Arthur E. Raymond Dies; DC-3’s Designer Changed Air Travel


Arthur E. Raymond, the Douglas Aircraft engineer who helped revolutionize commercial air travel as the principal designer of the DC-3, died Monday at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica. He was 99 and lived in Bel-Air.

The DC-3 was the country’s first reliable passenger plane, known as the workhorse of aviation for its indestructibility. More than 50 years later, as many as 2,000 of the original 11,000 planes are still in use around the world.

“The DC-3 was the first practical passenger plane, and Arthur Raymond,” aviation historian Harry Gann said Thursday, “was the unrecognized genius behind it.”


Raymond later helped found the Rand Corp., the renowned Santa Monica-based think tank, which began in 1946 as an offshoot of Douglas. But he was best known for his accomplishments in the aviation world.

In 1932, Raymond led the design of the prototype of the DC-3--the DC-1--which Douglas developed for the airline that later became TWA. That prototype launched a series of DC aircraft in the 1930s that made commercial flight safer, more comfortable and more economical.

The DC-3 is legendary among aircraft. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Allied commander during World War II, once singled out the DC-3 as one of his four most important weapons. (The Jeep, the bazooka and the atomic bomb were the other three.) It was instrumental in the Berlin Airlift. Lore abounds about its amazing durability, such as the time a DC-3 crashed into Arizona mountains and still flew home, with 12 feet missing from one wing.

“It was an airplane built in a time when product life was designed to be indefinite,” Raymond told The Times in 1985, on the DC-3’s 50th anniversary.

A Boston native, Raymond was the son of Walter Raymond, who built Pasadena’s Raymond Hotel, a favorite winter stomping ground of wealthy Easterners. He grew up in a cottage on the hotel grounds.

His interest in aviation was sparked by a flight over Los Angeles in a dirigible when he was 15. That experience led to his experimenting with aerial photography by mounting a camera on a tethered balloon and a 12-foot kite.

After graduating from Pasadena High School in 1917, he attended Harvard and later the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned a master’s degree in 1921 in the then-new field of aeronautical engineering.

Four years later, he joined Douglas as a metal fitter, the only job available. When company President Donald W. Douglas, also an MIT graduate, called his alma mater looking for a bright engineer, the school wrote back, saying, “You’ve got one working in your shop.” Raymond was quickly promoted to the company’s 12-man engineering department, reporting directly to Douglas.

“I was extremely lucky,” Raymond said in a 1987 memoir. “I came into the company at the beginning of its expansion. The timing was just right and even [Donald Douglas] had no idea how bright the future was going to be.”

Many of Raymond’s engineering colleagues at Douglas in the 1930s became aviation legends themselves, including John Northrop, who later founded the Northrop Corp.; Jerry Vultee, who formed Vultee Aircraft, which later became Convair; and J.H. “Dutch” Kindelberger and J. Leland Atwood, who both later became presidents of North American Aviation.

Raymond remained with Douglas for 35 years in a career that stretched from the earliest days of commercial flight to the space age.

In the 1920s, passenger planes were humble contraptions, rickety biplanes mainly used to ferry mail; a passenger or two could sit on the mail bags. It was not until the 1930s that people began to think of planes as a practical way to get from place to place. Airlines began to spring up. In 1932, Transcontinental and Western Airlines approached Douglas to build a plane that could carry at least 12 passengers and fly 1,500 miles nonstop. Raymond, who by this time was chief engineer, was asked to shepherd the project.

Raymond saw an opportunity to make many improvements over existing carriers, such as providing a clear front view for the pilot and reducing noise, vibrations and fumes. He took advantage of the cascading innovations in the field, such as the lattice or “egg crate” design that distributed the payload more evenly, semi-retractable landing gear and wing flaps.

The DC-1 flew in July 1933, just 10 months after Douglas signed a contract with TWA. Although the plane met TWA’s demands, only one was made. “It wasn’t a perfect airplane by any means,” Raymond noted. The production model was the DC-2, which added an additional row of seats and used a higher octane fuel.

By the time the DC-3 was introduced in 1935, Raymond and his design team were able to round out the fuselage to provide three-abreast seating. That made the DC-3 “probably the first of the so-called wide bodies,” Raymond said. It could be operated profitably with passengers alone, but the shape and capacity of its fuselage increased its versatility.

By the time World War II was underway, the DC-3 was the standard commercial transport and in the military had become as ubiquitous as the Jeep. It enabled Douglas, which produced 10,926 DC-3s between 1935 and 1945, to dominate commercial aviation for many years and contributed to the later success of such major airlines as United, American and Northwestern.

Raymond continued to lead Douglas engineering teams for 15 years after the war. He guided the company’s early developments of rocket and missile technology, including the Nike Ajax and Hercules anti-aircraft missiles deployed around Los Angeles and other major cities during the 1950s, as well as the Thor ballistic missile.

His last major commercial aircraft design project moved Douglas planes from propeller to jet power in the DC-8.

When the war was over, Douglas approached Army and Air Force officials with a plan for government and industry cooperation on long-range strategic planning. The new entity would focus experts from various fields to solve issues related to intercontinental warfare. In 1946 Douglas was awarded a $10-million contract to develop the project, which Raymond and his assistant, Frank Collbohm, dubbed Rand for Research and Development.

Because Douglas was competing for military contracts, Raymond and others saw the potential for conflicts of interest between the company and Project Rand. In 1948, the research group became the independent think tank the Rand Corp. Collbohm became its first president, serving until his retirement in 1967.

Raymond retired as Douglas’ vice president for engineering in 1960 and became a consultant to Rand. From 1961 to 1969, he was an advisor to the Apollo program for NASA Administrator James E. Webb. He also was a trustee of the Aerospace Corp. until 1971, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a past president of the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences.

Raymond would have turned 100 on Wednesday. He is survived by grandsons Stephen of Boston, Lawrence of Kingwood, Texas, Peter of Carmel, Bruce of Ventura, John of Poway, and seven great-grandchildren. Funeral services will be private.