David Earle Dunlap
Chief Engineer for the Douglas Aircraft Tulsa Divsion.
from David E. Dunlap, Jr., 9-9-06

1896 - 1957
(Nominee for enshrinement to the "National Aviation Hall of Fame")
By David E. Dunlap Jr.

      In 1911, by virtue of flying a glider at the age of fifteen, David Earle Dunlap would set his sights on the birth of the new and exciting Aviation Industry. It would begin as follows.
     He was instrumental in forming an Aero Club for the Central Manual Training High School (CMTHS) he was attending in Philadelphia. As treasurer of this club, he helped design, build and fly a glider, which would win, what may have been, the first glider competition ever held in the U.S.? Flying a glider before December 17, 1916 would ultimately qualify him for membership in the elite Society known as "THE EARLY BIRDS".

     In 1914, he moved to Hammonsport N.Y. and became one of the eight, original engineers, to be hired by Glenn Hammond Curtiss. Here he would help design and see the 1st JN-4 (Jenny) fly. He would learn all there was to know ( at the time) about aerodynamics from the renown Dr. Albert Zahm whom Curtiss had hired as a consultant. Working with Curtiss and Dr. Zahm would afford him a reputation for being a qualified designer of aeroplanes. He would soon be sought after by many evolving Aircraft Companies for his acquired knowledge.

     He moved to East Greenwich, R.I. to become Assistant Chief Engineer for the Gallaudet Aircraft Co. from 1916-1919. He would help in solving aero problems on D1 through D4 series seaplanes that made use of the famous Gallaudet Drive. The Gallaudet Drive, was entirely unique for its day. It allowed only the most efficient part of the propeller to use the air stream to drive the airplane, thus reducing drag and increasing speed. Dunlap also oversaw production of HS-2-L Navy patrol boats during WWI and he led design on the E-L-2 "CHUMMY FLYABOUT" sports plane. It was somewhere in this period, that he designed a seaplane which held a worlds speed record of 120 mph for three years. Probably a D-4 type?

     He became Chief Engineer for G. Elias & Bros. from 1920-1925. Here he won 1st place in design competitions for this company with his advanced designs for the Army, Marines and Mail services. At the same time, he won 2nd place from the Navy. His bonus for this was $25,000.00. He was sole designer and took charge of the Elias EM-2 Expeditionary planes. Was responsible for the fuselage design on the NBS-3 bomber, which was the second largest bomber built to that date. He did all the original design on the Elias M-1 Mail plane. Was in charge of this plane from the drawing board, through production and field acceptance by the Trials Committee. This airplane would incorporate many design innovations. He also helped design the first true Amphibian Airplane and the first Army Trainer to have a radial engine.

     He became V.P. & Chief Engineer for The Johnson Aircraft Corp. in Dayton from 1925-1927. He would design "THE JOHNSON TWIN 60" airplane, for Al Johnson. It was the third airplane to be certified by the U.S. Department of Commerce for passenger service and holds ATC#3. Intended to stimulate the Civil Aviation market, this biplane, was a pusher type and had twin engines producing 30 HP each. It was the first airplane to have independent wheel brakes and a tail wheel. This advanced thinking prompted the Air Force to make brakes and tail wheels a standard on all future service planes. Orville Wright and Col. Deeds of Dayton were at the Christening of this plane. Walter Brookins, Igor Sikorsky and Alexander deSeversky were but a few who flew it. Dunlap and (Al Johnson who built this innovative plane) were brother-in-laws. They had married sisters back in those Curtiss days.

TO JERSEY CITY, N.J.      He became Chief Engineer for Col. Clarence Chamberlin of Crescent Aircraft from 1929-1930. Remember Chamberlin? He flew the Atlantic non-stop to Berlin shortly after Lindbergh made it to Paris. Chamberlins Company was designing and building cabin monoplanes that carried heavy passenger loads. At Crescent Aircraft, Dunlap would use his design knowledge to make the necessary aerodynamic modifications to a Lockheed Vega, which Aviatrix Ruth Rowland Nichols had named "The Akita". It was in this plane that Nichols would attempt to be the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic.

     In the continuing years of the depression, Dunlap became a consultant for The Johnson Flying Service at the original "Dayton Municipal Airport" in Vandalia, Ohio. Vandalia is now a suburb of Dayton. This airport was the birthplace of the current Cox International Airport.
     It was during this period that Dunlap would conceive and propose "THE GIANT FLYING WING". The year was 1931. Dunlap's Giant Flying Wing Proposal would cover three quarters of the front page of "THE NEWS", a daily newspaper published in Dayton, Ohio. This specific issue was dated Monday, November 9, 1931. He authored a more detailed article on how to make a pure wing stable in flight for the "AERO DIGEST MAGAZINE". The date was February, 1932.
Advanced and far ahead of it's time, this beautiful, all metal, aerodynamically pure, flying wing could not be pursued for lack of money. The depression was ever present.

     In 1936, Dunlap moved to California to join the Douglas Aircraft Co., about the year that Jack Northrop sold his aircraft company to Donald Douglas. Douglas made this new company his El Segundo Division. It was here that Dunlap and Jack Northrop, who was also a long time advocate of a flying wing, would meet. After a smooth transition was made between the two companies, Northrup would leave and form yet another company in which to pursue and build a large Flying Wing? Of note, it is felt by some, that prior to Northrup's leaving, some sort of gentleman's agreement had taken place between these two great innovators of aircraft design. That an agreement was necessary because of the previous articles Dunlap had written on how to make a pure wing flyable. In any event, Northrop built and flew the flying wing in 1945.
Dunlap continued on to become a top designer for the Douglas Aircraft in 1936. Here he worked on the first all metal skin stressed twin-engine bomber. This bomber was designated the B-18 "BOLO Bomber. Other models he was involved with were the B-23 "DRAGON" and the DC-5 high-winged transport.
He was the sole designer of the main landing gear for the XB-19, 80 ton giant, experimental bomber. It was largest plane ever built as of 1941. The famous B-17's, B-24's and B-29's bombers used XB-19 technology in their designs. Soon he would be promoted to Project Engineer on the A20-B attack bomber by Edward Heinemann.

     He became Engineering Manager for the Tulsa, Okla. Division of Douglas Aircraft from 1941-1944 and was in charge of all engineering. This Division of Douglas was an assembly plant for B-24 LIBERATOR bombers during WWII.

     After WWII, he became Executive Engineer in Santa Monica from 1945-1950. He was staff to D.W. Douglas Sr. He ran a symposium that led to production of the DC-6 Transport. This helped the Douglas Co. transition from wartime to peacetime operations.

     He was promoted to Chief Engineer of the Tulsa Division from 1951-1957. He would oversee all engineering design work on the all-new giant C-132 Cargo Transport. He would also be in charge of two reconnaissance versions of the Douglas RB-66 and production of the Boeing B-47 Bomber.

     On April 28, 1957, he passed away from complications following major surgery. Two memorial services were held to honor this man and his accomplishments. One in Tulsa, Okla., where he was working at the time and another in Santa Monica, Ca. where he had worked so many years. He was eulogized as having had the longest aeronautical engineering career of anyone up to that time. He was just sixty-one years old.

He is survived by his four children he had with his first wife Dorothy Marie.
They are, Jane Custer, David E. Dunlap Jr., Nancy White and Patti Walker.
He is also survived by his second wife Vicky Lawrence Dunlap and her daughter Tiana.


Aeronautical Engineer; born, Phila., Pa. Feb. 11, 1896.
     Aeronautical Activities:Charter member, C. M. T. Aero Club, 1909 (Glider Flights); organized Phila. Aero Club, 1912; Brown Hydroplane Co., Phila., 1912; Curtiss Aeroplane Co., Hammondsport, 1914; Designer and Engr.; Curtiss Motor Co., Buffalo, 1915, designer; Coombs Airplane Co., Depew, N. Y., 1916, Asst. Chief Engr.; Buffalo Airplane Co., Buffalo, N. Y., Consulting Eng.; Gallaudet Aircraft Corp., Norwich, Conn. and East Greenwich, R. T., Asst. Chief Eng. and Production Mgr.; G. Elias & Bros., Inc., Aircraft Dept., Buffalo, 1920, Chief Engr.; Dunlap Engineering Corp., Buffalo, 1922, Pres. and Chief Engr; G. Elias & Bros., Inc., Aircraft Dept., 1923 to 1925; at present, Vice-President and Chief Engineer, Johnson Aircraft Corp., Dayton, Ohio.
     Address: 245 Audubon Park, Dayton, Ohio.

  David E. Dunlap, Chief Engineer of Douglas Aircraft's Tulsa Division, died April 28, 1957 in a Tulsa hospital of complications following surgery. He was 61 years of age.
     A native of Philadelphia, he made his first glider flights at Swarthmore College in 1911. From those early days until his passing. Dave was engaged in aviation engineering. He was with the Curtiss enginering department when the famous "Jenny" flew for the first time in 1914. By 1916 he was Assistant Chief Engineer for Gallaudet Aircraft Corporation, forerunner of Consolidated-Vultee, and later he joined the firm of G. Elias and Brothers. Among other things he won five design prizes with aircraft for the Army, Marine Corps and for mail service. He designed or helped design many "firsts" in flying equipment including the first metal- structured two-engine bomber.
     Following ten years with Johnson Aircraft Corp. as Vice President in Charge of Engineering, he joined Douglas Aircraft Company's engineering staff in 1936, and when the company's Tulsa Division was activated in 1941 he was named Engineering Manager. He became Chief Engineer in 1951 and remained in that position until his recent passing.
From The Early Birds of Aviation CHIRP
June, 1957, Number 57

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