Recently Air Atlantique (Classic Flight) operated a Farewell to Passenger Flying tour by their Dakotas This tour took in numerous airports in the UK and I was lucky enough to fly in one of their Dakotas when it came to Edinburgh Airport.
After a most enjoyable short flight I thought that this was a good time to look at the career of this famous aircraft.
The story begins in 1932 when TAW approached Donald Douglas with a view to purchasing ten or more all-metal aeroplanes capable of carrying twelve passengers. The initial ideas was for a tri-motor along the lines of the Ford, but changed to a twin-engine design. Early on it was decided for safety reasons that the landing wheels would not fully retract so that on an emergency landing they would cushion the impact. This gave the aircraft a distinctive appearance which can be seen on many of the stamps.
The first aircraft for TWA was the DC-1 which met with approval but with some suggested changes leading to the DC-2. At this time American Airways had a fleet of elderly aircraft and needed to modernise. They wanted an aircraft with sleeper berths, as that attracted the luxury end of the market, but the DC-2 was too narrow for this. Following a major redesign the wider, longer and more powerful DC3 was born and made its first flight in December 1935. This aircraft, in its daytime and sleeper versions, was the first airliner to have kitchen facilities serving full course meals in contrast to packed lunches containing a cold sandwich and a piece of fruit. In 1936 the DC-3 helped American Airways show its first profit in years and by the following year they had achieved a 22% increase in passengers.
Prior to entering World War 2 the US Army Air Corps had ordered nearly 1000 C-47s, as the military version was known. By December 1942 Douglas received orders for 5,500 more with a further order for 3,000 in February 1944. By the time of the D-Day invasion the Douglas Company was turning out twenty C-47s a day. There were several variants having their roots in the DC-3, including modified versions with a large cargo door and reinforced floor for transporting jeeps.
The C-47 took part in may operations during WW2, the most important being the invasion of Europe in June 1944. In the first wave of aircraft there were over 800 C-47s towing gliders from more than twenty bases in England.
In the summer of 1948 the Russian blockaded the land routes into the Allied Sector of Berlin and both the RAF and the USAF used C-47s to fly in food and other necessities. During the fifteen months of the blockade C-47s made over 12,000 round trips between West Germany and Berlin.
C-47s later saw action during the Korean conflict of 1950 as well as in Vietnam where the gunship version had great success. Following that, the USAF ceased using C-47s although they continued to be employed by other air forces in ‘bush’ wars.
It is estimated that around 13,000 DC-3/C-47 aircraft were built, wit several thousand constructed under licence in Japan and Russia. It acquired many names including – Dak, Gooney Bird, Skytrain and Puff the Magic Dragon.
After the end of WW2, thousands of C-47s were converted for civil use and went into service with almost all the world’s airlines remaining in service for many years being robust, easily maintained and large by the standard of today. British European Airways leased several DC-3s from BOAC in 1946 and by 1956 had a fleet of fifty known as the Pionair Class. The last was taken out of service in 1962.
Even today there are possibly 1,000 DC-3 airframes worldwide, but few of these will ever fly again. In Europe legislation will prevent aircraft from carrying passengers unless fitted with oxygen masks and safety chutes to give two examples. DC-3 operated for pleasure flights never fly high enough to require oxygen and the fact that the doors are only a few feet above ground level makes the idea of chutes ridiculous. Even if it were possible to meet these requirements the cost would be prohibitive. Hence Classic Flight decided to operate this farewell tour before the new legislation came into effect.
For the thematic collector the number of stamps showing Dakotas is enormous and I have over seventy, some of which are illustrated here. In comparison there are relatively few showing the C-47 version.
Extract From The Raflet Philatelic Magazine by Mike Turnbull