The common saying among aviation buffs and pilots is that “the only replacement for a DC-3 is another DC-3”.
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 plane 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 models and an in-flight kitchen) popularized air travel in the United States. With only three refueling stops, eastbound transcontinental flights across America taking approximately 15 hours became possible. Westbound trips took 17 hours 30 minutes – still a significant improvement over the competing Boeing 247. Before the arrival of the DC-3, such a trip would entail short hops in commuter aircraft, during the day, coupled with train travel overnight.
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.
During World War II, many civilian DC-3s were drafted for the war effort and nearly 10,000 military versions of the DC-3 were built, under the designations C-47, C-53, R4D and Dakota. Peak production of the type 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.
After the war, thousands of surplus C-47s were converted to civil service and became the standard equipment of almost all the world’s airlines, remaining in front-line service for many years. The ready availability of ex-military examples of this cheap, easily-maintained aircraft (it was both large and fast by the standards of the day) jump-started the worldwide, post-war air transport industry.
Even today, over 70 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 start and land on grass or dirt runways also makes it popular in developing countries, where the runways may not always be a paved surface. Some of the more common uses of the DC-3 have been aerial spraying, freight transport, passenger service; military transport and sport skydiving shuttling.
History of the Douglas DC-3
The Museum’s DC-3 was produced in 1940 and flew seven years for American Airlines. It was later bought by TransTexas Airways, which would later acquire Continental Airlines. When Gordon Bethune, CEO of Continental Airlines, was inducted into the TAHF in 2004, Continental Airlines donated the aircraft to the Flight Museum. The aircraft is airworthy.