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Douglas DC-3

"DC-3" redirects here. For other uses, see DC3 (disambiguation).
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First flight

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Number built

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US$79,500 ($1,367,516 in 2020)[2][3]

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Developed from

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Lisunov Li-2
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The Douglas DC-3 is a fixed-wing propeller-driven airliner. Its cruise speed (Script error: No such module "convert".) and range (Script error: No such module "convert".) 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 made.

The major military version, of which more than 10,000 were produced, was designated the C-47 Skytrain in the USA and the Dakota in the UK.

Many DC-3s and converted C-47s are still in use around the world.

Design and development

The designation "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.[4] TWA asked Douglas to design and build an aircraft to 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.

File:Engine of Douglas DC-3.jpg
Wright R-1820 Cyclone 9 engine of Douglas DC-3 "Flagship Knoxville" of American Airlines[5]
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 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 (for Douglas Sleeper Transport) first flew on December 17, 1935 (the 32nd anniversary of the Wright Brothers' flight at Kitty Hawk). Its cabin was 92 inches wide, and a version with 21 seats instead of the 14-16 sleeping berths[6] 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.[7]

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 1712 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.[8]

A variety of radial engines were 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. Three DC-3S Super DC-3s with Pratt & Whitney R-2000 Twin Wasps were built in the late 1940s.


Total production of all variants was 16,079.[9] More than 400 remained in commercial service in 1998. Production was as follows:

Production of civil DC-3s ended in 1942. 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 three Super DC-3s were built and delivered for commercial use the following year. The prototype Super DC-3 served the US 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

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.[10][11][12]

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 Script error: No such module "convert". with a fuselage plug ahead of the wing and strengthening the airframe in selected areas.[13]

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.[14]

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

Operational history

File:Douglas DC-3 Aigle Azur Palas Jet 1953.jpg
Douglas C-47B of Aigle Azur (France) in 1953, fitted with a ventral Turbomeca Palas booster jet for hot and high operations.
File:DC-3 on Floats N130Q.JPG
DC-3 on amphibious EDO floats. Sun-n-Fun 2003, Lakeland, Florida, United States
Cathay Pacific inaugurated operations in 1946 with a DC-3 named Betsy, now an exhibit in the Hong Kong Science Museum

American Airlines inaugurated passenger service on June 26, 1936, with simultaneous flights from Newark, N.J. and Chicago, IL.[15] Early U.S. airlines like American, United, TWA and Eastern ordered over 400 DC-3s. These fleets paved the way for the modern American air travel industry, quickly replacing trains as the favored means of long-distance travel across the United States. A nonprofit group, Flagship Detroit Foundation, continues to operate the only original American Airlines Flagship DC-3 with air show and airport visits throughout the U.S.[16]

In 1936, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines received their first DC-3 (in 1943 it was downed by Luftwaffe fighters while on a scheduled passenger flight), which replaced the DC-2 in service from Amsterdam via Batavia (now Jakarta) to Sydney, by far the longest scheduled route in the world at the time. In total the KLM bought 23 DC-3's before the war broke out in Europe.

The first airline in Latin America to use DC-3s was Cubana de Aviación, initially placing them in service on domestic routes, and then using them to start their first scheduled international service from Havana to Miami in 1945. This was the first scheduled service to Miami by a Latin American airline. Cubana used DC-3s on some domestic routes well into the 1960s.

Piedmont Airlines operated DC-3/C-47s from 1948 to 1963. A DC-3 painted in the representative markings of Piedmont, operated by the Carolinas Aviation Museum, was retired from flight in March 2011. Both Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines once operated commemorative DC-3s wearing period markings.

During World War II, many civilian DC-3s were drafted for the war effort and just over 10,000 US military versions of the DC-3 were built, under the designations C-47, C-53, R4D, and Dakota. Peak production was reached in 1944, with 4,853 being delivered. The armed forces of many countries used the DC-3 and its military variants for the transport of troops, cargo, and wounded.

Licensed copies of the DC-3 were built in Japan as Showa L2D (487 aircraft) and in the USSR as the Lisunov Li-2 (4,937 aircraft)[9]

Thousands of surplus C-47s, previously operated by several air forces, were converted for civilian use after the war and became the standard equipment of almost all the world's airlines, remaining in frontline service for many years. The ready availability of cheap, easily maintained ex-military C-47s, both large and fast by the standards of the day, jumpstarted the worldwide postwar air transport industry. While aviation in prewar Continental Europe had used the metric system, the overwhelming dominance of C-47s and other US war-surplus types cemented the use of nautical miles, knots and feet in postwar aviation throughout the world.[citation needed]

Douglas developed an improved version, the Super DC-3, with more engine power, greater cargo capacity and a different wing, but with all the bargain-priced surplus aircraft available, they did not sell well in the civil aviation market. Only five were delivered, three of them to Capital Airlines. The U.S. Navy had 100 of their early R4Ds converted to Super DC-3 standard during the early 1950s as the R4D-8, later C-117D. The last U.S. Navy C-117 was retired July 12, 1976.[17] The last U.S. Marine Corps C-117, serial 50835, was retired from active service during June 1982. Several remained in service with small airlines in North and South America in 2006.[18]

A number of aircraft companies attempted to design a "DC-3 replacement" over the next three decades (including the very successful Fokker F27 Friendship), but no single type could match the versatility, rugged reliability and economy of the DC-3. It remained a significant part of air transport systems well into the 1970s.

Douglas DC-3 today

File:DC-3 in SoAfrica.jpg
A C-47A of Rovos Air in service in South Africa, 2006
File:RNZAF C-47 Dakota, 2010.jpg
This DC-3, operated as a warbird, previously flew for New Zealand's National Airways Corporation between two periods of service in the Royal New Zealand Air Force

There are still small operators with DC-3s in revenue service and as cargo aircraft. The common saying among aviation buffs and pilots is that "the only replacement for a DC-3 is another DC-3". The aircraft's legendary ruggedness is enshrined in the lighthearted description of the DC-3 as "a collection of parts flying in loose formation."[19] Its ability to take off and land on grass or dirt runways makes it popular in developing countries, where runways are not always paved.

Some uses of the DC-3 include aerial spraying, freight transport, passenger service, military transport, missionary flying, skydiving shuttling and sightseeing.

Perhaps unique among prewar aircraft, the DC-3 is in daily use. The very large number of civil and military operators of the DC-3/C-47s and related types, means that a listing of all the airlines, air forces and other current operators is impractical. As of 2012, DC-3 #10 is still used daily for flights in Colombia.[20] Buffalo Airways, based in Canada's Northwest Territories, operates a scheduled DC-3 passenger service between their main base in Yellowknife and Hay River, plus some passenger charter operations, using DC-3s. Some DC-3s are also used by the airline for cargo operations.[21]

The oldest surviving DST is N133D, the sixth Douglas Sleeper Transport built in 1936. This aircraft was delivered to American Airlines on July 12, 1936 as NC16005. The aircraft is at Shell Creek Airport (F13), Punta Gorda, Florida, where it is undergoing restoration. The aircraft will be restored back to Douglas Sleeper Transport standards, and full airworthiness.[22]

The oldest DC-3 still flying is the original American Airlines Flagship Detroit (c/n 1920, #34 off the Santa Monica production line),[23] which can be seen at airshows around the United States and is owned and operated by the nonprofit Flagship Detroit Foundation.[16]

The base price of a new DC-3 in 1936 was around $60–80,000, and by 1960, used examples were available for $75,000.[24]

A 1943 DC-3 was installed as a major design element atop architectural renovations at The Roasterie in Kansas City, Missouri.[25]

Original operators


File:Douglas DC-3C reving engines.jpg
A 1944 Douglas DC-3C revving its engines.
Douglas Sleeper Transport, the initial variant, 24 passengers during day and fitted out with 16 sleeper accommodation in the cabin for night.[26]
Variant of DST with 21 passenger seats.
Improved DC-3 with two 1,200 hp (895 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-21 radial piston engines.
Improved DC-3 with two Wright R-1820 Cyclone engines.
Designation for ex-military C-47, C-53 and R4D aircraft rebuilt by Douglas Aircraft in 1946, given new manufacturers numbers and sold on the civil market.[27]
Designation for 28 new aircraft completed by Douglas in 1946 using unused components from USAAF C-117s.[28]
File:TransNorthern DC-3 landing at ANC.jpg
TransNorthern Super DC-3 (C-117D) landing at Anchorage, Alaska in 2011
Super DC-3, improved DC-3 with a new wing and tail, and fitted with two Pratt & Whitney R-2000 engines of increased horsepower. Five completed by Douglas for civil use using existing surplus secondhand airframes.[29] Designation also used for examples of the 100 US Navy R4Ds that had been converted by Douglas to this standard as R4D-8s (later C-117Ds), that entered civil use after retirement from the military.[30]
A single DC-3 supplied for evaluation by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service.
File:Nakajima L2D2 at Zamboanga 1945.jpeg
A Nakajima L2D in US markings captured in Mindanao and then transferred to Clark Field, Philippines, May 1945
A single DC-3A (40-070) modified as a VIP transport, powered by two 1,200 hp (895 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-21 radial piston engines, used to fly the Secretary of War.[31] (The Douglas C-41 was not a DC-3 derivative but a modification of a Douglas C-33.)
One former United Air Lines DC-3A impressed.
Three impressed DC-3As with 18-seat interiors.
Sixteen impressed former United Air Lines DST-As with 16-berth interior used as air ambulances.
Sixteen impressed DC-3As with 21-seat interiors.
Various DC-3 and DST models, 138 impressed into service as C-49, C-49A, C-49B, C-49C, C-49D, C-49E, C-49F, C-49G, C-49H, C-49J, and C-49K.
Various DC-3 models, 14 impressed as C-50, C-50A, C-50B, C-50C and C-50D.
One aircraft ordered by Canadian Colonial Airlines impressed into service, had starboard-side door.
DC-3A aircraft with R-1830 engines, five impressed as C-52, C-52A, C-52B, C-52C and C-52D.
Two DC-3As impressed with 21-seat interiors.
One impressed DC-3B aircraft.
Two Eastern Air Lines DC-3s impressed into USN service as VIP transports, later designated R4D-2F and later R4D-2Z.
Ten impressed DC-3s for the US Navy
Seven impressed DC-3s as staff transports for the US Navy.
Radar countermeasures version of R4D-4 for the US Navy.
Dakota II
RAF designation for impressed DC-3s


Airtech DC-3/2000
DC-3/C-47 engine conversion done by Airtech Canada, first offered in 1987. Powered by two PZL ASz-62IT radial engines.[32]
Basler BT-67
DC-3/C-47 conversion with a stretched fuselage, strengthened structure, modern avionics, and powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT-6A-67R.
BSAS C-47TP Turbo Dakota
A South African C-47 conversion for the South African Air Force by Braddick Specialised Air Services, with two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-65R turboprop engines, revised systems, stretched fuselage and modern avionics
Conroy Turbo Three
One DC-3/C-47 converted by Conroy Aircraft with two Rolls-Royce Dart Mk. 510 turboprop engines.
Conroy Super-Turbo-Three
Same as the Turbo Three but converted from a Super DC-3. One converted.
Conroy Tri-Turbo-Three
One DC-3/C-47 converted by Conroy Aircraft with three Pratt & Whitney Canada PT-6A turboprops.
Greenwich Aircraft Corp Turbo Dakota DC-3
DC-3/C-47 conversion with a stretched fuselage, strengthened wing center section and updated systems; and powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-65AR turboprop engines[33][34]
Douglas-built airframe fitted with Russian Shvetsov ASh-62IR radial engines after World War II due to shortage of American engines in the Soviet Union[citation needed]
Similar to TS-62, but with Shvetsov ASh-82FN radial engines of 1,650 hp[citation needed]
USAC DC-3 Turbo Express
A turboprop conversion by the United States Aircraft Corporation, fitting Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-45R turboprop engines with an extended forward fuselage to maintain center of gravity. First flight of the prototype conversion, (N300TX), was on July 29, 1982.[35]

Military and foreign derivatives

Douglas C-47
Production military DC-3A variant.
Showa/Nakajima L2D
487 License built DC-3s and derivatives for the IJNAS.
Lisunov Li-2 / PS-84
4,937 DC-3 derivatives license-built in the USSR.

Accidents and incidents

Specifications (DC-3A)

File:DC3 Silh.jpg
Douglas DC-3
Cockpit of DC-3 formerly operated by the FAA to verify operation of navaids (VORs and NDBs) along federal airways

Data from McDonnell Douglas Aircraft since 1920[1]

General characteristics
  • Crew: two
  • Capacity: 21–32 passengers
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  • Wingspan: Script error: No such module "convert".
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  • Wing area: Script error: No such module "convert".
  • Empty weight: Script error: No such module "convert".
  • Gross weight: Script error: No such module "convert".
  • Fuel capacity: 822 gal. (3736 l)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Wright R-1820 Cyclone 9-cyl. air-cooled radial piston engine, Script error: No such module "convert". each
  • Powerplant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney R-1830-S1C3G Twin Wasp 14-cyl. air-cooled two row radial piston engine, Script error: No such module "convert". each
  • Propellers: 3-bladed Hamilton Standard 23E50 series, Script error: No such module "convert". diameter


  • Maximum speed: Script error: No such module "convert". at 8,500 ft (2,590 m)
  • Cruise speed: Script error: No such module "convert".
  • Stall speed: Script error: No such module "convert".
  • Service ceiling: Script error: No such module "convert".
  • Rate of climb: Script error: No such module "convert".
  • Wing loading: Script error: No such module "convert".
  • Power/mass: 0.0952 hp/lb (156.5 W/kg)

Notable appearances in media

See also

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

Related lists



  1. ^ a b Francillon 1979, pp. 217–251.
  2. ^ Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–2014. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved February 27, 2014.
  3. ^ Rumerman, Judy. "The Douglas DC-3." U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission, 2003. Retrieved: March 12, 2012.
  4. ^ O'Leary 1992, p. 7.
  5. ^ May, Joseph (8 January 2013). "Flagship Knoxville — an American Airlines Douglas DC-3". Hearst Seattle Media. Retrieved 3 August 2014. 
  6. ^ Berths were 77 inches long; lowers were 36 inches wide and uppers were 30.
  7. ^ Pearcy 1987, p. 17.
  8. ^ O'Leary 2006, p. 54.
  9. ^ a b Gradidge 2006, p. 20.
  10. ^ Turbo Dakota DC-3 Turbine Conversion Aircraft. Retrieved: 12 September 2012.
  11. ^ FAA Supplemental Type Certificate Number SA3820SW retrieved 28 March 2015
  12. ^ Turbo Dakota DC-3 Conversion Process, Dodson International. Retrieved 28 March 2015
  13. ^ "Basler BT-67". Basler Turbo Conversions, LLC via, 2008. Retrieved: March 7, 2009.
  14. ^ "BSAS International". Retrieved: October 11, 2011.
  15. ^ Holden, Henry. "DC-3 History." Retrieved: October 7, 2010.
  16. ^ a b "DC-3." Flagship Detroit Foundation. Retrieved: October 7, 2010.
  17. ^ "The Seventies 1970–1980: C-117, p. 316." Retrieved: August 10, 2010.
  18. ^ Gradidge 2006, pp. 634–637.
  19. ^ Williams, Michael. "How health and safety rules have grounded the Dakota, the war workhorse." Daily Mail, February 25, 2008. Retrieved: March 7, 2009.
  20. ^ "Colombia's Workhorse, the DC-3 airplane." Washington Post. Retrieved: March 15, 2012.
  21. ^ "Douglas DC-3." Buffalo Airways. Retrieved: October 22, 2012.
  22. ^ Moss, Frank. "World's Oldest DC-3.", 2011. Retrieved: August 9, 2011.
  23. ^ Pearcy 1985[page needed]
  24. ^ "The de Havilland Aircraft Co. Ltd." Flight, 18 November 1960, p. 798. Retrieved: 12 September 2012.
  25. ^ Myers, Keith. "1943 Plane installed atop KC coffee company." GlobalNe.Ws, 11 September 2012. Retrieved: 12 November 2012.
  26. ^ "Sleeping Car of the Air Has Sixteen Sleeping Berths." Popular Mechanics, January 1936.
  27. ^ "Aircraft Specifications NO. A-669." FAA. Retrieved: October 20, 2011.
  28. ^ Gradidge 2006, pp. 632–633.
  29. ^ Gradidge, 2006, p. 634
  30. ^ Gradidge 2006, pp. 634–639.
  31. ^ "Douglas C-41A." Retrieved: August 10, 2010.
  32. ^ "AirTech Company Profile." Retrieved: November 22, 2009.
  33. ^ Turbo Dakota DC-3 Conversion Process, Dodson International. Retrieved: January 4, 2013
  34. ^ Specs - Engines & Props, Dodson International. Retrieved: January 4, 2013
  35. ^ Taylor 1983[page needed]


  • Francillon, René. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920: Volume I. London: Putnam, 1979. ISBN 0-87021-428-4.
  • Gradidge, Jennifer M. The Douglas DC-1/DC-2/DC-3: The First Seventy Years, Volumes One and Two. Tonbridge, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 2006. ISBN 0-85130-332-3.
  • O'Leary, Michael. DC-3 and C-47 Gooney Birds. St. Paul, Minnesota: Motorbooks International, 1992. ISBN 0-87938-543-X.
  • O'Leary, Michael. "When Fords Ruled the Sky (Part Two)." Air Classics, Volume 42, No. 5, May 2006.
  • Pearcy, Arthur. Douglas DC-3 Survivors, Volume 1. Bourne End, Bucks, UK: Aston Publications, 1987. ISBN 0-946627-13-4.
  • Pearcy, Arthur. Douglas Propliners: DC-1–DC-7. Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife Publishing, 1995. ISBN 1-85310-261-X.
  • Taylor, John W. R. Jane's All the World's Aircraft, 1982–83. London: Jane's Publishing Company, 1983. ISBN 0-7106-0748-2.
  • Yenne, Bill. McDonnell Douglas: A Tale of Two Giants. Greenwich, Connecticut: Bison Books, 1985. ISBN 0-517-44287-6.

External links

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