Western Air Express Douglas M-2 Mailplane
First Albuquerque Visit: 1977
The Douglas mailplanes were a family of American single-seat mail planes designed and built by the Douglas Aircraft Company in the 1920s. These aircraft were used to fly the main routes of the United States Air Mail service until the introduction of the tri-motor aircraft in 1928.
The United States Post Office (USPO) began running air mail service in 1918 mainly using the de Havilland DH.4 biplane. In 1925, the USPO placed an order with Douglas for a replacement aircraft based on the Douglas O-2 observation biplane. Douglas modified an O-2 and designated it the DAM-1 (Douglas Air-Mail-One) but this was soon shortened to M-1. The M-1 used the same Liberty engine as the DH.4 which was readily available. Although the design was considered a success, the aircraft was never entered into production.
On April 17, 1926, Western Air Service began operation for the Contract Air Mail Route 4 (CAM-4) between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City through Las Vegas, a distance of about 660 miles. Western Air ordered six mailplanes from Douglas with the designation M-2. The main changes from the M-1 included a modified radiator and the ability to carry a passenger instead of mail in the front cockpit. The Douglas M-2 proved to be superior in strength, construction, performance, and flying characteristics compared to the other aircraft that were entered in the Post Office’s competition for airmail airplanes and could carry up to 1,000 pounds of mail. An additional feature was the two removable seats that permitted the M-2 to carry passengers or reserve pilots.
The Douglas M-2 on display at the National Air and Space Museum is believed to be the last Douglas mailplane in existence. The airplane had a series of corporate and private owners until it was reacquired by Western Air Lines in April 1940 and subsequently registered with the Federal Aviation Administration as M-2 NC15O, representing Western’s first M-2.
The first substantial restoration took place in 1946 but the aircraft was not certified to return to the air. This M-2 made its home at Western’s hangar at the Los Angeles International Airport for the next twenty two years. Then in 1974, an intensive, large-scale restoration effort was begun by volunteers from Western Air Lines, McDonnell-Douglas Corporation, Goodyear Tire Company, and many other organizations. They completely rebuilt the aircraft and its Liberty engine returning it to flyable condition. The M-2 flew for the first time in thirty-six years on June 2, 1976, and after a series of test flights was recertified airworthy by the Federal Aviation Administration.
After a successful transcontinental journey in 1977, the M-2 with the silver and red livery used when it flew the old Mormon Trail is now displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. During the journey from Burbank to Washington, DC, the M-2 stopped in Albuquerque on March 30, 1977.
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