The only replacement for a DC-3 is another DC-3
The DC-3 . . . probably the most famous of all airliners. There can never be
another like it, and she just refuses to grow old.
Could Boeing feel a perverse pride in sparking the birth of the Douglas DC-3?
In 1932 Boeing was under contract to deliver sixty of their model 247 aircraft
to United Airlines. TWA, United's main rival, also wanted to modernize their
fleet with the all-metal 247, but Boeing refused the order. It turns out that
United Airlines owned Boeing! United was quite unwilling to let Boeing
strengthen TWA's position by supplying them the 247.
Rebuffed, TWA submitted specifications to industry for their "ideal airliner," a
Tri-motor aircraft, looking for a manufacturer to design and build the first
model at their own expense. The lure was a promise of follow-on purchases. The
Douglas Aircraft Company, located at Clover Field in Santa Monica, California,
responded with the Douglas Commercial–1, a twelve-passenger, twin-engine
aircraft with performance exceeding the specifications. Douglas built only one
On July 1st, 1933, the Douglas DC–1 made its first successful flight. TWA
evaluated the DC–1 and additional requirements resulted in the fourteen-seat
DC–2, fitted with more-powerful engines. The DC–2 made its maiden flight on May
11th, 1934, and 108 were produced. In 1934 the DC–2 set a record-shattering
coast-to-coast time of 13 hrs, 4 min.
Finally, in 1936, the twenty-one-seat DC-3 came on the scene.
The DC-3 incorporated all of the technological advances of the mid-1930s;
reliable, high-power air-cooled piston engines; variable-pitch metal propellers;
retractable landing gear; duraluminum-alloy fuselage and wings; and the
Other DC-3 features were cowl flaps to control the cooling-airflow through its
engines; a strong landing gear to allow it to land on rough landing strips;
flaps to allow it to land on short runways; and a cockpit equipped with two sets
of instruments, for pilot and copilot, to provide a backup if one set failed.
Two 1,200-horsepower Pratt & Whitney engines powered the DC-3 and it cruised at
a remarkable 145 knots at altitudes of up to 10,000 feet. It carried twenty-one
passengers in an unpressurized cabin, over a non-stop distance of 700 miles, and
it flew passengers at one-half the cost of its predecessors.
The DC-3 made its first flight on 17 December 1935, the 32nd anniversary to the
day of the Wright Brothers' first flight.
Although TWA initiated the development of the aircraft, American Airlines
officially accepted the first DC-3 in April 1936. The transaction was closed in
Phoenix, Arizona, to avoid paying California sales tax where the aircraft had
In September of 1936 American Airlines introduced DC-3 flights between Newark,
N.J., and Glendale, California. Gate-to-gate time was 17˝ hours with only three
stops. Previously, that route required nine stops and 23˝ hours.
Five years after its appearance, the DC-3 carried over eighty percent of U.S.
domestic airline passengers, due in part to its strong safety record. In all,
nearly twelve thousand civilian and military DC-3s were built.
The DC-3 had many names; the manufacturer called it the "Skytrain," airlines
simply called it "The Three." The U.S. Army Air Force called it the "C-47." The
U.S. Navy called it the "R4D." The British called it the "Dakota." But these are
all official names.
The pilots who flew this extraordinary machine called her the "Dizzy Three," or
"Old Methuselah," or "Placid Plodder," or "Dowager Duchess." Today, however,
pilots everywhere refer to her with great affection as the "Gooney Bird."
"She had but one gait. She was noisy. Her wing-tips flapped. And her cockpit
leaked. But she'd get you there." (Pan Am)
C–47s contributed so strongly to the U.S. effort in World War II that General
Eisenhower considered them to be one of the four most significant weapons of the
The DC-3 . . . there's never been another plane like it.