Australian & New Zealand Military Aircraft Serials & History

RAAF A35 Douglas Dolphin

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Douglas Dolphin A35-1
Wearing J code of 9 Squadron
Photo via Steve Mackenzie



Douglas Dolphin Image Gallery


A Brief History of the Douglas Dolphin in RAAF Service

by Paul McGuiness

The Dolphin was built by Douglas Aircraft in 1930 as the "Sinbad," a pure flying boat without wheels. The Sinbad was intended as a luxurious flying yacht for America’s many millionaires but the Great Depression prevented any sales. Undaunted by the lack of demand, Douglas improved the Sinbad in 1931 so that it was amphibious, and could land on water or land. The improved aircraft was named "Dolphin", however this did not represent the end of development, as many more improvements were made, including an increase in the length of over a foot and several changes were made to the empennage, engine nacelles and wings.  Douglas managed to attract the interest of the United States Coast Guard who not only bought the Sinbad, but 12 Dolphins and the success of the Dolphin helped the Douglas Aircraft Co. survive the Great Depression.

The first two production Dolphins were purchased by Wilmington-Catalina Airlines to fly passengers between Los Angeles and Santa Catalina Island, becoming the first successful Douglas airliners. Other Dolphin owners included William Boeing, the founder of the Boeing Company, and Philip K. Wrigley, the son of the founder of the William Wrigley Jr Company. William K. Vanderbilt bought two with custom interiors for use from the Vanderbilt yacht Alva as flying tenders. Standard Oil of New Jersey purchased two aircraft for exploration use.

Its outstanding success, both with the Coast Guard and private operators, attracted the attention of the US government with the result that further Defence contracts were awarded for the US Army and US  Navy. The Army received 24 as transports, bearing the designations C-21 and C-26, later becoming observation amphibians (OA); while the Navy received 10 as RD transports.  There were a total of 58 Dolphin aircraft built over the life of its production run between 1931 and 1934.

The RAAF operated a total of four Dolphins: NC42186 (A35-1) operated in New Guinea on oil survey work with civilian operators until it was donated to the RAAF in June 1940; NC12212(A35-2) was operated by the  Wilmington-Catalina Airline Ltd in the USA until purchased by the Australian Government; NC982Y (A35-3) was operated by the Crosley Radio Company in the USA until purchased by the Australian Government; and, NC14204 (A35-4) was operated by the  Wilmington-Catalina Airline Ltd in the USA until purchased by the Australian Government.

The Dolphin was only used as a stop–gap seaplane trainer and squadron hack at RAAF Base Rathmines until sufficient numbers of Catalinas were available. In service they proved difficult to maintain because of spares unavailability. Aircrew found them easy to fly and, given their ancestry, quite comfortable and spacious when compared to other seaplanes of the era. Apart from the spares availability issue ground crews found them easy to maintain. Three of the four Dolphins were converted to components during the war and the lone survivor was sold to a civilian operator after war’s end.



Aircraft Serial



Individual Aircraft History



1934        Manufactured by Douglas Aircraft Company at their Clover Field factory in Santa Monica, California as a Dolphin Model 136 for Standard Oil Co New Jersey USA. Powered by two Pratt & Whitney 450hp Wasp Juniors.

1934        Registered as NC14286 to Standard Oil, New Jersey USA.

1934-38   Operated as an executive aircraft named ‘Essowing’.

16Oct38  Transferred to the newly formed Australasian Petroleum Company (APC) Pty Ltd, an associate company of Standard Oil.  APC was founded as a joint venture between Vacuum oil Co, Anglo-Iranian Oil Co and Oil Search Ltd (USA).

1938        Prepared for shipment to Australia by Charles H. Babb Company, Glendale Air Terminal, California loaded onto the 5,293 ton Swedish Rederi Line ship M.V Eknaren.

02Jan39  Arrived at Newstead Wharf Port Brisbane. Trucked to Archerfield aerodrome for assembly and testing.

05Jan39  Departed Archerfield for Port Moresby, flown by pilot Fred E. Secor, and Chief Engineer J. R. Lund and photographer Morgan Reynolds. All were Americans with extensive experience in aerial survey. 08Jan39      Forced to land at the mouth of the Daintree River because of bad weather. Eventually reached Port Moresby and began a large scale exploration and aerial photographic mapping survey of Papua New Guinea in the search for oil deposits.

28Sep39  Sydney Custom’s ledger shows NC14286 arrived 0920hrs at Mascot Aerodrome, Sydney from Port Moresby via Cooktown. Captain F. E. Secor, operator Australasian Petroleum Co

27May40 The Minister for Air (Mr. J. V. Fairbairn) announced that a Dolphin seaplane had been presented to the Australian Government by Australasian Petroleum Co Pty Ltd.  He said the Government greatly appreciated the spirit that prompted the company's actions. The aircraft would probably be allotted to the seaplane base at Rathmines for training.

17Jun40  Received by at RAAF Base Rathmines NSW and taken on charge as A35-1. Aircraft included some spares, specialist tools, manuals and a spare engine. Issued to No 9 Sqn at Rathmines and used for general training and other duties as specified.

18Jun40  WGCDR J.A.S Brown, O260 FLGOFF Ernest Victor Beaumont and O31233 FLGOFF Walter Frederick Stokes flew to Mascot in Seagull A2-18 at 0700 to ferry A35-1 back to Rathmines.  A35-1 returned to Rathmines piloted by WGCDR J.A.S Brown and FLGOFF Beaumont.

05Dec40  WGCDR J.A.S. Brown RAF was conducting a routine flight to Newcastle when he noticed smoke on the horizon and decided to investigate.  Smoke was coming from floating wreckage containing 13 survivors from the SS Nimben that had struck a mine dropped by the German raider HSK5 Pinguin along the NSW coastline.  The crew of the Dolphin guided SS Bellembi to pick up the survivors.

06-8Dec40    Mine reconnaissance missions flown by WGCDR Brown O260691 PLTOFF George Moore Mason between Sydney Heads and Newcastle Heads.

14Feb41   Engine 2679 replaced by 3539.

05Jun41  Allocated to STF.

07Jun41  Received by STF.

09Aug41  Flown to Rose Bay, Sydney and return by O45 SQNLDR Dermott Anthony Connelly

03Sep41  Allocated to Rathmines Station Workshop for complete overhaul.

06Sep41  Issued to station workshop.

01Jun43  Unable to complete overhaul, insufficient spares. Recommended conversion.

15Jul43   Approved for conversion by HQ No 5 Maintenance Group. Components used to rebuild A35-3.


Douglas Dolphin A35-1 
taxying off ramp into water at Rathmines
RAAF photo 
via Steve Mackenzie



1931        Manufactured by Douglas Aircraft Company at their Clover Field factory in Santa Monica, California as a Dolphin Model 1 for chewing gum company heir multi-millionaire Phillip K. Wrigley of California USA. Powered by two Wright 300hp J-5C Whirlwind engines.

1932        Registered as NC12212 to Wilmington Catalina Airline Ltd, Wilmington California.

1932-41   Operated the 26 miles airline service from Wilmington in the Los Angeles harbour area to Avalon on Catalina Island with two Dolphins and three other amphibians. The airline built its own airport on the island with a sloping ramp into the sea, a turntable to rotate the aircraft for departure down the ramp, and a passenger terminal building.

1935        Redesignated as a Dolphin Model 1 Special when modified to seat 10 passengers and re-engined with Pratt & Whitney Wasp SC1. Continued on the Catalina Island service until 1941.

Apr41      Purchased by the Australian Government Trade Commissioner in New York and shipped to Australia. Order No O.I 893/41.

20May41  Prepared for shipment to Australia by Charles H. Babb Company, Glendale Air Terminal, California dispatched from Los Angeles.

25Aug41  Arrived in Sydney and taken to RAAF Richmond for assembly and testing.

20Sep41  Received by Seaplane Training Flight (STF) at RAAF Base Rathmines, NSW.

08Oct41  After landing at Bankstown airfield the aircraft ground looped causing moderate damage. Pilot O260764 FLGOFF Lionel Grenville Webber and crew were uninjured.

11Oct41   Received by STF Workshops for repairs.

12Jan42  Issued to HQ Rathmines.

12Feb42  Allocated to No 9 Fleet Co-Operation Squadron at RAAF Rathmines.

02Mar42  Received by 9 Sqn. Coded as “YQ-Z”.

27Jul42   While on a routine training mission both engines cut out at 3,000ft and an emergency landing as made at Fullerton Cove on the north arm of the Hunter River between Newcastle and Williamtown. Cause of the cut out was contaminated fuel. Aircraft switched to auxiliary tanks and flown back to Rathmines.

21Sep42  Forced landing at Rathmines caused damage to hull and tail unit.

13Oct42  Issued to No 2 Flying Boat Repair Depot at Rathmines (2FBRD) Workshops for repairs.

03Nov42  Allocated to 9Sqn but stored at 2FBRD.

12Apr43  Issued to No 3 Operational Training Unit (3OTU) at Rathmines.

23Jun43  Routine inspection found two badly corroded hull plates.

24Jun43  Allocated to and received by 2FBRD for hull repairs.

01Jul43   Received by 3OTU following hull repairs.

08Jul43   Allocated to 9 Sqn (now) at Bowen QLD.

20Jul43   Received by 9 Sqn.

15Nov43  Allocated to 2FBRD for overhaul.

12Dec43  Received by 2FBRD.

24Jan44  Overhaul suspended. Survey report stated corrosion and structural problems were beyond economical repair. Recommended conversion to components.

14Feb44  MSE gave approval for conversion. Components to be utilised for rebuilding A35-3.


Highlight for Album: Douglas Dolphin A35-2



Jun31        Manufactured by Douglas Aircraft Company at their Clover Field factory in Santa Monica, California as a Dolphin Model 3 for US industrialist Powell Crosley Jr, specifying seating for 2 pilots and a deluxe air yacht cabin with seating for 4 passengers. Engines 300hp P&W R-985 Wasp Junior A.

Jun31        Registered NC982Y Powell Crosley / Crosley Radio Company California, USA.  Named "Lesgo"

29Jun31     CAA issued Approved Type Certificate to NC982Y as a Dolphin 3

01Nov31     Delivered to owner. Operated with wheel spats fitted to the main retractable undercarriage.

Jun38        Major overhaul by Pratt & Whitney. Modified to Dolphin Model 1 Special.

Jan41        NC982Y was included in a group of 5 Dolphins offered by US aircraft dealer Charles H. Babb Co, Grand Central Air Terminal, Glendale California to the Australian Government Trade Commissioner in New York for the sum of $25,000 each plus boxing and freight. Aircraft had a total of 1500 hours.

Apr41        Purchased by the Australian Trade Commissioner in New York and shipped to Australia.

1941-42      Arrived in Melbourne, Australia at some date and was stored at No 1 Aircraft Depot (1AD) RAAF Base