|"Probably the most memorable thing about the [Dakota] was the
smell. The odor of the leather mixed with hydraulic fluid made a perfume second to none.
[The plane] always treated me well, unlike some of the other birds I've flown, and my
memories of it are all good."
-- Tex Gehman, Winnipeg,
History: The Douglas DC-3 was
born of the intense competition for modern commercial aircraft that characterized the
post-World War I era. It was the direct descendant of the DC-1, which first flew in 1933
as Douglas' initial response to a short supply of competitor, Boeing Aircraft's, landmark
10-passenger 247, the first, low-wing, all-metal airliner. With only one 12-passenger
sample flying, and already a record-breaking success, the DC-1 was quickly made obsolete,
replaced by an a more powerful version with greater seating capacity, the 14-passenger
DC-2, of which 193 were built.
When, in 1934, American Airlines asked Douglas for a larger version of the DC-2
that would permit sleeping accommodations for transcontinental flights, Douglas responded
with the 24 passenger (16 as a "sleeper" craft) DST (Douglas Sleeper Transport),
the 24-passenger version of which was designated DC-3.
The DC-3 is given most of the credit for an almost 600% increase in airline
passenger traffic between 1936 and 1941. Recognizing its great potential as a military
transport, the United States Army specified a number of changes needed to make the
aircraft acceptable for military use, including more powerful engines, the removal of
airline seating in favor of utility seats along the walls, a stronger rear fuselage and
floor, and the addition of large loading doors. A large order was placed in 1940 for the
military DC-3, which was designated C-47 and became known as
"Skytrain," a name it would soon be asked to live up to.
Used as a cargo transport to fly the notorious "Hump" over the Himalayas
after the Japanese closed the Burma Road, and as a paratroop carrier in various campaigns
from Normandy to New Guinea, the Douglas C-47 was one of the prime people movers of WWII
where, in one form or another, it was manufactured by belligerents on both sides, after
first having been licensed to Mitsui before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and to
the Russians, who manufactured it under license as the Lisunov Li-2.
During the war, Mitsui built their own version, via contract with the Showa and Nakajima
companies, which built about 485 "Tabbys" (the code name given to the aircraft
by the Allies) as the Showa L2D.
Known also as "Dakota" (British designation), R4D
(U.S. Navy), "Skytrooper" and "Gooney Bird," the Douglas C-47 (USAAF)
went through many modifications during its long service life, largely with respect to
engine power ratings, but also with structural modifications for specific tasks like
reconnaissance and navigation training. It was even tested as a floatplane, and as an
engineless glider, a task it performed well, but too late in the war to matter. It was
also used as a fighting machine as the AC-47D gunship ("Puff, the Magic Dragon") of the Vietnam war, where the plane was equipped with
three modernized Gattling guns (General Electric 7.62mm "Miniguns," each mounted
and firing from the port side) for use as a "target suppressor," circling a
target and laying down massive fire to eliminate or at least subdue the enemy position.
By war's end, 10,692 of the DC-3/C-47 aircraft had been built, with 2,000 Li-2s by the
Soviets, and 485 Showa L2Ds by the Japanese, for a total of about 13,177. Between its
first flight on December 17, 1935, and this writing, the DC-3 will have had
over 70 years of
continuous service. From its pioneering of military airlifts over the hump, to its
perfecting of the technique during the Berlin Airlift, the C-47 has been prized for its
versatility and dependability, factors that explain its remarkable longevity as an active
Nicknames: Gooney Bird; Super
DC-3 (R4D-8); Skytrooper; Biscuit Bomber; Tabby (NATO code name for
the Showa L2D); Cab (NATO code name for Lisunov Li-2); Dumbo (SC-47
Search-and Rescue variant); Sister Gabby/Bullsh*t Bomber (EC-47 dispensing
propaganda-leaflets in Vietnam); Spooky/Puff the Magic Dragon (AC-47 Gunship); Dowager
Dutchess; Old Methuselah; The Placid Plodder; Dizzy Three;
Old Bucket Seats; Duck; Dak; Dakleton (South African
C-47s which replaced their Avro Shackletons), Vomit Comet (Nickname used by US
Army paratroops during the Normandy invasion), Fantasma /"Phantom"
(AC-47T in Columbian Air Force service.)
Engines: Two 1,200-hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-S1C3G Twin Wasp radial piston engines
Weight: Empty 16,865 lbs., Max
Takeoff 25,200 lbs.
Wing Span: 95ft. 0in.
Length: 64ft. 5.5in.
Height: 16ft. 11.5in.
Number Built: 13,177 (All manufacturers)
Number Still Airworthy (All Variants): 300+
AC-47/DC-3 -- WoA Squadron 14,
Topeka, KS, USA
American Aeronautical Foundation -- Operators of C-47B "Aluminum
Network DC-3/C-47 Accident Index
Basler Turbo Conversion DC-3s
C-47 NZ3548 Restoration in New
C-53D Skytrooper, N45366,
Commemorative Air Force
CNAPG Douglas Dakota Page
Association of South Africa
The Dakota Club
The Dakota Trust, UK
Danish Dakota Friends, Denmark
The DC-3 Hangar
DC-3 Network -- A site for DC-3 pilots and enthusiasts.
DC-3 Historical Society
Discovery Air Tours -- Offers
DC-3 flights in Sydney, Australia.
Flight -- DC-3 flights and flight training in Mission Viejo, California,
Dutch Dakota Association, UK
Flagship Detroit -- The oldest flying DC-3 in the world.
Friends of the DC-3
Last Time -- 75th Anniversary mass flight of C-47s/DC-3s to Oshkosh
Merrville Dakota Ass'n, 43-15073 "The Snafu Special" in Bosnia
Online DC-3 Museum
South African Airways Museum Society's DC-3 (ZS-BXF / "Klapperkop")
South Coast Airways, UK
and Puff" -- Information on the AC-47 gunship in Vietnam.
-- A C-47 operated by the Valiant Air Command.
Sixty Glorious Years: A Tribute to the Douglas
By Arthur Pearcy
160 Pages, Hardcover
Published 1995 by Motorbooks Int'l
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