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The DC-3 was to become perhaps the most important airliner in history. It quickly established its reputation with many operators, including the military.

    The early 1930s saw a complete transformation of commercial air transport with the introduction of the Boeing Model 247. At last the majestic but lumbering Curtiss T-32 Condor biplane, and Fokker F VII, and Ford tri-motors were giving way to the sleek, all-metal airliners. Although there was much interest in the Model 247, Boeing would guarantee delivery only to United Airlines, who had ordered the first sixty.

History owes a lot to TWA, for the development of the DC-1.

    Not being able to order the Model 247, Transcontinental and Western Air (TWA) therefore issued a requirement to other manufacturers for a similar airliner—a challenge which Douglas accepted. It built the DC-1, in many ways a more refined aircraft, although it flew for the first time on July 1, 1933, only four months after the Model 247 entered service. When it was handed over to TWA, it flew in record time between Los Angeles and New York. Impressed, the airline placed an immediate contract for 28 more Douglas airliners, but in an even more refined form.

The production airliner delivered by Douglas was the DC-2, which began operations in July 1934.

    History owes a lot to TWA, for the production airliner delivered by Douglas was the DC-2, which began operations in July 1934. At that time it was the best passenger aircraft in the world, and other operators soon began queuing up to place orders. First of the non-US airline customers was KLM, which began flying the type in the autumn of the same year, and the DC-2 seemed set for a long production run.

Shown above is a Douglas C-47A.

    However, even greater acclaim was to come Douglas's way when it attempted to fulfill yet another requirement, this time from American Airlines. This company operated the Curtiss T-32 Condor sleeper aircraft on its trans-America flights. Wanting to keep abreast of the latest developments, they asked Douglas for a suitable airliner. Their answer was the DC-3, a direct but slightly larger development of the DC-2. The prototype first flew on December 17, 1935, and the design was soon being produced in two versions for American Airlines, the 14-passenger DST sleeper and a 21-seat 'daytime' airliner. Services with DC-3s started in June of the following year.

    What was to become perhaps the most important airliner in history, quickly established its reputation with this and other operators, including the military. During World War II, the DC-3 (named Dakota by Britain) was mass produced as a utility transport in C-47, C-53, and other versions, known also as Skytrains and Skytroopers, and was license-built in large numbers in Russia as the Lisunou Li-2. Used in all imaginable roles, from freight and personnel transport to glider tug and ambulance, the type was active in all theaters of war, notably during the D-Day landings in Normandy, and subsequent assaults by Allied airborne forces.

    After the war the military flying continued, while production of the civil version restarted. DC-3s became the mainstay of worldwide passenger and freight services for many years. As larger-capacity piston-engined airliners and jet airliners became available, DC-3s were gradually turned over to smaller operators.

Douglas DC-3A
Wing span: 95 ft 2 in (29.00 m)
Length: 64 ft 8 in (19.70 m)
Height: 16 ft 11 in (5.16 m)
Empty: 16,865 lbs (7,650 kg)
Gross: 25,199 lbs (11,430 kg)
Maximum Speed: 230 mph (370 km/h) @ 8,600 ft. (2,590 m)
Cruise Speed: 207 mph (333 km/h)
Service Ceiling: 23,200 ft (7,100 m)
Two 1,100 hp (820 kW) Wright R-1820 Cyclone, 9 cylinder, radial engines.

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© Larry Dwyer. The Aviation History On-Line Museum. All rights reserved.
Created October 3, 1998. Updated October 13, 2013.