A rare sight: the Douglas DC-5

The name ‘Douglas’ sounds like a bell in commercial aviation. This includes the very successful DC-2 and DC-3 before the war and DC-6 to -10 after the war. Still, one is missing: DC-5.

Although the DC-5 was never seen in the Netherlands, it is an aircraft that played an interesting role during a turbulent period of Dutch aviation: World War II. The Douglas DC-5 was a two-engine, 16-22-seat shoulder cover with a nose wheel undercarriage (quite unique at the time) intended for shorter routes than the DC-3 or DC-4. But when it came into commercial operation in 1940, many airlines canceled their orders; consequently, only five civilian DC-5s were built. When the Douglas Aircraft Company already switched to war production, the DC-5 was quickly overtaken by events, although a limited number of military variants were produced.

Design and development

The DC-5 was developed in 1938 as a civil aviation aircraft with a capacity of 18/24 passengers (later reduced to 16/22), designed to carry either the Pratt & Whitney R-1690 or the Wright Cyclone 1,000 hp R-1820-44 to use engines. Innovative features of the time included a high-wing and three-wheeled landing gear, the relatively unique configuration that facilitated passenger boarding, loading and engine maintenance. The prototype made its maiden flight on February 20, 1939. A very early design change was to change the horizontal tail surfaces from straight to a 15-degree angle to improve stability, as the tail surfaces had to handle turbulence from the high-mounted aircraft, main wings and engines.

Another major change, modification of the nacelles, was to add exhaust pipes that were installed retroactively after the series went into production. The V-position of the tailgates was also used on the light bomber ‘Douglas A-20 Boston / Havoc’. The Japanese were eager to know what the effect of this was and how it was constructed.

An unusual “optical trick” applied to the profile of the prototype was to paint the top of the vertical tail plane and the outline of the nacelles in a darker color, with the shapes curved to follow the contours of the plane, making the tail and engines slightly smaller and the plane appear slimmer.

PJ-AIW from the West Indian company KLM. Photo is from the late 1940s, shortly after the two DC-5s moved to the Dutch East Indies
Source: San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive, via Flickr

It was not easy to fly: there were no power-controlled rudders yet, and some pilots complained about the heavy controls. The Japanese test pilot, who flew a captured example to Japan, was thrilled with it, calling the flight “a remarkable experience.”

Operational service

Ironically, the prototype (equipped with only eight seats) became William E. Boeing’s personal aircraft; as his former company was already in full military production mode. The aircraft was later sold to the U.S. Navy and converted for military use as an R3D variant.

The remaining four aircraft were sold to KLM. Two were used by KLM West Indies on Curaçao-Paramaribo airline. Why were the flights to KLM delivered while the order for two US airlines was simply canceled? Well, director Donald Douglas and KLM foreman Plesman got on well with it, and the relationship must have contributed to this ‘preferential treatment’. In addition, Douglas quickly switched to war production of, among other things, the SBD ‘Dauntless’ aircraft for the US Navy. This put the construction of civilian aircraft on the second level.

The other two DC-5s were sold to the Dutch East India Government and used by KNILM. In 1941, the two KLM West Indies aircraft joined the KNILM fleet. Among other things, they were used to evacuate civilians from Java to Australia in February 1942, when the Japanese overpowered the Dutch East Indies. A plane, ex-PK-ADA, was damaged in a Japanese air strike near Batavia (present-day Jakarta) and later seized by the Japanese. They repaired the plane, transferred it to Japan for further studies, after which it flew for some time as a transport plane, in green camouflage with Japanese markings. This machine was found in Japan in 1945, partially disassembled and deprived of its engines.

The remaining three aircraft later operated in Australia. Here they were purchased by the Allied Directorate of Air Transport and taken into use by the USAAF as C-110. Two DC-5s were soon transferred to Australian National Airways. One of these was lost in a landing accident.

In 1948, Australian National Airways’ last remaining DC-5 (c / n 426) VH-ARD was sold and smuggled to Israel for military use. The plane arrived in Haifa in May 1948 and continued from there to Sde Dov, where the markings were removed and the name “Yankee Pasha – The Bagel Lancer” roughly hand painted on the nose. The plane joined the 103rd Transport Squadron at Ramat David, but when Israel was in the middle of the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, the plane was also used as an improvised bomber. The bombs were then rolled out by hand through the cargo hatch. A not harmless activity as the shock tubes were already screwed into the bombs.

Built versions

DC-5 Basic passenger version – 5 aircraft were built.

C-110 Designation in USAAF. Current USAF records show that the C-110s (3) were in equipment and stationed in Luzon, Philippines, between March 17 and December 31, 1945. However, it is highly doubtful whether the US Army Corps serial numbers were ever worn of the DC-5s, and it seems certain that this was only an accounting operation.

R3D-1 Military version of the DC-5 built for the Navy as 16-seater crew cars – 3 were produced.

R3D-2 Military version of the DC-5 built for the US Marine Corps as a 22-seater paratrooper version – 4 were produced.

R3D-3 Designation of the DC-5 prototype used by William E. Boeing as a personal aircraft and converted for military use.


The DC-5 is a typical example of a good flight at the wrong time. It could have been a good addition to DC-3 and DC-4, but the war put an end to this. It could also have been a useful aircraft for short and medium-haul routes in Europe. DC-3 and DC-5 are not so different: DC 5 has a slightly longer range (2575 vs. 2400 km) and a slightly higher cruising speed (370 vs 335 km / h) with the same engines and fuel consumption, but DC-5 ‘ er was able to carry fewer passengers (16/22 vs. 21/28) and is therefore economically less favorable than the DC-3. The DC-3 came on the market in large numbers at predatory prices after World War II with the result that there was no market for the DC-5. It is remarkable that the five civilian DC-5s have had such an eventful history.

Also read: Albert Plesman and KLM’s Skymasters

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