Orders for long-lasting goods rebounded in February from a deep 3.6 percent drop in January as demand for civilian aircraft surged, the government said Wednesday. But the rise was less than economists expected.

Manufacturers' orders for goods designed to last at least three years rose 2.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted $211.8 billion, the Commerce Department said. The increase was smaller than the 3 percent rise economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected.

Transportation equipment, up three of the last four months, jumped 3.9 percent to $57.9 billion in February. This was led by a solid 6 percent increase in civilian aircraft orders. Orders for motor vehicles rose 1.6 percent. Excluding transportation goods, new orders rose 1.6 percent.

Orders at the Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) remained healthy, which provided support for the headline figure. The company said it received 237 orders for aircraft in February, up from 150 in January.

Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a key barometer of capital spending by businesses, edged 1.2 percent higher, missing economists' expectations of a 2.0 percent gain.

Orders for defense capital goods was a bright spot, growing 12.4 percent in February, following a 23.2 percent increase in the prior month.

Wednesday's report showed unfilled orders, a sign of future demand, rose 1.3 percent last month after climbing 0.7 percent in January.

Shipments of durable goods was down 0.4 percent, after two consecutive monthly increases. Inventories rose $1.6 billion or 0.4 percent to $373.7 billion.

Growth in the manufacturing sector, which has been a major source of economic growth since the recession officially ended in June 2009, has encouraged businesses to hire more employees. Employers added 227,000 workers in February and the nation's unemployment rate held at 8.3 percent.