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Aircraft of the Month: Douglas DC-3

Dripping with nostalgia, the Douglas DC-3 is an American-made, fixed-wing propeller aircraft that revolutionized air transport in the 1930s and ‘40s.

Built by aircraft manufacturer Donald Douglas, a DC-1 was originally developed for Transcontinental and Western Airline (TWA), allowing it to compete with rival United Airline’s Boeing 247. Later on, American Airlines came calling and persuaded a reluctant Douglas to design a sleeper style aircraft as well as a 21-seat passenger version, which was given the designation DC-3.

In 2014, the Dreamliner is the aircraft of the future, truly revolutionizing air travel; the DC-3 was its era's game changer. The amenities of the DC-3 are said to have popularized air travel in the U.S., leading to an industry boom. With only three re-fueling stops, flights were able to cross the United States eastbound in 15 hours. Westbound trips took 17.5 hours, which was a significant improvement over the Boeing 247. Passengers were soon eager to fly on the DC-3, which eliminated the need for shorter-range aircraft hopping during the day coupled with train travel at night.

The DC-3 went on to become a popular aircraft with many military, cargo, private and commercial airlines. A number of aircraft companies attempted to design a replacement over the next three decades, but none could match the versatility, reliability and economy of the DC-3.

It remained a significant part of air transport systems well into the 1970s. With many still in the air today, the DC-3 is one of the oldest aircraft still in daily use. Buffalo Airways, based in the Northwest Territories, still uses a DC-3 for its scheduled service between Yellowknife Airport (YZF) and Hay River (YHY).

Operators: American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, United, KLM, U.S. military
Manufacturer: Donald Douglas
Country: United States
First Flight: December 17, 1935
Maximum Altitude: 23,200 ft (7,100 m)
Operating Range: 2420km (1307nm)
Crew: 2
Cruise Speed: 180 kn; 333 km/h
Engine: 2 × Pratt & Whitney R-1830-S1C3G Twin Wasp radial piston engines, 1,200 hp (890 kW) each
Height: 16 ft 11 in (5.16 m)
Length: 64 ft 8 in (19.7 m)
Wingspan: 95 ft 2 in (29.0 m)
Passenger Capacity:  21–32 passengers
Operating Weight (Empty): 16,865 lb (7,650 kg)
Maximum Take-off Weight: 25,199 lb (11,430 kg)

Did You Know? As recently as 2011, more than 400 DC-3s were in operation around the world. Additionally, Cathay Pacific used a DC-3 as its inaugural aircraft. "Betsy" is now on display at the Hong Kong Science Museum.

The YVR Connection:  The DC-3 in the photo above was spotted at YVR from the South Terminal Viewing Platform in 2012. The Great Silver Fleet (Eastern Air Lines) is one of the oldest DC-3s in operation today, with more than  91,000 hours on the airframe, among the highest in the world for an aircraft today.

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