This week’s plane of the week is the Douglas DC-3.
The Douglas DC-3 is a fixed-wing propeller-driven airliner. Its cruising speed and range revolutionized air transport in the 1930s and 1940s. Its lasting effect on the airline industry and World War II makes it one of the most significant transport aircraft ever made. The major military version, of which more than 10,000 were produced, was designated the C-47 Skytrain in the USA and the Dakota in the UK. I don’t know why they changed it, but they did. I had heard it called both and assumed that it was known as the Skytrain initially and was later changed to Dakota, like how the Huey helicopter was renamed the Iroqois, but apparently it was called the Dakota in the UK only. Weird.
There was also an attack version of the C-47. The Douglas AC-47 Spooky (also nicknamed “Puff, the Magic Dragon”) was the first in a series of gunships developed by the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War. It was designed to provide more firepower than light and medium ground-attack aircraft in certain situations when ground forces called for close air support. It was replaced by the AC-119G Shadow and AC-119K Stinger, which were replaced by the AC-130 Spectre/Spooky/Ghostrider/Stinger II. The Air Force has also considered making an AC-17 or an AC-5, either of which would obviously be the most powerful aircraft on earth. If only they could take off vertically from a carrier like the F-35…
Thousands of surplus C-47s, previously operated by several air forces, were converted for civilian use after the war and became the standard equipment of almost all the world’s airlines, remaining in frontline service for many years. The ready availability of cheap, easily maintained ex-military C-47s, both large and fast by the standards of the day, jumpstarted the worldwide postwar air transport industry. While aviation in prewar Continental Europe had used the metric system, the overwhelming dominance of C-47s and other US war-surplus types cemented the use of nautical miles, knots and feet in postwar aviation throughout the world.
Douglas developed an improved version, the Super DC-3, with more engine power, greater cargo capacity and a different wing, but with all the bargain-priced surplus aircraft available, they did not sell well in the civil aviation market. Only five were delivered, three of them to Capital Airlines. The U.S. Navy had 100 of its early R4Ds converted to Super DC-3 standard during the early 1950s as the R4D-8, later C-117D. The last U.S. Navy C-117 was retired July 12, 1976. The last U.S. Marine Corps C-117 was retired from active service during June 1982. Several remained in service with small airlines in North and South America in 2006. There was also a more successful DC-4, which looked like a four-engined DC-3, but it was actually a separate aircraft and I will not describe it in detail.
The DC-3 is my favorite transport/passenger aircraft of all time and I know many other people share that opinion. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. The DC-3 is one of the most classic airplanes ever built and will be flown for many years to come. Long live the Gooney Bird.
Next week: the “Flying Tiger”.