A fixture at Ione for many years has been Douglas B-23
Dragon N747. An ex Howard Hughes aircraft (registered
NR49548 when in his ownership) it has recently been
acquired by collector Jim Slattery and Sanders
Aeronautics are returning it to airworthy condition.
Douglas proposed a number of modifications designed
to improve performance of the B-18 initially was
considered a new redesign, the XB-22 which featured
1,600 hp Wright R-2600-1 radials. Essentially a complete
B-18 redesign was considered promising enough by the
USAAC to alter the original contract to produce the last
38 B-18As ordered under Contract AC9977 as the B-23. The
design incorporated a larger wingspan with a wing design
very similar to that of the Douglas DC-3, a fully
retractable undercarriage, and increased defensive
armament. Notably, the B-23 was the first operational US
bomber equipped with a glazed tail gun position.
The B-23 flew on 27 July 1939 with the production
series of 38 B-23s manufactured between July 1939 and
While significantly faster and better armed than the
B-18, the B-23 was not comparable to newer medium
bombers like the North American B-25 Mitchell and Martin
B-26 Marauder. For this reason, the 38 B-23s built were
never used in combat overseas, although for a brief
period, they were employed as patrol aircraft stationed
on the west coast of the United States. The B-23s were
summarily relegated to other duties primarily training
although 18 of the type were converted into transport
versions as the UC-67.
Another role for the B-23 was to serve as a test-bed
for new engines and systems. The B-23's tall vertical
tail was adapted by Ford for use on the B-24 Liberator
and resulted in increased performance, but it was never
adopted for production. The modification later became
standard on the Navy's PB4Y Privateer, which was derived
from the Liberator.
Following the end of World War II many surplus B-23s
and UC-67s were acquired by civil operators for
conversion as corporate aircraft. The majority were
modified by Pan American's Engineering Department to
accommodate a crew of two, a new and longer metal nose,
full washroom facilities, plus accommodations for twelve
passengers in two compartments.
Howard Hughes converted this B-23 for use as his
personal aircraft and other examples were used for
executive transportation. Some of them remained in civil
use for about 30 years.