The DC-2 comes to China


A Whangpoo lighter brings the center section of CNAC’s first DC-2 upriver to Lunghwa Airport, spring, 1935 (Edward P. Howard collection)

The DC-2 had none of the criss-cross mishmash of struts and spars that had knit together previous generations of aircraft, not a single one. Something about the sleek lines of the all-metal, low-winged monoplane inspired confidence. It looked like an airplane was supposed to look, and the airline used the DC-2’s arrival to launch a marketing campaign spotlighting the prestige a person won using airmail and traveling by plane, a very successful selling point in face-conscious China. Within 90 days, passenger traffic had increased three-hundred percent.

The DC-2’s center section comes ashore (Edward P. Howard collection)

It’s worth noting that the DC-2 had to be brought from the Douglas factory in Santa Monica on a ship. At the time, the Pacific was only flown as one-off stunts by pioneering pilots. The ocean wouldn’t be crossed commercially, on a schedule, until Pan Am started doing it in November of 1935 using massive M-130 flying boats to span a string of mid-Pacific islands, one leg per day (San Francisco to Hawaii, Hawaii to Midway, Midway to Wake, Wake to Guam, Guam to Manila).

The plane pictured above, which is CNAC’s DC-2 No. 24, the Nanking, became my favorite airplane in the CNAC fleet while I was writing China’s Wings. It was destroyed by the Japanese on December 8, 1941, during their initial surprise attack on Hong Kong. Here’s the story of its demise (The photo of the burned out DC-2 at the bottom might actually be No. 24.)

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