The initial contract called for 133 B-18s (including DB-1), using Wright R-1820 radial engines. The last B-18 of the run, designated DB-2 by the company, had a power-operated nose turret. This design did not become standard. Additional contracts in 1937 (177 aircraft) and 1938 (40 aircraft) were for the B-18A, which had the bombardier's position further forward over the nose-gunner's station. The B-18A also used more powerful engines.
Deliveries of B-18s to Army units began in the first half of 1937, with the first examples being test and evaluation aircraft being turned over to the Materiel Division at Wright Field, Ohio, the Technical Training Command at Chanute Field, Illinois, the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, and Lowry Field, Colorado. Deliveries to operational groups began in late 1937, the first being the 7th Bombardment Group at Hamilton Field, California.
Production B-18s, with full military equipment fitted, had a maximum speed of 217 mph, cruising speed of 167 mph, and combat range of 850 miles. By 1940, most USAAC bomber squadrons were equipped with B-18s or B-18As.
However, the deficiencies in the B-18/B-18A bomber were becoming readily apparent to almost everyone. In range, in speed, in bomb load, and particularly in defensive armor and armament, the design came up short, and the Air Corps conceded that the aircraft was obsolete and totally unsuited in the long-range bombing role for which it had originally been acquired. To send crews out in such a plane against a well-armed, determined foe would have been nothing short of suicidal.
However, in spite of the known shortcomings of the B-18/B-18A, the Douglas aircraft was the most numerous American bomber type deployed outside the continental United States at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was hoped that the B-18 could play a stopgap role until more suitable aircraft such as the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and Consolidated B-24 Liberator became available in quantity.