Douglas DC-3: An Iconic Commercial Aircraft
The legendary Douglas DC-3 is one of the most important aircraft in aviation history. From its first flight in 1935, this revolutionary twin-engined plane flew further and faster than ever before, opening new frontiers in the air and embodying the very latest in modern flying technology.
From the tragedy that sparked its inception, to its Second World War involvement and ongoing love affair with modern cinema, we’ve hand picked some fascinating facts about this amazing aircraft, for your reading pleasure.
Arguably the most important commercial aircraft ever built, this plane eclipsed the Boeing 247 as the epitome of modern airline design
The Crash That Shaped Aviation
On March 31, 1931, TWA Flight 599, a wooden-winged Fokker F.10 tri-motor airliner, was scheduled to fly from Kansas, Missouri, to Los Angeles, California. On board the plane was one Knute Rockne, recognised as one of the most-renowned American football coaches of all time, en route to LA to participate in the production of the Hollywood feature film, The Spirit of Notre Dame.
Unbeknownst to the pilots, moisture had seeped into the structure of one of the airplane’s laminated wood wings, weakening the glue that held the wing spars together. A few miles southwest of Bazaar, Kansas, a spar failed and the wing fluttered before detaching completely, causing the plane to crash and kill all eight people on board.
The crash caused a public demand for greater investigation into plane crashes, and led to major improvements in aviation safety from that day on.
An Upgrade of Aircraft Technology and Design
The Flight 599 crash ended all wood-framed aircraft construction, forcing airlines to shift all of their energy to creating all-metal alternatives. Put under pressure to advance aircraft design and safety, three frontrunners emerged from the pack.
1 – The Ford Trimotor: the first to be available, this was a slow aircraft similar to the Fokker, with three engines and constructed entirely out of metal.
2 – Boeing 247: considered the first of the modern airliners, this plane saw the introduction of many design features now found in today’s modern aircraft, including a hollow-shell aluminium design, retractable landing gear, supercharged engines, and controllable-pitch propellers.
3 – The Douglas DC-2 and Douglas DC-3: Arguably the most important commercial aircraft ever built, this plane eclipsed the Boeing 247 as the epitome of modern airline design.
The aircraft was recognised for its versatility, and was used for transporting cargo, numerous troops, and the wounded
WWII Involvement: The Douglas C-47 Skytrain
Also known as the Dakota, the Douglas C-47 Skytrain evolved from the Douglas DC-3 to become a vital aircraft in several Allied campaigns throughout WWII. Modifications included a reinforced floor and installation of a cargo door, as well as a shorter tail cone and an astrodome located in the cabin roof.
The aircraft was recognised for its versatility, and was used for transporting cargo, numerous troops, and the wounded. While used for numerous wartime assignments, its most significant achievement involved flying “The Hump”, the eastern stretch of the Himalayas between India and China. This proved a significant triumph in providing Allied support to the Chinese war effort.
A Soaring Film Star
Not satisfied with just revolutionising modern aviation, the Douglas DC-3 has also made a name for itself on the silver and small screens, appearing in over 150 films and television shows to date.
Notable films include:
– Bad Boys
– Casino Royale (1967)
– Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
– Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
– Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
– Live and Let Die
– Pearl Harbor
– Quantum of Solace
A full list of its appearances can be found here: Douglas DC-3 Onscreen Appearances
With wings spanning 29 metres, and a lifetime of service spanning 80 years and counting, the Douglas DC-3 rightfully holds a place as one of the most important triumphs in aviation. If you would like to start your very own 1:32 scale model of this beautiful plane, and in turn discover more incredible stories, click here: Build the Douglas DC-3