|A crowd has gathered around TWA's new airliner, the|
Douglas DC-1. Note the "X" replacing the normal "NC" on
the tail number, and the Douglas Dolphin in the background.
But the more I looked at the TWA photographs, the more I realized that this wasn't a DC-3...the tail was all wrong...and then there was the registration number, which started with an "X" rather than an "NC". So I dug into the research, and found that indeed this wasn't a DC-3...it wasn't even the earlier DC-2. This was the one and only DC-1, the plane that started it all. And since Santa Monica's Clover Field was wide open to the public, a lot of local folks appear in the photos, there to watch this new, shiny bird take flight.
|If you look closely, you can see small winglets spanning|
the gap between the engine nacelles and the fuselage.
These were reportedly removed soon after the first flight,
and don't appear in the last photo, below, when the plane
Gone were the wooden airliners, the age of the shiny metal birds was here. It was still an age of monopolies, however, and with the corporate connections between Boeing and United Airlines, that manufacturer's total initial output of its new all-metal Model 247 was taken by United. Thus did TWA's Jack Frye approach Donald Douglas about a new type of plane, one that would compete - and even beat - Boeing's airliner. Douglas later called the letter he received from Frye requesting a Douglas proposal the “birth certificate of the DC ships". Price for the one prototype Douglas agreed to build: $125,000 (that would be about $2 million in 2011 dollars).
|The DC-1 is readied for flight. Presumably, that is Douglas VP|
of Sales and Chief Test Pilot Carl Cover who can be seen
through the open cockpit side window.
But once that was fixed, performance of the DC-1 was phenomenal. Cover is known to have commented "She was born to fly, and she belongs up there with the angels." On September 4, 1933, the final test flight to demonstrate compliance with TWA’s demanding specifications was flown: immediately after X223Y took off from hot and high Winslow, Arizona with TWA pilots Eddie Allen and Tommy Tomlinson at the controls, one engine was shut down and the crew turned the nose towards Albuquerque, the highest airfield that TWA then served. One of the requirements that Frye had listed in the original letter to Douglas demanded the ability for the aircraft to safely operate with an engine out at the airlines highest airport. The DC-1 handled the challenge easily. On September 15, TWA took initial delivery of the aircraft, which carried a restricted airworthiness certificate, and the registration NR223Y.
Two months later, on November 15, with Donald Douglas himself on board, they had to use this capability for real, when one engine failed over the continental divide, Cover turned back and landed at Albuquerque. Douglas is said to have later remarked, "Here was the TWA requirement, for real, but you could hardly tell back in the cabin. It was like nothing happened."
|Ground crew personnel meet NC223Y as she taxis to a stop,|
Glendale. This appears to have been the first in a series of
images taken that day, and another a few moments later
can be seen on this City of Glendale website.
On February 18, 1934, two hours before the official end of all air mail contracts, Jack Frye and Eddie Rickenbacker delivered the last commercially-carried sacks of airmail on a flight from Burbank to Newark onboard NC223Y. In doing so, they set a transcontinental speed record for transport-class aircraft of 13 hours and 4 minutes. Just a bit more than a year later, on April 30, 1935, Old 300 set another record, of 11 hours, 5 minutes for a flight from Los Angeles to New York.
Beginning in April, 1934, the plane was operated regularly on TWA's New York-Pittsburgh route until it was withdrawn from service in 1936. Reregistered as NS223Y, it was loaned to the government for a short time for some high altitude research flights.
The records caught the attention of one of the major shareholders in TWA, Howard Hughes, who bought the DC-1 from the airline, with the intention of setting an even more ambitious speed record, a round-the-world one. He had the aircraft modified with extra fuel tanks and larger 875hp Wright Cyclone engines in preparation for the trip. But it was not to be. The maverick millionaire changed his mind, and instead decided to use a Lockheed Lodestar. Old 300 was used a few times by Hughes as a corporate plane, but mostly sat unused at Burbank until it was sold in May , 1938.
The buyer was the English Viscount Forbes, Earl of Granard, who intended to set a transatlantic speed record with it. Again, however, plans fell through. He did take the plane to England, and flew it to the Continent a few times, but didn’t really have a lot of use for the plane.
Some mystery surrounds what happened next, as the venerable DC-1 got involved in the Spanish Civil War. The Earl sold the plane to the French SFTA (the Société Française des Transports Aériens), but a month later, it was in the Spanish Republic wearing the titles of the Spanish carrier LAPE, with camo paint covering her once shiny skin. The plane was operated on the Paris-Toulouse-Barcelona route until March 1939 and the fall of Barcelona to Franco. The DC-1 was even used to carry Republican government officials into exile in France.
After the war ended in April, 1939, the DC-1 was turned over to the new government, and was named Manuel Negron, registered as EC-AAE and placed into commercial service with Iberia Airlines, flying the Seville-Malaga-Tetuan route. One day in December, 1940, the pilot had just rotated and started climbing away from Malaga’s runway, when both engines quit, hauntingly reminiscent of what happened on Old 300’s first flight. But this time, the old girl’s luck had run out, and she overran the runway. No one was hurt, but the plane was far beyond repair. (The Goleta Air and Space Museum's website has a photo of the wrecked aircraft here.)
At this point, legend takes over, as there is no confirmation of the rest of this story, although it is oft-repeated by aviation historians. While the DC-1 was indeed beyond repair, locals claim that part of her aluminum structure was salvaged to construct an andas, a ceremonial throne which is used to carry a statue of the Madonna from Our Lady of Hope in Malaga during the annual Holy Week festivals.