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On our round-the-world journey we will be using a vintage, twin-engined Douglas C-47 Skytrain, also known as the DC-3 when used as a civilian airliner. The DC-3 is arguably the most famous and perhaps the most successful aircraft design of all time. First flown in 1935, DC-3s first served as airliners. Introduced by American Airlines in 1936, the DC-3 set new standards for comfort and reliability, paving the way for air travel to be widely accepted by the public.

Once the Second World War broke out, DC-3s were produced for the US Army Air Corps (under designations like C-47 and C-53) and the Royal Air Force of Britain (under the name "Dakota"), flying troops and cargo. They particularly distinguished themselves as the aircraft used for taking airborne troops to Normandy, France in the early hours of June 6th, 1944 as part of the so-called "Operation Overlord" (or what is often referred to as the "D-Day") and flying supplies in the Himalayas ("over the hump" was the expression used at the time).

Douglas C-53 Skytrooper (N45366, ex- 42-68830, "D-Day Doll") flying above the Connecticut countryside in 2019, in preparation to fly the North Atlantic ferry route to England and France for the 75th anniversary of the D-Day. She also flew in Normandy on the actual D-Day in 1944.
Photo by Ora Lassila / So Many Aircraft

After the war, surplused C-47s were sold in Europe to many airlines and the aircraft almost single-handedly helped relaunch the European airline industry. With the advent of the jet age in the 1950s, many of the DC-3 airliners were sold on to serve as cargo carriers. There are still hundreds of DC-3s flying around the world, not just as restored museum planes, but doing "real work" hauling people and cargo to hard-to-reach airfields around the world (including the Antarctica).

Over the years versions of the DC-3 have been used in many different roles, not limited to carrying passengers and cargo. For example, during the Vietnam War some C-47s were outfitted as "gunships", equipped with three 6-barrel Gatling guns. DC-3s have also been converted to use turbine engines, and many of those modernized versions are still being produced, 85 years after the type's first flight.

All in all, over 10,000 DC-3s/C-47s were built in the United States, about 5,000 in Soviet Union under license (where the aircraft was called PS-84 or Li-2) and about 500 in Japan under license. They say that the only aircraft that can replace a DC-3 is... another DC-3!

There are a number of ongoing projects to restore more DC-3s into flying condition and to "keep history alive". For example, Vintage Wings, Inc. in Pennsylvania is restoring a long-ignored C-53 back to her former glory. This aircraft flew some of the very first survey and ferry flights to and from England, laying the groundwork for the North Atlantic ferry routes. She also participated in the Operation Torch in North Africa, later flew with the Danish Air Lines and after returning to the US, was the Governor of Ohio's official transport.

Most of the old DC-3s have similar, incredible histories. Consider, for example, the one shown below:

Douglas C-47A ("DO-12", ex- 42-93096) seen here serving with the Finnish Air Force in 1980. This aircraft flew on D-Day, after the war served first with Finnair, then with the Finnish Air Force, and was used in the filming of the movie "A Bridge Too Far" in 1976; she eventually returned to the U.S. and is now restored in her original Army Air Corps colors at the National WW II Museum.
Photo by Ora Lassila / So Many Aircraft
Douglas DC-3C (N33623) in Nashua, N.H., in 2004. She is in the colors of Northeast Airlines who operated a trans-Atlantic service during the war under a military contract. This aircraft was originally built as a C-47A and delivered to the US Army Air Corps (as 43-15749) in May 1944. After the war she was first transferred to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (a federal agency) in 1946 and to her first civilian owner in 1947, hauling cargo. The aircraft had several owners all over the U.S., including in Alaska, until being sold to Canada in 1973, and returning to the U.S. two decades later.
Photo by Ora Lassila / So Many Aircraft

More information about the DC-3

Web pages:

Books:

  • The DC-3: 50 Years of Legendary Flight (Bowers); Aero 1986
  • Sixty Glorious Years - A Tribute to the Douglas DC-3 Dakota (Pearcy); Airlife Publishing 1995
  • C-47 Skytrain in action (Davis); Squadron/Signal Publications 1995
  • C-47/R4D Units of the ETO and MTO (Isby); Osprey 2005