75 Years of the Douglas Dakota

“…lots of planes have claimed to be ‘the next DC-3. None have succeeded.”

Those words were muttered by US Senator Mike Monroney, a former chairman of the Senate Aviation Subcommittee and one can be sure that he isn’t the only one to have said so.
She has been called everything from ‘Methuselah with wings’ to ‘a collection of parts flying in loose formation’ but there is no doubt that the ‘Gooney Bird’ is an aviation legend.
This year, the world over, celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Douglas DC-3. The Dak started life in 1935, her maiden flight was on December 17, exactly 32 years after the Wright Brothers made their historic flight at Kitty Hawk. The DC-3 was engineered by a team led by chief engineer Arthur E. Raymond. She was built as after American Airlines CEO Cyrus Smith requested Donald Douglas to build the Dc-2’s successor.
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 total of 17 273 DC-3’s were built with more than 400 still in active service in 1998. Over 10 000 of these were for the military and was known as the C-47 Skytrain.

Dwight Eisenhower was quoted as saying “. . . four other pieces of equipment that most senior officers came to regard as among the most vital to our success in Africa and Europe were the bulldozer, the jeep, the 2½-ton truck, and the C-47 airplane. Curiously, none of these is designed for combat.”

South African Air Force.
The SAAF took on a large number of surplus Dakotas during World War 2 and until recently was operating 47 Dakotas. The Daks were given the serial numbers 6801-6884. After the war a large number of Daks were disposed of, including sending some of them to South African Airways. In 1971, the survivors of the SAA fleet found their way back to the SAAF and were allocated the numbers 6885-6889. During sanctions from about 1975, the SAAF managed to secure 16 more Dakotas from various sources.
Due to rationalisation even most of the SAAF’s Turbo Dak’s have been sold to customers in the United States
The only remaining operational Dakotas are those serving with 35 Squadron in Cape Town and which have been converted to the maritime role to patrol the long South African coastline. Those no longer required for service have been stored, pending disposal.
75 Year Celebration
The celebration was held in a spectacularly decorated Hangar 11 at FAYP (Ysterplaat Air Force Base) on the 21st of October 2010 and the turnout was impressive. The evening started with an air display by two C-47TP’s of 35 Squadron.
This was followed by an opening speech by Andre Swart. Andre spoke about the role of the DC-3 and C-47 being one of the most important aircraft in the history of aviation.
The evening went on with supper, drinks and dancing. The 75th anniversary if the Dakota was celebrated by crew and enthusiast alike in true Air Force style.
Some Interesting facts:
The DC-3 has been known to do some impossible feats. Built to carry 21 passengers, one routinely carried 40 in the Philippines. On flights from Australia to New Guinea, Qantas rigged its DC-3s with slings and carried 50 people.
Another DC-3 carried 76 people out of war torn China, including 21 fully equipped Chinese soldiers, 15 women, 22 children, 15 Chinese civilians, the pilot, co-pilot, and Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, who was returning from the raid over Japan. They removed the seats (allowing for an additional 550 pounds of weight), and the passengers sat on each other’s lap, rode in the waist and forward mail compartments, and stood in the aisle. Doolittle remarked to the pilot that, if he had known he was crazy enough to take off with so many people he would have walked home. In later years Doolittle recalled, “I wasn’t worried about the number of people on board, I worried about running out of gas.”
In 1949, a DC-3 carried 93 people out of an earthquake-ravaged Bolivian village. Many were small children, but it is still a feat that defied the designer’s slide rule.
Twenty-five years later, the DC-3 broke its own record again. On March 23, 1975, a Continental Air Services DC-3 flew from Ku Lat, Vietnam to Saigon with 98 orphan children, five attendants, and three air crew, a total of 106 people.
Flying Hours
Eastern Airlines’ DC-3s accumulated 2,227,863 hours of flying time, logging 83,584,318 miles, the equivalent of 3,343 times around the world or the distance between the earth and moon, 350 times.
The first formal recognition the DC-3 had earned a permanent place in aviation history came with the installation of Eastern Airlines’ NC18124, into the Smithsonian Institution in 1952. This airplane had logged 56,758 hours flying 8 1/2 million miles between July 1937 and January 1952. It spent the equivalent of six and one half years in the air. That airplane is now on display in the National Air and Space Museum.
North Central’s N21728, “Old 728,” logged 84,875 hours before its retirement in May 1975. Eastern Airlines took delivery of N21728 on April 11, 1939. It logged 51,398 hours over a 13 year period, then Eastern sold it to North Central Airlines. It spent another 31,634 hours in scheduled service (through April 1965) and logged another 1843 hours (through 1975) as a VIP aircraft for North Central.
North Central estimates “728” spent more than 9 1/2 years in the air and covered over 12 million miles, the equivalent of 25 trips to the moon and back.
During its career, “Old 728” had 136 engine changes, its landing gear was replaced 550 times, and it used over 25,000 spark plugs, to burn eight million gallons of gasoline. This DC-3 had taxied more than 100,000 miles and carried 260 million passengers in its 36-years of service.

Although many “old timers” had their share of bumps and bruises, “Old 728” never suffered even a minor mishap. Today, it is sitting quietly at the Henry Ford Museum, in Dearborn, Michigan. Critics have said that everything but its shadow has been replaced. However this is not true. “Old 728’s” airframe was still 90 percent factory issue when it retired.
Currently the record is now held by N136PB, a privately owned Dak bought from PBA (Provincetown Boston Airlines) in 1993 by two men, Neil Rose and Bob Irvine, from Vancouver, Washington, bought the ship and flew it west. They have restored it to its original 1937 Eastern Air Lines configuration and livery. In August 1993, it had 91,400.2 hours on the airframe.13 It has been in the air the equivalent of more than 10 and a half years, and has a record only another DC-3 will ever match. Each day it flies it breaks its own record adding a little more to this insurmountable achievement
Len Morgan, a renowned aviator and writer said: ‘I came to admire this machine which could lift virtually any load strapped to its back and carry it anywhere in any weather, safely and dependably. The C-47 groaned, it protested, it rattled, it leaked oil, it ran hot, it ran cold, it ran rough, it staggered along on hot days and scared you half to death, its wings flexed and twisted in a horrifying manner, it sank back to earth with a great sigh of relief – but it flew and it flew and it flew.’

References: www.dc3history .org; www.dc-3.co.za;

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