Transport aircraft Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Commercial aircraft designed to carry passengers and cargo in addition to a pilot and crew.

Boeing B-1

The Boeing B-1 was a flying boat with its engine located at the rear. It could carry one pilot and two passengers, as well as mail or cargo. The hull consisted of laminated wood veneer, and the wing frames were spruce and plywood. It outlasted six engines in eight years of international airmail runs between Seattle and Victoria, British Columbia. The maiden flight of this aircraft occurred in December 27, 1919. The civil flying boat had a wingspan of 50 feet 3 inches, a length of 3l feet 3 inches, and a gross weight of 3,850 pounds. Its top speed was 90 miles per hour and its cruising speed 80 miles per hour. Its range was 400 miles and its ceiling 13,300 feet. The propulsion system consisted of either one 200-horsepower Hall-Scott L-6 or one 400-horsepower Liberty engine.

Boeing Model 40A

The Model 40A used an air-cooled Pratt & Whitney Wasp engine that was about 200 pounds lighter than the water-cooled engines used to power its competitors. The biplane used welded-steel tubing throughout its fuselage but could still carry a heavier load and was less expensive to operate. This was the first Boeing airplane to carry passengers, with room for two people in a tiny cabin, as well as cargo space for mail. Twenty-four of the mail planes built were ready to fly on July 1, 1927, for their first day of airmail service between San Francisco and Chicago. The twenty-fifth was delivered to Pratt & Whitney as a flying testbed.

This commercial transport first flew on May 20, 1927. It had a wingspan of 44 feet 2 inches, a length of 33 feet 2 inches, and a gross weight of 6,000 pounds. Its top speed was 128 miles per hour and its cruising speed was 105 miles per hour. Its range was 650 miles and its ceiling 14,500 feet. Propulsion consisted of one 420-horsepower Pratt & Whitney engine. It could accommodate one pilot, two passengers, and 1,200 pounds of mail.

Boeing Model 80

In 1928, Boeing introduced America’s first airliner designed specifically for passenger comfort and convenience. The Model 80’s fuselage was made of welded-steel tubing covered with fabric, and its wooden wingtips were removable so that the airplane could fit into the hangars along its route. Despite complaints by pilots accustomed to flying in an open cockpit, the size of the Model 80 required a separate, enclosed flightdeck. The Model 80 carried passengers in a spacious cabin appointed with leather upholstery, reading lamps, forced-air ventilation, and hot and cold running water. The first version carried twelve people, and it was followed by the larger, eighteen-passenger Model 80A, which made its first flight on September 12, 1929. Ten Model 80A’s flew for the Boeing airlines.

Ellen Church, a registered nurse, convinced Boeing managers that women could work as stewards, so nurses serving aboard the Model 80A became aviation’s first female flight attendants. They earned $125 for flying one hundred hours per month. This commercial transport first flew on July 27, 1928. It had a wingspan of 80 feet, a length of 56 feet 6 inches, and a gross weight of 17,500 pounds. Its top speed was 138 miles per hour and it cruised at 125 miles per hour. It had a range of 460 miles and a ceiling of 14,000 feet. Propulsion consisted of three 525-horsepower Pratt & Whitney Hornet engines. It accommodated three crew, eighteen passengers, and 898 pounds of cargo.

Boeing Monomail

In 1930, Boeing created the revolutionary Monomail, which made traditional biplane construction a design of the past. The Monomail wing was set lower, was smooth, made entirely of metal, and had no struts. The retractable landing gear, the streamlined fuselage, and the engine covered by an antidrag cowling added up to an advanced, extremely aerodynamic design. The Monomail Model 200 was a mail plane, and the Model 221 was a six-passenger transport. Both were later revised for transcontinental passenger service as Model 221A’s.

The major drawback of the Monomail was that its design was too advanced for the engines and propellers of the time. The airplane required a low-pitch propeller for takeoff and climb and a high-pitch propeller to cruise. By the time the variable-pitch propeller and more powerful engines were available, the Monomail was being replaced by newer, multiengine planes that it had inspired.

This mail and cargo carrier first flew on May 6, 1933. It had a wingspan of 59 feet 1 inch, a length of 4l feet 10 inches, and a gross weight of 8,000 pounds. Its top speed was 158 miles per hour and it cruised at 135 miles per hour. It had a range of 575 miles and a ceiling of 14,700 feet. Propulsion consisted of one 575-horsepower Pratt & Whitney Hornet B engine. It accommodated one pilot and approximately 1,500 pounds of cargo.

Boeing Model 247

The Model 247, developed in 1933, was an all-metal, twin-engine airplane and the first modern passenger airliner. It had an autopilot, pneumatically operated deicing equipment, a variable-pitch propeller, and retractable landing gear. It took the Model 247 20 hours, with seven stops, to fly between New York and Los Angeles. However, because the 247 flew at 189 miles per hour, its trip was seven-and-a-half hours shorter than that made by any previous airliners.

Seventy-six Model 247 aircraft were built. Boeing Air Transport flew sixty Model 247’s. United Aircraft Corporation flew ten, and the rest went to Lufthansa and to a private owner in China. The 247’s remained in airline service until World War II, when several were converted into C-73 transports and trainers. Some were still in use in the late 1960’s. Along with the Douglas DC-2 that supplanted it, the Model 247 ushered in the age of speed, reliability, safety, and comfort in air travel.

This Boeing commercial transport aircraft first flew on February 8, 1933. It had a wingspan of 74 feet, a length of 51 feet 7 inches, and a gross weight of 13,650 pounds. Its top speed was 200 miles per hour, while it cruised at 189 miles per hour. Its range was 745 miles and its ceiling was 25,400 feet. Propulsion consisted of two 500-horsepower Pratt & Whitney Wasp engines. It could accommodate three crew members, ten passengers, and four hundred pounds of mail.

Douglas DC-1

The introduction of the DC-1 in 1933 marked the beginning of sixty-four years of continuous production of passenger planes by the Douglas Aircraft Company. It was designed as a series prototype for TWA to compete against the revolutionary Boeing Model 247 ordered by Boeing subsidiary United Air Lines. The DC-1 exceeded all but one of the tough specifications set by its buyer—TWA wanted three engines; the DC-1 had only two. The DC-1 was very advanced for its day. Its fuselage was streamlined, as were its wings and engine cowlings. It featured all-metal construction and retractable landing gear. Variable-pitch propellers gave the plane remarkable takeoff and landing characteristics. With plush seats, a kitchen, and a comfortable restroom, the DC-1 set a new standard for passenger comfort.

Great efforts were made to insulate the passenger compartment from the noise of the plane’s engines. The plane’s passengers seats were mounted on rubber supports, while the cabin was lined with noise-absorbing fabric. Carpet covered the cabin floor and even the engines were mounted on rubber insulators.

The DC-1 carried twelve passengers (two more than the Model 247) and could fly as fast as 180 miles per hour. In April, 1935, it set a transcontinental speed record, covering the distance from Los Angeles to New York in 11 hours, 5 minutes. Pleased with the new plane, TWA placed an order for twenty-five larger aircraft, designated the DC-2. Enlarged once more, the DC-2’s basic design evolved into the world-famous DC-3. For all of the DC-1’s historical significance, only one was built.

The DC-1 first flew on July 1, 1933. It had a wingspan of 56 feet, a length of 60 feet, and a height of 16 feet. Its gross weight was 17,500 pounds. The plane had a ceiling of 23,000 feet and a range of 1,000 miles. Propulsion consisted of two 710-horsepower Wright engines and the plane flew at 190 miles per hour. It could accommodate two crew and twelve passengers.

Douglas DC-2

Inspired by the success of the DC-1, the DC-2 was introduced less than a year after the DC-1’s first flight. The new plane was similar in shape to the DC-1 but had more powerful engines, was faster, and was capable of longer flights. More importantly, it was two feet longer and could carry two more passengers. The DC-2 was an instant hit. In its first six months of service, the DC-2 established nineteen American speed and distance records. In 1934, TWA put DC-2’s on overnight flights from New York to Los Angeles. Called the Sky Chief, the flight left New York at 4 p.m. and, after stops in Chicago, Kansas City, and Albuquerque, arrived in Los Angeles at 7 a.m. For the first time, the air traveler could fly from coast to coast without losing the business day.

The DC-2 was the first Douglas airliner to enter service with an airline outside of the United States. In October, 1934, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines entered one of its DC-2’s in the London-to-Melbourne air race. It made every scheduled passenger stop on KLM’s regular 9,000-mile route (1,000 miles longer than the official race route), carried mail, and even turned back once to pick up a stranded passenger. Yet the DC-2 finished in second place behind a racing plane especially for the competition. After that, the DC-2’s reputation was assured and it became the airplane of choice for many of the world’s largest airlines. In 1935, the DC-2 became the first Douglas aircraft to receive the prestigious Collier Trophy for outstanding achievements in flight. Between 1934 and 1937, Douglas built 156 DC-2’s at its Santa Monica, California, plant.

This transport aircraft first flew in 1934. It had a wingspan of 62 feet, a length of 61 feet 11.75 inches, and a height of 16 feet 3.75 inches. Its ceiling was 22,450 feet and it had a range of 1,000 miles. Gross weight of the aircraft was 18,560 pounds. Propulsion consisted of two 875-horsepower Wright Cyclone engines. The speed of the plane was 200 miles per hour. It accommodated three crew members and fourteen passengers and could carry 3,600 pounds of cargo.

Douglas DC-3

The DC-3, which made air travel popular and airline profits possible, is universally recognized as the greatest airplane of its time. Indeed, some would argue that it is the greatest airplane of all time. Design work began in 1934 at the insistence of C. R. Smith, president of American Airlines. Smith wanted two new planes, a longer DC-2 that would carry more day passengers, and one with railroad-type sleeping berths, to carry overnight passengers.

The first DC-3 built was the Douglas Skysleeper Transport, and it was the height of luxury. Fourteen plush seats in four main compartments could be folded in pairs to form seven berths, while seven more folded down from the cabin ceiling. The plane could accommodate fourteen overnight passengers or twenty-eight passengers on shorter daytime flights. The first was delivered to American Airlines in June, 1936, followed two months later by the first standard twenty-one-passenger DC-3.

In November, 1936, United Air Lines, which had been a subsidiary of Boeing until 1934, became the second DC-3 customer. The DC-2 had proved more economical than the Model 247 and United assumed the DC-3 would continue that lead. Initial orders from American and United were soon followed by orders from more than thirty other airlines in the next two years. The DC-3 was not only comfortable and reliable, it also made air transportation profitable. American Airlines’ C. R. Smith said the DC-3 was the first airplane that could make money just by hauling passengers, without relying on government subsidies. As a result, by 1939, more than 90 percent of the nation’s airline passengers were flying on DC-2’s and DC-3’s.

In addition to the 455 DC-3 commercial transports built for the airlines, 174 were produced as military transports during World War II. For both airline and military use, the DC-3 proved to be tough, flexible, and easy to operate and maintain. Its exploits during the war became the stuff of legend. This plane first flew on December 17, 1935. It had a wingspan of 95 feet, a length of 64 feet 5.5 inches, and a height of 16 feet 3.6 inches. Its ceiling was 20,800 feet, it had a gross weight of 30,000 pounds, and its range was 1,495 miles. Propulsion consisted of two 1,200-horsepower Wright Cyclone radial engines. Its speed was 192 miles per hour. It could accommodate three crew members and fourteen sleeper passengers, or twenty-one to twenty-eight day passengers, or 3,725 to 4,500 pounds of freight.

Boeing Model 314 Clipper

As airplane travel increased in popularity during the mid-1930’s, passengers wanted to fly across the ocean, so Pan American Airlines asked for a long-range, four-engine flying boat. In response, Boeing developed the Model 314, nicknamed the “Clipper” after the great oceangoing sailing ships. The Clipper used the wings and engine nacelles (separate streamlined enclosures for housing the crew, cargo, or engines) of the giant Boeing XB-15 bomber on the flying boat’s towering, whale-shaped body. The installation of new Wright 1,500-horsepower Double Cyclone engines eliminated the lack of power that handicapped the XB-15. With a nose similar to that of the modern 747, the Clipper was the jumbo airplane of its time.

The Model 314 had a 3,500-mile range and made the first scheduled transatlantic flight on June 28, 1939. By the year’s end, Clippers were routinely flying across the Pacific. Clipper passengers looked down at the sea from large windows and enjoyed the comforts of dressing rooms, a dining salon that could be turned into a lounge, and even a bridal suite. The Clipper’s seventy-four seats converted into forty bunks for overnight travelers. Four-star hotels catered gourmet meals served from its galley.

Boeing built twelve Model 314’s between 1938 and 1941. At the outbreak of World War II, the Clipper was drafted into service to ferry materials and personnel. Few other aircraft of the day could meet wartime distance and load requirements. U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled by Boeing Clipper to meet British prime minister Winston Churchill at the Casablanca conference in Casablanca, Morocco, in January, 1943. On the way home, President Roosevelt celebrated his birthday in the flying boat’s dining room.

This commercial transport had a wingspan of 152 feet, a length of 106 feet, and a gross weight of 84,000 pounds. Its top speed was 199 miles per hour while its cruising speed was 184 miles per hour. Its range was 5,200 miles and its ceiling 19,600 feet. Propulsion consisted of four 1,600-horsepower Wright Twin Cyclone engines. It had a crew of ten and carried seventy-four passengers.

Boeing Model 307 Stratoliner

The Model 307 Stratoliner was the world’s first high-altitude commercial transport and the first four-engine airliner in scheduled domestic service. With names like Rainbow, Comet, Flying Cloud, and Apache, the Stratoliner set new standards for speed and comfort. Its pressurized cabin allowed the airplane to soar above rough weather at an altitude of 20,000 feet—higher than any other transport of its time. Its circular fuselage provided maximum space for the five crew members and thirty-three passengers. The nearly twelve-foot-wide cabin had space for comfortable berths for overnight travelers.

The Stratoliners attracted the attention of multimillionaire Howard Hughes, who bought one for himself and transformed it into a “flying penthouse” with a master bedroom, two bathrooms, a galley, a bar, and a large living room. Hughes sold it to a Texas oil millionaire, and it ended its days as a palatial, Florida-based houseboat. The Stratoliner was the first airplane to have a flight engineer as a member of the crew. The engineer was responsible for maintaining power settings, pressurization, and other subsystems, leaving the pilot free to concentrate on other aspects of flying the aircraft. Boeing built ten Stratoliners. In 1940, the 307’s started flying routes to South America and from New York to Los Angeles. Production stopped at the onset of World War II, and flyers were drafted into the Army Transport Command as C-75 military transports.

This commercial and military transport first flew on December 31, 1938. It had a wingspan of 107 feet 3 inches, a length of 74 feet 4 inches, and a gross weight of 42,000 pounds. Its top speed was 246 miles per hour and it cruised at 220 miles per hour. It had a range of 2,390 miles and a ceiling of 26,200 feet. Propulsion consisted of four 1,000-horsepower Wright Cyclone engines. It accommodated a crew of five and thirty-three passengers.

  • Baker, David. Flight and Flying: A Chronology. New York: Facts on File, 1994. A very comprehensive reference text on the history of global aviation.
  • Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft 2001-2002. New York: Franklin Watts, 2001. A very comprehensive reference text on current military and civil aircraft around the world.
  • Mellberg, William F. Famous Airliners: From Biplane to Jetliner, the Story of Travel by Air. Vergennes, Vt.: Plymouth Press, 1999. Traces the evolution of modern transport aircraft from the Boeing Model 80 to the Concorde.



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