Good Morning and Happy Friday,
I hope the week was good for you and you will have some time to kick back and relax this weekend. This week I want to talk about the airplane that made the DC-3 the standard of the day. I know you are thinking that the DC-3 stood alone as a giant in aviation history because of its design, technical improvements, overall flexibility, and passenger appeal. This is all true but do you know why this happened?
The Boeing Company introduced the B-247 in the early 1930s and it was this airplane that was considered, by most, to be the first true airliner because it was a clean cantilever low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction with twin-engine power plants, retractable landing gear, and accommodation for a pilot, copilot, stewardess, and 10 passengers; however, United Airlines, part of the holding company United Airlines and Technology Corporation (UATC), purchased 60 of the planes and this one order took up all of Boeing’s manufacturing capacity and sent other airlines searching for alternatives.
TWA wrote specifications for a new airplane and submitted those to the major aircraft manufacturers. Donald Douglas accepted the assignment and the result was the DC-1, DC-2, and finally the DC-3. So, United had the B-247, which they soon replaced with DC-3s, and TWA was the launch customer for the DC-3 and the rest of the airlines played catch up.
So, if you didn’t know already, now you know the rest of the story.
Below is a reprint of the blog article I wrote in 2009, on the Boeing 247, but first take a look at the video below. This was produced by the BBC and highlights the achievements of the airplane, an interview with the design engineer on the DC-1, DC-2, DC-3, and shows where these airplanes continue to work today.
In 1930, the traveling public was more likely to take the train for long journeys than fly. The current airliners were uncomfortable, noisy, and not much faster than the new streamliner trains. Boeing, as part of the United Aircraft and Transport Company, decided to develop a new airliner based on its previous single-engine Monomail. The result was the Model 247, which carried 10 passengers at 155 mph in a new level of comfort. A revolutionary aircraft, the Boeing 247 has since become regarded as a prototype for the modern airliner because it was a clean cantilever low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction with twin-engine power plant, retractable landing gear, and accommodation for a pilot, copilot, stewardess and 10 passengers. With one engine inoperative, it could climb and maintain altitude with a full load, and the new Boeing also introduced a new feature for a civil transport aircraft— pneumatic de-icing boots.
Company conflict accompanied the development of this aircraft. Boeing’s chief engineer had called for a plane no larger than the planes in current production, claiming that pilots liked smaller planes and a larger plane would create problems such as the need for larger hangars. Fred Rentschler of Pratt & Whitney Engine Company, a member of the UATC, as well as Igor Sikorsky, who had been building large planes for years and also a member of UATC, favored a larger plane and claimed that it would offer more comfort to their passengers on long flights. Those in favor of the smaller plane won, and performance prevailed over comfort.
Disagreements also ensued over whether to have a co-pilot, which would increase passenger safety and comfort but would also add to the weight. The co-pilot was added. The propeller was also a source of controversy. Frank Caldwell’s two-position variable-pitch propeller had already been perfected in 1932. But Boeing argued that the device weighed too much, and decided to use a fixed-pitch propeller. Nevertheless, with some foresight, the plane was designed so that there would be sufficient propeller clearance if a variable-pitch propeller was added later. This turned out to be a smart decision, since the 247D switched to the newer propeller.
The twin-engine Boeing 247 made the three-engine airplane obsolete and gave the U.S. airline industry an enormous boost. United Airlines, a member of the holding company United Airlines and Technology Corporation (UATC), purchased 60 of the planes and soon outdistanced all of its competitors.
It appeared that the Model 247 had a bright future in airline service but the large order took up all of Boeing’s manufacturing capacity and sent other airlines searching for alternatives. TWA went to Douglas and the DC-2—the DC-2 had a greater seating capacity and a higher speed— and soon most US airlines were ordering DC-2’s.
United Airlines had great success with its sixty planes for the relatively short time that it flew them, and many of United’s aircraft were later purchased by Western Airlines.
Next week we will continue this series by highlighting the DC-1/2/3. Until then, take some time to look back, connect with your past and remember as an aviator you are a “Gatekeeper of the Third Dimension”.
Protect your profession, your future, and the future of your fellow aviators.
June 29, 2018