Arthur Raymond, DC-3 Maker, Dies at 99


By Laurence Zuckerman,, March 27, 1999


Arthur E. Raymond, whose career spanned the years between biplanes and the first lunar landing but who was best known for leading the team that designed the DC-3, one of commercial aviation's most durable workhorses, died on Monday 22 March 1999, at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, Calif. He was two days short of his 100th birthday.

Arthur Emmons Raymond was a young engineer at the Douglas Aircraft Co. in 1932 when Donald W. Douglas, the company's founder, was asked to design a new passenger plane for Transcontinental and Western Air Inc., later known as Trans World Airlines.

TWA's transcontinental business was suffering because United Airlines was flying twin-engine Boeing 247s across the country in 19.5 hours, nearly 8 hours faster than it took TWA's Ford Trimotors.

Douglas, which had seen its military business decline, took up the challenge, and Raymond flew to New York to help sell Charles Lindbergh, then a consultant to TWA, on the idea of a new twin-engine plane with an aluminum skin. Douglas named the airplane the DC-1 for Douglas Commercial model No. 1.

By the time the plane went into production, it was improved and called the DC-2. The 14-passenger craft became an instant hit for both Douglas and TWA, flying coast to coast in 18 hours with stops in Chicago, Kansas City, Mo., and Albuquerque, N.M.

But that success would pale compared with the success of the DC-3. In 1934, Raymond was named chief engineer at Douglas and led the team that built the successor to the DC-2, a wider version, seating three passengers in each row, that was almost an entirely new airplane. It was the first commercial plane to make money for airlines without carrying mail and became one of the best-selling airplanes of all time.

"In the DC-3, he did almost everything," said his grandson, Stephen Raymond. "He knew every bolt and screw in that plane."

Within three years, Douglas was churning out one DC-3 every three days and still could not keep up with demand. Nearly 11,000 of the airplanes were built between 1934 and 1945, and about 2,000 are still flying.

In addition to being durable, the DC-3 was known for being easy to fly. Pilots boasted that the plane could fly itself. In addition to carrying passengers, it played a crucial role as a cargo plane in World War II and during the Cold War, helping ferry supplies in the Berlin Airlift.

Raymond went on to play a crucial role in designing the four-engine DC-4, as well as the DC-6 and DC-7. The last plane he helped develop at Douglas was the DC-8, the company's first to be equipped with jet engines.

Later he played a key role in the Apollo and Gemini missions as a consultant to NASA and was one of the founders of the Rand Corp., the famous research center in Santa Monica, Calif. But Raymond never became nearly as well known as the things he helped create.

"Even though he got a lot of recognition from his peers during his active career," said Don Hanson, who worked as a spokesman for Douglas Aircraft for 34 years and knew Raymond, "I think that Raymond is still underappreciated for the contributions he made to aeronautical design technology and for the contributions he made in setting high standards for aviation."

Born in Boston in 1899, Raymond moved to Pasadena, Calif., at age 3. His earliest memories, said his grandson, were of the opening of the Raymond Hotel, a luxury resort owned by his father that catered to wealthy visitors like Andrew Carnegie and Theodore Roosevelt.

When he was 15, Raymond went up in a dirigible owned by Roy Knabenshue, a well-known aviator at the time, and flying became his passion. He returned East to attend Harvard College and then received a degree in the new discipline of aeronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

But Raymond rushed back to California before the graduation ceremony to marry the former Dorothy Lee, his high school sweetheart. They were together until her death in 1986. Their only child, Stanley Walter Raymond, died in 1989.

In 1989, Raymond married Mimi Hunt, who died in 1993. He is survived by five grandsons.

After returning to California in 1921, Raymond worked briefly for his father at the hotel but soon quit to pursue his dream of building airplanes. He had been working as a metal fitter at Douglas for six weeks when Donald Douglas called MIT looking for an engineer. One of Raymond's former professors told Douglas that he already had a fine engineer working in his shop.

Raymond's most triumphant year, 1934, when he was overseeing the development of the DC-3, was also bittersweet. In the midst of the Depression, his father was forced to close the Raymond Hotel and soon died.

In World War II, Raymond helped managed the huge effort that produced tens of thousands of aircraft for the war effort. After the war ended, he proposed to military air officials that they bring together figures from the government and industry to investigate issues related to intercontinental warfare. The organization became the Rand Corp., which later branched out into the social sciences.

After retiring from Douglas in 1960, Raymond embarked on a new adventure as a special consultant to James E. Webb, NASA's administrator. Raymond, who was known for both his precision and his integrity, was put in charge of supervising the outside contractors on both the Gemini and Apollo space projects until 1969.

"He was always known as the kind of person who spoke truth to power," his grandson, Stephen, said. "They depended on him to unearth the things that were wrong from the spinmeisters who were saying everything was dandy."

Later, Raymond argued that the first supersonic transport was not commercially viable. The government eventually abandoned the project, leaving it to the Europeans and the Soviet Union to develop a supersonic passenger plane.

One of Raymond's proudest moments, his grandson said, was in November 1991, when he received the National Air and Space Museum Trophy for lifetime achievement. The reception in Washington, at which he spoke, was held a stone's throw from where one of his DC-3's hangs.

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© 1999 by Neil Mishalov