In the early 1930s, fears about the safety of wooden aircraft structures drove the US aviation industry to develop all-metal airliners. United Airlines had exclusive right to the all metal twin-engine Boeing 247; rival TWA issued a specification for an all-metal trimotor.
The Douglas response was more radical. When it flew on July 1, 1933, the prototype DC-1 had a robust tapered wing, retractable landing gear, and two 690 hp (515 kW) Wright radial engines driving variable-pitch propellers. It seated 12 passengers.
TWA accepted the basic design and ordered twenty of the upgraded DC-2s which were longer, had more powerful engines, and carried 14 passengers in a 66-inch-wide cabin. The design impressed American and European airlines and further orders followed. Although Fokker had purchased a production licence from Douglas for $100,000, no manufacturing was done in The Netherlands. Those for European customers KLM, LOT, Swissair, CLS and LAPE purchased via Fokker in the Netherlands were built and flown by Douglas in the US, sea-shipped to Europe with wings and propellers detached, then erected at airfields by Fokker near the seaport of arrival (e.g. Cherbourg or Rotterdam).,Airspeed Ltd. took a similar licence for DC-2s to be delivered in Britain and assigned the company designation Airspeed AS.23, but although a registration for one aircraft was reserved none were built. Another licence was taken by the Nakajima Aircraft Company in Japan; unlike Fokker and Airspeed, Nakajima built five aircraft as well as assembling at least one Douglas-built aircraft. A total of 130 civil DC-2s were built with another 62 for the United States military. In 1935 Don Douglas stated in an article that the DC-2 cost about $80,000 per aircraft if mass-produced.
Although overshadowed by its ubiquitous successor, it was the DC-2 that first showed that passenger air travel could be comfortable, safe and reliable. As a token of this, KLM entered its first DC-2 PH-AJU Uiver (Stork) in the October 1934 MacRobertson Air Race between London and Melbourne. Out of the 20 entrants, it finished second behind only the purpose-built de Havilland DH.88 racer Grosvenor House. During the total journey time of 90 hours, 13 min, it was in the air for 81 hours, 10 min, and won the handicap section of the race. (The DH.88 finished first in the handicap section, but the crew was by regulations allowed to claim only one victory.) It flew KLM's regular 9,000-mile route, (a thousand miles longer than the official race route), carrying mail, making every scheduled passenger stop, turning back once to pick up a stranded passenger, and even became lost in a thunderstorm and briefly stuck in the mud after a diversionary landing at the Albury racecourse on the very last leg of the journey.
Passengers disembark a pre-war LOT Douglas DC-2 aircraft
(DC-2-153) One aircraft, powered by two 750 hp (560 kW) Wright R-1820-25 radial piston engines, for evaluation as a 14-seat VIP transport aircraft, one built, later used by General Andrews as a flying command post
Designation for 24 commercial DC-2s impressed at the start of World War II
(DC-2-145) Cargo transport variant of the C-32 powered by two 750 hp (560 kW) Wright R-1820-25 engines, with larger vertical tail surfaces, a reinforced cabin floor and a large cargo door in the aft fuselage, 18 built
(1x DC-2-173 & 1x DC-2-346) VIP transport for the secretary of war, basically similar to XC-32, later designated C-34, two built
The first C-33 was modified with a DC-3-style tail section and two Wright R-1820-45 radial piston engines of 975 hp (727 kW) each. Originally designated C-33A but redesignated as prototype for C-39 variant, one built.
Douglas C-39 transport, a military modified version of the DC-2
(DC-2-243) 16-seat passenger variant, a composite of DC-2 and DC-3 components, with C-33 fuselage and wings and DC-3-type tail, center-section and landing gear. Powered by two 975 hp (727 kW) Wright R-1820-45 radial piston engines; 35 built.
The sole C-41 was a VIP aircraft for Air Corps Chief Oscar Westover(and his successor Hap Arnold ). Although supplied against a C-39 order it was not a DC-2 derivative but in fact a DC-3-253 fitted with two 1,200 hp (890 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-21 engines. (The sole Douglas C-41A was also a VIP version of the DC-3A)
(DC-2-267) VIP transport variant of the C-39, powered by two 1,000 hp (750 kW) Wright R-1820-53 radial piston engines, of 1,000 hp (746 kW) each, one built in 1939 for the commanding general, GHQ Air Force, plus two similarly-converted C-39s with their cargo doors bolted shut were converted in 1943.
Douglas R2D-1 at Langley
(3x DC-2-125 & 2x DC-2-142) 710 hp (530 kW) Wright R-1820-12-powered transport similar to the XC-32, three built for the United States Navy and two for the United States Marine Corps
A KLM DC-2-115A (PH-AJU, Uiver) crashed at Rutbah Wells in Iraq, killing all seven on board. The aircraft was operating a flight from Schiphol to Batavia. This was the first loss of a DC-2 and the first fatal accident involving the DC-2.
May 6, 1935
TWA Flight 6, a DC-2-115 (NC13785), hit terrain and crashed near Atlanta, Missouri while flying low in poor visibility to reach a landing field before running out of fuel; this killed five of thirteen on board, including New Mexico Senator Bronson M. Cutting.
July 20, 1935
A KLM DC-2-115E (PH-AKG, Gaai) crashed on landing at Pian San Giacomo in bad weather, killing all 13 on board.
October 6, 1935
A Standard Oil Company DC-2A-127 (NC14285) crashed into Great Salt Lake, Utah; the three crew survived the crash, but drowned while trying to swim to safety.
An Imperial Japanese Airways Nakajima/Douglas DC-2 (J-BBOH, Fuji) crashed in the East China Sea off the Kerama Islands due to engine failure, killing 10 of 12 on board; the survivors were rescued by a steamship.
A US Treasury DC-2-120 (NC14729) was being delivered to the RAF when it crashed at Bathurst (now Banjul), Gambia, killing the three crew.
December 8, 1941
RAF DC-2-120 DG475 was shot down by three Luftwaffe Bf 110s and crashed 10 mi northeast of RAF LG-138 (Landing Ground 138) near Habata, Egypt, killing one.
March 5, 1942
USAAF C-39 38-525 crashed in the St. Lucie River off Port Sewall, Florida due to wing separation after flying into a storm, killing all seven on board.
March 14, 1942
A China National Aviation Corporation DC-2-221 (31, Chungshan) crashed near Kunming, killing 13 of 17 on board.
May 25, 1942
USAAF C-39 38-505 crashed on takeoff from Alice Springs Airport, Australia due to overloading, killing all 10 on board.
September 14, 1942
RAAF DC-2-112 A30-5, of RAAF 36 Squadron, crashed while on approach to Seven Mile Strip, killing the five crew.
October 1, 1942
USAAF C-39 38-524 struck a hill at high speed 15 mi northwest of Coamo, Puerto Rico due to an unexplained malfunction and low visibility, killing all 22 on board in the worst-ever accident involving the DC-2.
January 31, 1944
USAAF C-39 38-501 crashed near Sioux City AAB due to a possible engine fire, killing the three crew.
August 11, 1945
A Mexicana DC-2-243 (XA-DOT) struck Iztaccihuatl Volcano in bad weather, killing all 15 on board.
Several DC-2s have survived and been preserved in the 21st century in the following museums in the following places:
c/n 1286 - Ex-Eastern Airlines and RAAF, preserved (dressed as the historic "Uiver", PH-AJU) at Albury, New South Wales as centerpiece of Uiver Memorial at Albury Airport. This is the oldest DC-2 left in the world. It was removed from its prominent position on poles in front of the Albury Airport terminal building in late 2002, but unfortunately kept out in the open air without preservation. In 2014 after much debate and delays, Albury City Council transferred ownership of the plane to the Uiver Memorial Community Trust (UMCT). In January 2016 UMCT began work on removing the major assemblies of the aircraft, and on 12 May 2016 the airframe was transferred to a restoration hangar. Restoration of this aircraft to static display standard is now under way.
c/n 1288 - An Ex-Eastern Airlines and RAAF DC-2, it was exported and located for many years at the Aviodrome in the Netherlands though owned by the Dutch Dakota Association. It was transferred to the Netherlands Transport Museum in 2018 and has been externally restored for static display as KNILM DC-2 PK-AFK.
c/n 1354 - One DC-2-115E (reg. DO-1 (Hanssin-Jukka), ex. PH-AKH (KLMHaan), SE-AKE) is preserved by the Aviation Museum of Central Finland (Finnish Air Force Museum) and is on display in a hangar in Tuulos, Finland. The plane was restored to display condition in 2011, in war-time colors. It performed one bombing raid in February 1940. Another wingless fuselage (c/n 1562, reg. DO-3, ex. OH-LDB "Sisu") was on display at the Finnish Aviation Museum in Vantaa. The fuselage was transported to the Aviation Museum of Central Finland in 2011, where it was used in the DO-1 restoration project.
c/n 1368 - A former Pan Am aircraft that was used by the Douglas historical foundation until the merger with Boeing in 1997. It is now housed at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington. This aircraft (N1934D) was restored to flying condition in 2007 and flown to Santa Maria, California for a new paint job. It received a TWA "The Lindbergh Line" livery and interior trim.
c/n 1376 - Owned by Steve Ferris in Sydney, Australia, and has been under restoration to flying status for many years. It was originally delivered to KNILM in 1935. At the outbreak of World War II it was flown to Australia and was conscripted into use with the Allied Directorate of Air Transport. In 1944 it joined Australian National Airways and finished its flying career in the 1950s with Marshall Airways. It is registered as VH-CDZ. It is the most complete of all the Australian DC-2s as of 2008.
c/n 1404 - The Aviodrome in Lelystad, the Netherlands, owns and operates one of the last flying DC-2s. This former United States Navy aircraft is painted in the Uiver's KLM color scheme and is sometimes seen in European airshows. It is registered as NC39165 since 1945, though it now also wears PH-AJU as a fictional registration to match that of the historic Uiver aircraft. The aircraft was operated by Mercer Airlines of Burbank, California, and sold in the late 1960s to Colgate Darden, who restored it in General Air Lines colors and moved it to his private airport in South Carolina.
In the 1956 film Back from Eternity, the action centers on the passengers and crew of a DC-2, registry number N39165, which makes an emergency landing in headhunter territory in the remote South American jungle. The plane, Construction Number (C/N) 1404, survives today (see #Surviving aircraft) in the color scheme of the one operated by KLM when it came second in the MacRobertson Air Race in 1934, flying a DC-2 registered in the Netherlands as PH-AJU Uiver. The real PH-AJU was lost in a crash a few months after the MacRobertson Air Race.
Author Ernest K. Gann recounts his early days as a commercial pilot flying DC-2s in his memoir Fate Is the Hunter. This includes a particularly harrowing account of flying a DC-2 with heavy ice.
Data from McDonnell Douglas aircraft since 1920 : Volume I