Douglas DC-3

Douglas DC-3, SE-CFP.jpg
A DC-3 operated in period Scandinavian Airlines colors by Flygande Veteraner flying over Lidingö, Sweden (1989)
RoleAirliner and transport aircraft
National originUnited States
ManufacturerDouglas Aircraft Company
First flightDecember 17, 1935
StatusIn service
Produced1936–1942, 1950
Number built607[1]
Unit cost
US$79,500 (equivalent to $1,419,036 in 2017)[2][3]
Developed fromDouglas DC-2
VariantsDouglas C-47 Skytrain
Lisunov Li-2
Showa/Nakajima L2D
Basler BT-67
Conroy Turbo Three
Conroy Tri-Turbo-Three

The Douglas DC-3 is a fixed-wing propeller-driven airliner that revolutionized air transport in the 1930s and 1940s. Its lasting effect on the airline industry and World War II makes it one of the most significant transport aircraft ever produced. It has a cruise speed of 207 mph (333 km/h), capacity of 21 to 32 passengers or 6,000 lbs (2,700 kg) of cargo and a range of 1,500 mi (2,400 km).

The DC-3 is a twin-engine metal monoplane with a tailwheel-type landing gear and was developed as a larger, improved 14-bed sleeper version of the Douglas DC-2. It had many exceptional qualities compared to previous aircraft. It was fast, had good range and could operate from short runways. It was reliable and easy to maintain and carried passengers in greater comfort. Before the war it pioneered many air travel routes. It could cross the continental United States and made worldwide flights possible. It is considered the first airliner that could make money carrying only passengers.[4]

Civil DC-3 production ended in 1942 at 607 aircraft. Military versions, including the C-47 Skytrain (designated the Dakota in British Royal Air Force (RAF) service), and Russian- and Japanese-built versions, brought total production to over 16,000. Following the war, the airliner market was flooded with surplus C-47s and other ex-military transport aircraft, and Douglas' attempts to produce an upgraded DC-3 failed due to cost.

Post-war, the DC-3 was made obsolete on main routes by more advanced types such as the Douglas DC-6 and Lockheed Constellation, but the design proved exceptionally adaptable and useful. Large numbers continue to see service in a wide variety of niche roles well into the 21st century. In 2013 it was estimated that approximately 2,000 DC-3s and military derivatives were still flying, a testament to the durability of the design.[5]

Design and development

A Douglas Sleeper Transport (DST). DSTs were built with a second row of windows for the upper bunk beds, visible above the airline titles

"DC" stands for "Douglas Commercial". The DC-3 was the culmination of a development effort that began after an inquiry from Transcontinental and Western Airlines (TWA) to Donald Douglas. TWA's rival in transcontinental air service, United Airlines, was starting service with the Boeing 247 and Boeing refused to sell any 247s to other airlines until United's order for 60 aircraft had been filled.[6] TWA asked Douglas to design and build an aircraft that would allow TWA to compete with United. Douglas' design, the 1933 DC-1, was promising, and led to the DC-2 in 1934. The DC-2 was a success, but there was room for improvement.

Wright R-1820 Cyclone 9 engine of Douglas DC-3 "Flagship Knoxville" of American Airlines[7]

The DC-3 resulted from a marathon telephone call from American Airlines CEO C. R. Smith to Donald Douglas, when Smith persuaded a reluctant Douglas to design a sleeper aircraft based on the DC-2 to replace American's Curtiss Condor II biplanes. (The DC-2's cabin was 66 inches (1.7 m) wide, too narrow for side-by-side berths.) Douglas agreed to go ahead with development only after Smith informed him of American's intention to purchase twenty aircraft. The new aircraft was engineered by a team led by chief engineer Arthur E. Raymond over the next two years, and the prototype DST (Douglas Sleeper Transport) first flew on December 17, 1935 (the 32nd anniversary of the Wright Brothers' flight at Kitty Hawk). Its cabin was 92 in (2.3 m) wide, and a version with 21 seats instead of the 14–16 sleeping berths[8] of the DST was given the designation DC-3. There was no prototype DC-3; the first DC-3 built followed seven DSTs off the production line and was delivered to American Airlines.[9]

A former military C-47B of Air Atlantique taking off at RAF Hullavington (2005)

The DC-3 and DST popularized air travel in the United States. Eastbound transcontinental flights could cross the U.S. in about 15 hours with three refueling stops; westbound trips against the wind took ​17 12 hours. A few years earlier such a trip entailed short hops in slower and shorter-range aircraft during the day, coupled with train travel overnight.[10]

A variety of radial engines was available for the DC-3. Early-production civilian aircraft used Wright R-1820 Cyclone 9s, but later aircraft (and most military versions) used the Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp, which gave better high-altitude and single-engine performance. Five DC-3S Super DC-3s with Pratt & Whitney R-2000 Twin Wasps were built in the late 1940s, three of which entered airline service.


Total production of all variants was 16,079.[11] More than 400 remained in commercial service in 1998. Production was as follows:

Production of DSTs ended in mid-1941 and civil DC-3 production ended in early 1943, although dozens of DSTs and DC-3s ordered by airlines that were produced between 1941 and 1943 were impressed into the US military while still on the production line.[12][13] Military versions were produced until the end of the war in 1945. A larger, more powerful Super DC-3 was launched in 1949 to positive reviews. The civilian market, however, was flooded with second-hand C-47s, many of which were converted to passenger and cargo versions. Only five Super DC-3s were built, and three of them were delivered for commercial use. The prototype Super DC-3 served the U.S. Navy with the designation YC-129 alongside 100 R4Ds that had been upgraded to the Super DC-3 specification.

Turboprop conversions

A BSAS C-47–65ARTP powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6-65AR engines, formerly operated by the National Test Pilot School in the United States

From the early 1950s, some DC-3s were modified to use Rolls-Royce Dart engines, as in the Conroy Turbo Three. Other conversions featured Armstrong Siddeley Mamba and Pratt & Whitney PT6A turbines.

The Greenwich Aircraft Corp DC-3-TP is a conversion with an extended fuselage and with Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-65AR or PT6A-67R engines fitted.[14][15][16]

The Basler BT-67 is a conversion of the DC-3/C-47. Basler refurbishes C-47s and 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.[17]

BSAS International in South Africa is another company able to perform a Pratt & Whitney PT6 turboprop conversion of DC-3s. Over 50 DC-3/C-47s / 65ARTP / 67RTP / 67FTPs have been modified.[18]

Conroy Aircraft also made a three-engined conversion with Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 called the Conroy Tri-Turbo-Three.

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