Douglas B-23 Dragon Medium Bomber / Maritime Patrol Platform / Crew Trainer
Fewer then forty of the Douglas B-23 Dragon bombers were furnished by Douglas Aircraft Company to the United States Army Air Corps prior to World War 2.
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The lead-up to World War 2 for the United States saw a period of constant progression for its bomber force. Founded in 1921, the Douglas Aircraft Company was already a common manufacturing brand seen in large American aircraft. The Douglas B-18 "Bolo" medium bomber was one of the primary types taken into service during the 1930s. Introduced in 1936, three-hundred fifty were produced and served with the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC), the Canadian Air Force, and the Brazilian Air Force. It held origins in the Douglas DC-2 transport of 1934.
From the B-18's basic design, the company began work on a more refined version under the "XB-22" prototype designation. This aircraft was proposed with 2 x Wright R-2600-3 series "Twin Cyclone" radial piston engines of 1,600 horsepower each and, from this, emerged a USAAC contract order for 38 aircraft. These replaced an order for thirty eight examples originally intended as B-18A bombers from Douglas.
The new bomber was designated B-23 "Dragon" in service and carried the Wright engine pairing in nacelles buried along the wing leading edges, each engine driving three-bladed propeller units. The wing mainplanes were low-mounted along the fuselage sides and the fuselage being well-tapered from nose to tail. The nose section was glazed over for optimal viewing by the bombardier/navigator while the cockpit was stepped. The aircraft was crewed by six personnel. The undercarriage was of a "tail dragger" configuration and retractable with the main legs recessing into the engine nacelles at each wing.
Standard armament was 3 x 0.30 caliber machine guns set about the aircraft for local defense. There was also a single 0.50 caliber heavy machine gun fitted to the tail - the first such installation seen on any American aircraft. Beyond this armament, the aircraft was cleared to carry up to 2,000lb of conventional drop ordnance in an internal bomb bay.
Performance from the Wright engines allowed the aircraft to reach speeds nearing 285 miles per hour while cruising at around 210 miles per hour. Range was out to 1,400 miles and a service ceiling of 31,600 feet could be met. An altitude of 10,000 feet was had in about 6.5 minutes.
Compared to the B-18, the B-23 offered better performance, was given an improved defensive armament fit, and featured an increased wingspan. Its prototype went airborne for the first time on July 27th, 1939 - just months ahead of the official start of World War 2 in Europe (September 1st). Serial production was begun that same month and ended in September of 1940 with all 38 aircraft completed.
By the time of the American entry into the war, the B-23 had already met its performance match as newer, better medium types were taken into USAAC service. As such, the B-23 was never seen as an active combat performer during the war but instead relegated for service use as a trainer, stateside maritime patrol, and transport. In the latter role, it became the "C-67" and was redesignated to "UC-67" in 1943. At least twelve were converted to transports from the existing B-23 stock. Other airframes were set aside, modified, and used in various aeronautical-related tests.
Those that survived the war were eventually sold off and entered extended service lives in the civilian market. A few remain as showpieces around the United States today.