The DC-3 has cruised every sky known to man, fought in almost every big war, has been admired, cherished and glamorized by millions of people. And 75 years after the first aircraft rolled into service, it’s still earning its keep!
The Douglas DC-3 is was born in the middle of the Great Depression and is still labouring away in some of the harshest working conditions on the planet – from deserts and jungles to Canada’s high Arctic. Of the 16,000 built, it’s estimated that some 400 are still in commercial service.
The DC-3 soon became known by those that flew and serviced her as one of the most reliable and trouble-free aircraft ever built. Its ability to take off and land on grass or dirt strips and improvised runways made it popular in countries and remote regions where runways are not always paved. It was also readily adapted with skis for landing on ice and snow – in temperatures that could regularly hit -40 celcius and colder.
The DC-3 is a pilot’s aircraft if there ever was one. Its ruggedness inspired confidence and loyalty amongst those who flew her along with a few affectionate monikers like “Gooney Bird,” “a collection of parts flying in loose formation” and “a wonderful old hunk of tin.”
This plane, above all others, revolutionized air travel in America during the 1930s and 40s. Its advent allowed for an eastbound transcontinental flight of only 15 hours with just three refueling stops (westbound trips took about 2 ½ hours longer because of prevailing headwinds). Prior to the DC-3, that same trip would have entailed a series of short hops on different aircraft throughout the day and then train travel at night. The comfort and convenience of the DC-3 meant more people took to the skies, giving rail travel its first serious competition. And, for the first time, some airlines could rely on passenger travel for their main source of revenue, instead of mail service and general cargo.
World War II Workhorse
During World War II, about 10,000 DC-3s were built for military service. In 1944 alone, some 4,853 of them were delivered. It saw service with many of the world’s air forces. The versatility of the DC-3 allowed it to be used for hauling freight and troops, paratroopers, and one airplane, affectionately called ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’ was outfitted with many gun turrets and used to keep enemies at bay.
In the days during the war when development of gliders was taking place for military roles, one DC-3 even had its engines removed and was test-flown as a glider. It turned out that this airplane would even glide farther than the aircraft that were developed at that time strictly to be used as gliders. The DC-3 is truly a remarkable aircraft, and even though times have changed, the DC-3 has found its place in a more peaceful world.
Dawn of Civil Aviation
The DC-3s that survived the war became the core of the civil aviation that boomed after the war (it’s around this time, in 1945, that Trans-Canada Air Lines took possession of its first DC-3. They operated 30 of the twin-engine workhorses until 1963 when the last two were sold off). This massive pool of surplus military aircraft that were cheap, reliable and easy to service meant that business and vacation travelers could set out to explore the world again, this time by plane instead of by ship.
Buffalo Airways: Ice Pilots NWT
Buffalo Airways in Canada’s Northwest Territories is one of the airlines that remain convinced that their fleet of DC-3s are the best aircraft for the hard work they’re routinely called upon to do in serving the remote communities of Canada’s Northwest Territories. The subject of History Channel’s hit show “Ice Pilots NWT”, the daily tales of Buffalo Joe McBryan and his crew of hardy souls. They, along with a legion of pilots over the past seven decades, agree that “the only replacement for a DC-3 is another DC-3.” Who can argue with that!
We carry a wide range of Ice Pilots and Buffalo Airways merchandise in our Giftshop@RoyalAviationMuseum.com
Check out this great selection of videos on the DC-3s.
Ice Pilots NWT – Season One Trailer
How to Start a DC-3