. All four engines drove three-bladed Curtiss-Wright Type C632-S constant-speed propellers. The failed propeller had been overhauled then installed on N901MA 85 hours prior to the 8 February flight.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the accident. It was found that a fatigue fracture in the leading edge of the propeller blade had caused the failure. Though the propeller had recently been overhauled, it was discovered that the most recent procedures had not been followed. This required that the rubber deicing boots be stripped so that a magnetic inspection could be made of the blade’s entire surface. Because this had not been done, the crack in the hollow steel blade was not found.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes