Cost: $10.00 (aftermarket; original price: $1.90)
Decals: One version
Comments: Early Air Mail aircraft; great historical interest
The Douglas M-2 was an important part of the early days of Air Mail service in the United States. It formed the backbone of a small fleet of aircraft belonging to Western Air Express, a company that began air mail service between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City in April 1926 under a contract from the U.S. Post Office.
The M-2 was the mail plane version of the O-2 observation aircraft developed by Douglas Aircraft Company for the Army to replace its DeHavilland DH-4. The M-2 was rugged, very stable in flight, and is reputed to have had a perfect safety record. It flew the 660 miles of Contract Air Mail Route 4 between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City via Las Vegas from 1926 to at least 1930, and was capable of carrying up to 1,000 lbs. of mail in a cargo bay just behind the engine firewall and forward of the cockpit. Its power plant was a Liberty 415 hp water-cooled engine. While most of the M-2 was fabric-covered wood, its rudder and elevators were made of duraluminum tubing.
The M-2 had two special features: Its two fuel tanks of 60 gallons each were both mounted in the lower wings and could be jettisoned by the pilot; and it had two removable seats for carrying passengers or reserve pilots. Yet another auxiliary gravity tank holding 10 gallons was mounted in the upper wing.
From 1918 to 1927, the U.S. Post Office built and operated the Air Mail Service and awarded contracts to carriers such as Western Air Service, precursor to Western Airlines. In 1927, the Post Office turned control of the Air Mail over to private carriers, many of whom had used the lucrative contracts to acquire larger and safer aircraft, which in turn promoted commercial passenger aviation. But in switching to an all-passenger service, Western lost revenue from the mail routes and fell on hard times. In 1930, Western merged with Transcontinental Air Transport, forming Transcontinental and Western Air Inc. (TWA). Although the new company began coast-to-coast air mail service in October 1930, the merger was short-lived. Western Air Express was revived and became Western Air Lines in 1941.
Aurora first released this kit in 1957; my example is a 1976 re-issue. It is molded in red plastic and consists of 33 parts, including a pilot figure with a rather large sinkhole in his torso. It has raised panel lines and rivet detail, and interestingly, the parts of the plane that were fabric covered were molded by Aurora to have a certain texture. Given the age of the kit, the decals are in great shape, featuring both the U.S. Air Mail and Western Air Express logos.
Aurora’s Douglas M-2 is a kit of simple construction, and would be suitable for beginners but for the need to rig support wires. The key challenge, other than the rigging, will be doing either an accurate or alternately attractive paint scheme. While not highly detailed, it is still of great historical interest due to the M-2’s contribution — from the earliest Air Mail days — to the birth of modern commercial aviation. Highly recommended.
- Smithsonian National Postal Museum www.postalmuseum.si.edu