The Douglas DC-3 is an American fixed-wing, propeller-driven aircraft whose speed and range revolutionized air transport in the 1930s and 1940s. Because of its lasting impact on the airline industry and World War II it is generally regarded as one of the most significant transport aircraft ever made.
Design and development
The DC-3 was engineered by a team led by chief engineer Arthur E. Raymond and first flew on December 17, 1935 (the 32nd anniversary of the Wright Brothers' flight at Kitty Hawk). The aircraft was the result of a marathon phone call from American Airlines CEO Cyrus Smith to Donald Douglas requesting the design of an improved successor to the DC-2. The amenities of the DC-3 (including sleeping berths on early "DST"—Douglas Sleeper Transport—models and an in-flight kitchen) popularized air travel in the United States. With only three refueling stops, eastbound transcontinental flights across the U.S. taking approximately 15 hours became possible. Westbound trips took 17 hours 30 minutes due to typical prevailing headwinds — still a significant improvement over the competing Boeing 247. Before the arrival of the DC-3, such a trip would entail short hops in slower and shorter range aircraft during the day, coupled with train travel overnight.
A variety of engines were fitted to the DC-3 throughout the course of its development. The original civilian aircraft used Wright R-1820 Cyclone 9s, but later aircraft (and the majority of military ships) used the Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp radial which offered better high-altitude and single engine performance. A few Pratt & Whitney R-2000 radials saw use.
A total of 10,655 DC-3s were built at Santa Monica, California, Long Beach, California, and Oklahoma City in both civil (607) and military (10,048) versions. 4937 were built in Russia, under license, as the Lisunov Li-2 (NATO reporting name: 'Cab'). A total of 487 were built in Japan, as the L2D Type 0 transport. The overall total produced was 16,079. More than 400 remained in commercial service in 1998.
The Basler BT-67 is a conversion of the DC-3. Basler refurbishes DC-3s at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, fitting them with Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-67R turboprop engines, lengthening the fuselage by 40 in (100 cm) with a fuselage plug ahead of the wing and strengthening the airframe in selected areas. The airframe is rated as having "zero accumulated fatigue damage." This and extensive modifications to various systems and avionics result in a practically brand-new aircraft. The BT-67s have been supplied to civil and military customers in several countries.
Braddick Specialised Air Services International PTY Ltd (BSAS International) in South Africa is another company to perform a turbo-prop conversion to DC-3s designated by the Pratt & Whitney engine model PT6. Over 50 DC3/C47 65ARTP / 67RTP / 67FTPs have been built.
Early U.S. airlines like United, American, TWA and Eastern ordered over 400 DC-3s. These fleets paved the way for the modern American air travel industry, quickly replacing trains as the favored means of long-distance travel across the United States.
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines received their first DC-3 in 1936 and it replaced their earlier aircraft types on the service from Amsterdam via Batavia (now Jakarta) and continuing to Sydney - by far the longest scheduled route in the world at the time.
Piedmont Airlines operated DC-3s from 1948 to 1963. A DC-3 painted in the representative markings of Piedmont, operated by the Carolinas Aviation Museum, continues to fly to air shows today and has been used in various movies. Both Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines operate "commemorative" DC-3s wearing "period markings".
During World War II many civilian DC-3s were drafted for the war effort and just over 10,000 US military versions of the DC-3 were built, under the designations C-47, C-53, R4D, and Dakota. Peak production was reached in 1944 with 4853 being delivered. The armed forces of many countries used the DC-3 and its military variants for the transport of troops, cargo, and wounded.
Licensed copies of the DC-3 were built in Japan as Showa L2D (487 aircraft) and in the USSR as the Lisunov Li-2 (4937 aircraft)
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 front line 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, jump-started the worldwide post-war air transport industry.
Douglas had 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, 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 their early R4Ds converted to Super DC-3 standard as the R4D-8, later C-117D.
A number of aircraft companies attempted to design a "DC-3 replacement" over the next three decades (including the very successful Fokker F27 Friendship) but no single type could match the versatility, rugged reliability, and economy of the DC-3. It remained a significant part of air transport systems well into the 1970s.
Even today, 73 years after the DC-3 first flew, there are still small operators with DC-3s in revenue service and as cargo planes. The common saying among aviation buffs and pilots is that "the only replacement for a DC-3 is another DC-3." The aircraft's legendary ruggedness is enshrined in the lighthearted description of the DC-3 as "a collection of parts flying in loose formation." Its ability to take off and land on grass or dirt runways makes it popular in developing countries, where runways are not always paved.
Some of the more common uses of the DC-3 have included aerial spraying, freight transport, passenger service, military transport, and sport skydiving shuttling.
The very large number of civil and military operators of the DC-3, C-47, and related types since their introductions means that a listing of all the airlines, air forces, and other operators is impractical.
Published in July 2009.
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