Author photo

By Cathy Hansen
contributing writer 

Howard DGA at Mojave in 2005

Short Flights


February 17, 2024

Cathy Hansen.

Howard DGA-15.

Many years ago, a pilot landed his big Howard DGA at Mojave while on his way to a big Howard Fly-In at Santa Paula, California. Santa Paula Airport was known as the "World Headquarters of Howards," since five Howards were based there, including a rare DGA-11. Only four DGA-11 were built.

Often, people ask, "What's a Howard?" I remember hearing my father-in-law, Frank Burdick, reply, "It's a Howard DGA, Damn Good Airplane." Honest that is what the airplane is called. Let me explain why. I'm not saying I believe in supporting bootleggers during Prohibition, but it is part of the history of this great airplane!

Benjamin Odel "Benny" Howard was born in Texas on Feb. 4, 1904. When he was 19, he went to work in Dallas for Curtiss Aircraft Factory, and he promptly bought a used Curtiss biplane and a "how-to-fly" book.

With only an eighth-grade education, Howard, age 20, was approached by a Houston bootlegger to modify an airplane to include a cargo hold capable of holding 15 cases of illegal liquor. (This was during the early days of Prohibition.) Howard completed the task and the rum-runner customer proclaimed it a Damn Good Airplane. The name stuck with Howard and he applied the initials D-G-A to all of his aircraft designs.

Howard started creating airplanes in 1923 and his first aircraft was a DGA-1. Later, he designed "Mr. Mulligan" DGA-6 in which he won the Bendix Transcontinental and Thompson Trophy Awards at the National Air Races in Cleveland in 1935.

Howard was Pilot and Gordon Israel was Co-Pilot when Mister Mulligan placed first in the 1935 Bendix, with an average speed of 238.7 miles per hour, between Los Angeles and Cleveland, Ohio. Harold Neumann flew "Mister Mulligan" in the 1935 Thompson Trophy capturing first place.

If you like the sound of round engines, then you will love to hear the Howard DGA-15! It is powered with the nine-cylinder, Pratt & Whitney R-985, 450 horsepower radial engine.

After producing several of the most famous racing aircraft of the Golden Age of Aviation, the Howard Aircraft Corporation ceased production in 1943, but that wasn't the end of the Howard.

About 80 DGA-8 through DGA-15 ships had been built at the Howard Aircraft Corporation factory on the south side of Chicago Midway Airport. With America's entry into World War II, most of the civilian Howard's were commandeered by the military.

The U.S. Navy contracted the Howard Aircraft Corporation to build hundreds more of the DGA-15s to its own specifications. They were used as officer's utility transport (GH-1, GH-3), aerial ambulance (GH-2), and for instrument rating (NH-1). A second factory was opened at Dupage County airport, west of Chicago, and about 550 DGAs were eventually completed.

Apparently, this airplane is very unforgiving and difficult to land. It earned the nickname in the Navy as the "Ensign Eliminator."

Sitting on the ramp at Mojave Airport in 2005, is N5553N, NH-1 built as NH-1 Nightingale, 1944 Howard Air Ambulance – U.S. Navy navigation trainer in authentic colors.

I haven't seen a Howard DGA in years. Hope this one is still flying!


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