Many times referred to as the aircraft that changed the world, the DC-3 had a great impact on the airline industry in the 1930s/1940 and on World War II. For that, we have to thank C.R. Smith, American Airlines CEO. Smith persuaded Donald Douglas through a marathon telephone call into designing an aircraft based on the DC-2 to replace the American’s Curtis Condor II biplanes. After confirming that American Airlines had the intention of purchasing 20 aircraft, Douglas agreed to start with the development, having assigned to it a team of engineers led by Arthur E. Raymond. On December 17, 1935 (the 32nd anniversary of the Wright Brother’s flight), with chief test pilot Carl Cover on the controls, the prototype DST flew for the very first time. A 21 seats version of the DST was baptized DC-3. Although there was no prototype, the first DC-3 to be built followed seven DSTs off the production line for delivery to American Airlines.
607 units of this propeller-driven airliner were built, allowing airlines to carry passengers not only faster but with greater comfort and reliability. Also, it was able to travel from New York to Los Angeles in 18 hours with only 3 stops. Early US airlines like American, United, TWA, and Delta placed orders on the DC-3. These fleets revolutionized the modern American air travel industry, replacing trains from being the favorite mean of transportation to travel across the United States. Although very popular in its home country, the European airline KLM Royal Dutch Airlines received its first aircraft in 1936 and addressed it the route Amsterdam-Sydney via Batavia (nowadays Jakarta). Today, this route is nothing extraordinary but at the time it was the world’s longest scheduled route. In total, KLM bought 23 DC-3s before the war broke out in Europe. Fear not, because even in war times this aircraft did not go unnoticed. Many civilian DC-3s were assigned to the military and more than 10,000 U.S military versions were built under the names of C-47, C-53, R4D, and Dakota. These aircraft had the purpose of transporting troops, cargo, and wounded military. Nevertheless, even the brightest star ends up losing its glow. After the war, the airliner market was flooded with surplus transport, and the DC-3 stopped being competitive because of its size and speed. It became obsolete on many routes when compared to models such as the Douglas DC-4 or Lockheed Constellation.
As for today, the DC-3 continues to fly in active commercial and military service. Experts say that this game-changer in the aviation industry will fly for many more years. There is even a common saying among aviation enthusiasts and pilots that is “the only replacement for a DC-3 is another DC-3”.
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