The Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions." --American Statesman Daniel Webster (1782-1852)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


The DC-3 is a legend, I have ridden in one and count myself lucky to do that.  The plane is still flying today carrying passengers and cargo.  The running joke for DC-3 pilots is "The only way to replace a DC-3 is with another DC-3."  The airplane's ruggedness and reliability is legendary.  The plane revolutionized the aviation business and the passenger business.

  Here in Atlanta, you can go to the Delta Museum and see the DC-3 and other aircraft that Delta airlines had owned.  If you are an aviation buff, it is worth the trip.  Admission is free, but you can pick up a lot of aviation goodies at the gift shop.   Check out link for details

Ship 41
Ship 41 is the only Delta passenger DC-3 left in existence. Delta is the only carrier known to possess its first new revenue-carrying DC-3. Restoration was completed in October 1999. The plane is housed in Delta's original 1940s hangars in Atlanta. Service History Ship 41 flew into Atlanta as the second delivered of Delta's first group of five DC-3s in late 1940. Delta's Ship 40 was being used for pilot training, so Ship 41 was the first DC-3 placed into Delta's scheduled passenger service, entering service on December 24, 1940.
Retired from Delta service after 18 years, Ship 41 was sold to North Central Airlines. Since then, Ship 41 flew for many owners. In 1990 there was an effort, led by Delta's retirees, to locate one of Delta's first five DC-3s. Ship 41 was discovered in Puerto Rico, registered as N29PR, and had been flying cargo with Air Puerto Rico. The aircraft was purchased in 1993 by Delta, and flown back to Delta headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia for restoration.
No other DC-3 in the world has been restored with such impeccable care and attention to detail. The restoration has received prestigious awards: In 2000, the DC-3 received the Judges' Choice "Lindy" award at the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture OshKosh, the world's premier aviation event. In 2001, Ship 41 was the first aircraft ever to win a National Preservation Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Challenging Restoration Project
The enormity of the project can be understood when tasks such as the complete rebuilding of the cockpit had to be undertaken. The cockpit was brought up to 1990s standard without detracting from the original Douglas design or the period look of the aircraft. For example, instruments are all analogue but were uniformly painted, the radio and navigation and communications equipment were positioned discreetly and the seats, pedals, control column and control systems were all renewed. Modern fire and soundproofing insulation methods were used inside the structure of the cockpit and cabin area.
The galley and boarding ramp were rebuilt into exact 1940s replicas from old photographs in the Delta Air Lines Corporate Archives. The cabins seats were remade with the original 1940s patterns and fabric.
Parts Contributed
Donations to the restoration project included: Supply of zero-hour engines and accessories from JRS Enterprises in Minnesota. Landing gear and hydraulic valves from Basler at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Radios from Collins.

The DC-3 Genesis of The Legend
"We made the DC-3 without a computer to test it. There was plenty of data from the DC-1 and DC-2 to formulate the design. Often we got down on the floor and worked things out ourselves. There was personal ingenuity, and application, and we made things happen overnight." Ivar Shogran ; Chief Power Plant Engineer "; Douglas Aircraft Company
Cock Pit

Cyrus Rowlett Smith, President of American Airlines and William Littlewood, American Airlines. Vice president of engineering, had both flown in the DC-2 and did not like some of its performance characteristics, although it was a marked improvement over the Boeing 247. It had the highest rated engines in use at the time, but they felt it lacked power. It carried 14 passengers, two more than the DC-1. Moreover, it could not make New York to Chicago, non-stop, although it was faster than any other airliner on that route. They also had reports that, at times, it was difficult to land, with heavy aileron and rudder control. Additional reports of directional instability, propeller, and fin icing problems and yawing excessively in turbulence also concerned them...

Soon after C. R. Smith read the report he telephoned Donald Douglas with a proposal. Smith had decided what kind of airplane American needed. He was looking for a larger and more comfortable airplane than his Condors or Fords, and better than the Boeing 247. He also wanted something bigger than the DC-2. Smith wanted to give his customers safe, comfortable, and reliable transportation, and his Curtiss Condor "Sleepers" and Ford Tri-Motors simply did not measure up to these standards. The airplane Smith was looking for had been described in Raymond's report...


At first, Douglas did not react strongly or positively to Smith's proposal. He was reluctant to take on a new design and the associated headaches. The DC-2 was in full production with 102 machines already manufactured, and another 90 orders on the assembly line.2 A new model would mean new tooling and starting over another gamble.

Smith spent over $300 on a two-hour long distance call before he finally convinced Douglas to modify a DC-2 to American's sleeper requirements. Some have said if Smith had not persisted and made an offer, Douglas would never have built the DC-3. Douglas nevertheless was skeptical. Night flying was about as popular as the plague, and he wondered about Smith's business sense. Where would Smith get the millions of dollars needed to finance this venture and who would want to sleep in an airplane? After all, the Fords were noisy and the Condors were cramped...

After there was general agreement among the airlines on the potential, a detailed evaluation process began. The airline's total needs, from the number of aircraft, to passenger accommodations, facility requirements, and total economic impact was part of the evaluation.

The Great Depression had created hard times for many of America's industries and the government had formed the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to loan money to the private sector. Cyrus Smith took advantage of this agency and obtained a loan to fund the development of the new design. On July 8, 1935, Smith sent a telegram to Douglas ordering ten transports costing $795,000. The actual specifications for Smith's proposed airplane arrived at Douglas Aircraft on November 14, 1935 (long after construction had begun). Before the first flight of the DC-3, American doubled their initial order to include eight DSTs and 12 DC-3s. By the time the actual contract was signed on April 8, 1936, American Airlines and Donald Douglas both had a heavy financial commitment.3 In today's business environment the contract always precedes work, but in 1935, American Airlines had such faith in Douglas' dependability and integrity that the order came first and the contract after delivery.


The plan called for using the DC-2 design as a starting point. Widening. and rounding the fuselage would allow enough space for the berths, and increasing the power would help lift the larger plane. Littlewood had discussed the design with engineers at Curtis -Wright, and they told him they could modify the 855 hp engines on the DC-2 to deliver ..."


December 17, 1935, was a sunny but cool afternoon in Santa Monica, California. The DST sat at the edge of the runway for about five minutes, its engines running at full throttle. Then it began to move, slowly at first but within 1,000 feet it lifted off, effortlessly. The lives of millions of people throughout the world were about to change.

The cockpit instrument panel was a far cry from the Ford Tri-Motor. In the original DST panel shown here there were 115 flight, navigation electrical and radio control instruments. This cockpit has an almost antiseptic look about it. Photograph courtesy McDonnell Douglas.

In contrast to maiden flights of today's aircraft, covered extensively by the media, this flight, like the maiden flight of the DC-1 went unnoticed by the Press. But the event on a runway in Santa Monica, California, would be one of the |most significant events of the twentieth century.

The DST remained airborne from 3:00 p.m. ...""


It is fitting that as the co-creator of the DC-3 that American Airlines also be the airline that used the most machines over the years. They used 114 DC-3s/DSTs and it all started with the acceptance of the first DST on April 29, 1936..."

The DC-3 overwhelmed the industry. It was the first plane that could fly from New York to Chicago non-stop. It made the trip in three hours fifty-five minutes westbound, and returned in ..."


TWA was the third airline to put the new DST in service. They accepted the first eight in April, 1937. On June 1, 1937, they put their "Super Sky liner Sleeper" DSTs outfitted with eight berths up front and nine divan chairs in the rear, in service between New York and Los Angeles. TWA called this flight the "Sun Racer," although it never quite won the race. It chased the sun across the country, leaving New York at 8:30 a.m., and arriving in Los Angeles at 11:30 p.m. the same day. The entire aviation industry praised the DC-3...

In the evolution of the Douglas Commercial transports, the DST occupied only a slightly better position than the DC-1. Like the DC-1, progress quickly replaced its younger sister, the DST.

Contrary to popular belief, the DC-3 day plane seating of 21 was not an accident. An engineer noticed that removing the berths made room for a third row of seats, two on one side of the aisle, and ..."

The accident rate in the early days of the DC-3 was comparatively low. As the DC-3 became more universal, the number of fatal accidents even decreased. In 1936 for example, domestic airlines flew 63,000,000 miles, and had eight fatal accidents; in 1941 there were only four fatal accidents for 133,000,000 miles flown...


To relieve the pressure on the factory, Douglas sold the licenses to manufacture the DC-3 to three countries; Holland, Japan, and Russia. A royalty paid to Douglas for each aircraft manufactured was part of the license agreement. Tony Fokker never manufactured any DC-3s for Holland, but he distributed 63 before the war in Europe ended his operation. Fokker died of pneumonia complicated by meningitis a week before Germany invaded Holland.


Russia built as many as 20,000 Li-2s. Russia has never paid Douglas a cent in license fees. The PS-84 used the 900 hp Shvetsov M-62 engine (developed from the licensed Wright SGR-1820F which powered the DC-2) and the engine configuration gave the nacelles a narrower chord. Even after they upgraded the engines to 1200 hp ASH-62, the nacelle shape remained close to the first models...

When the DC-3 came along, the Japanese immediately recognized its potential, especially since they had such great success with the DC-2. Great Northern Airways and the Far East Fur Trading Company (another Japanese military front company) purchased at least 21 DC-3s from Douglas between 1937 and 1939. The first intended for KLM as PH-ARA, but canceled, arrived in Japan on December 6, 1937. These transports were operated by Dai Nippon Koku and impressed into Imperial service during the war. The surviving transports were scrapped at the end of the war.

On February 24, 1938, a Japanese manufacturer, Mitsui (a subsidiary of Nakajima Hikoki), purchased the production rights and technical data to the DC-3 for $90,000. Unknown to the United States at the time, the sale was directed behind the scenes by the Imperial Japanese Navy (who was planning on using the type in the invasion of the East Indies).


  1. It's amazing what they built back in the day and how far we have come from that to the planes of today.

  2. Great post about a great old bird! Thanks for the research and the detail! One interesting little side note- Que Sera Sera was a C-117 (Navy DC-3) that flew from Christchurch, NZ to Antartica for years... It's in Pensacola in the Navy Museum.


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