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December 17, 2007  |  Happy Birthday, DC-3  |  4910 hit(s)

The Douglas DC-3, aka the C-47, in Britain called the Dakota, sometimes called the Gooney Bird, had its maiden flight on December 17, 1935, which makes it 72 years old. The DC-3 is one of the most successful airplanes ever built. Its long range helped make airline travel practical. The DC-3 was one of the first (tho not the very first) airplane built primarily out of metal, replacing the wood-framed-and-doped-fabric airplanes that had evolved out of the Wright Flyer and the many models of airplanes developed during World War I. About the only thing that was still old-fashioned about the DC-3 was that it was a "tail-dragger" -- its third wheel was at the back, and when it was on the ground, the plane sat at a pretty steep angle.



The DC-3 had a large capacity and it was extremely hardy, which made it interesting to the military. Even tho the plane was theoretically obsolete by WWII, it nonetheless saw service in that war as the C-47 ("C" for "cargo") -- fleets of C-47s shuttled paratroopers on D-Day. After the war, the plane continued to find utility for the military, and saw service in the Berlin Airlift and beyond. In Vietnam it appeared in one of its more unusual incaranations as "Puff the Flying Dragon," where its large cargo capacity (for tons of ammunition) and slow flying speed made it an ideal flying platform for the GE minigun.

In civilian life, the DC-3 was in use by airlines for both passengers and cargo well into the 60s for short-haul flights. Outside the US, it continued flying even longer, since it was durable, easy to maintain, and worked well for airports with runways that were not yet ready for jet traffic. In fact, during the 1980s, I was on a DC-3 for a hop in Mexico between Oaxaca and Puerto Escondido. As I recall, that was a 45-minute flight in lieu of an 8-hour bus ride, and the runway in Puerto Escondido just ran off the edge of a cliff.

I like the DC-3 for several reasons. One is that to me, it's iconic for "airplane" -- if I were three years old and you asked me to draw a plane, a DC-3 is what I'd come up with.[1] I like its snubbed nose and barn-door tail, its shiny aluminum skin, its sturdy-looking twin engines. It's an engineering marvel, a utilitarian, supremely resilient design that has obviously proved its worth. It's not just a great example of the appeal of retro technology -- it's timeless. Or at least, it's timeless after 72 years. Happy Birthday to the gooney bird, and may there be many more.

[1] This also would apply if I were 50, which I am.

Seth   18 Dec 07 - 12:51 PM

Nursing a quiet pastime in aviation history, are we? :)

mike   18 Dec 07 - 1:33 PM

Oh, was it quiet? Not intentionally. :-)

Seth   19 Dec 07 - 11:18 AM

So, does this make you a plane-spotter (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plane_spotting)?

If so, Irvine Welsh may have a sequel in the offing. ;)

p.s. Boo hoo, no <a> tags in the comments...

mike   19 Dec 07 - 4:18 PM

No, a plane spotter would know the number of each individual plane. That was Joe Sutter, who wrote that book about the 747:


I just like (some) planes. A lot of, um, boys (mostly) like cars, right? :-)

<a> tags: URLs are converted when you save.