DC-3/Dakota Historical Society, Inc.
Established 1994
History of the Douglas: DC-1 DC-2 DC-3 C-47 Dakota Aircraft
License Agreement No. BMC 01-TM-047 with
The Boeing Company
All unidentified images on our site are listed as "from the Society's Collection". Please contact us for proper credit if your work is identified.
About Us | Membership || Updates Home Page


The Genesis of a Legend

For More information about purchasing this image, please visit our Photo Store. Thank You!

For More information about purchasing this image, please visit our Photo Store. Thank You!

"We made the DC-3 without a computer to test it. There was plenty of data from the DC-1 and DC-2 to formulate the design. Often we got down on the floor and worked things out ourselves. There was personal ingenuity, and application, and we made things happen overnight."; Ivar Shogran ; Chief Power plant Engineer "; Douglas Aircraft Company

Airlines vice president of engineering, had both flown in the DC-2 and did not like some of its performance characteristics, although it was a marked improvement over the Boeing 247. It had the highest rated engines in use at the time, but they felt it lacked power. It carried 14 passengers, two more than the DC-1. Moreover, it could not make New York to Chicago, non-stop, although it was faster than any other airliner on that route. They also had reports that, at times, it was difficult to land, with heavy aileron and rudder control. Additional reports of directional instability, propeller, and fin icing problems and yawing excessively in turbulence also concerned them.

For More information about purchasing this image, please visit our Photo Store. Thank You!

While the DC-2 performed better with an engine failure than the tri motors, or Boeing 247, a training crew exercising a single engine go-around created a nearly fatal spin incident. Douglas engineers extended the fin area and increased the margin between the single engine climb speed, and the vertical fin stall speed. That solved the problem. These problems were even more reason Smith and Littlewood wanted a new design.1

Littlewood was anxious to convince Douglas that what he wanted was possible, so he sat with his engineers in late 1934 and began to redesign the DC-2. Littlewood's sketches of the proposed sleeper would closely resemble the actual Douglas Sleeper Transport (DST). Soon after the American Airlines team began to put requirements on paper, they invited Arthur Raymond to join the discussions. By May 10, 1935, Arthur Raymond had produced "Douglas Aircraft Report No. 1004." This report outlined performance and other characteristics of the developing transport, and would be used for the initial engineering of the airplane.

Soon after C. R. Smith read the report he telephoned Donald Douglas with a proposal. Smith had decided what kind of airplane American needed. He was looking for a larger and more comfortable airplane than his Condors or Fords, and better than the Boeing 247. He also wanted something bigger than the DC-2. Smith wanted to give his customers safe, comfortable, and reliable transportation, and his Condor "Sleepers" and Fords simply did not measure up to these standards. The airplane Smith was looking for had been described in Raymond's report.

At first, Douglas did not react strongly or positively to Smith's proposal. He was reluctant to take on a new design and the associated headaches. The DC-2 was in full production with 102 machines already manufactured, and another 90 orders on the assembly line.2 A new model would mean new tooling and starting over another gamble.

Smith spent over $300 on a two-hour long distance call before he finally convinced Douglas to modify a DC-2 to American's sleeper requirements. Some have said if Smith had not persisted and made an offer, Douglas would never have built the DC-3. Douglas nevertheless was skeptical. Night flying was about as popular as the plague, and he wondered about Smith's business sense. Where would Smith get the millions of dollars needed to finance this venture and who would want to sleep in an airplane? After all, the Fords were noisy and the Condors were cramped.

In 1966, American Airlines synthesized the capabilities of a modern "universal airplane" like the DC-3 was in its day. Their requirements went to McDonnell Douglas who met with other airlines to determine the market potential.

After there was general agreement among the airlines on the potential, a detailed evaluation process began. The airline's total needs, from the number of aircraft, to passenger accommodations, facility requirements, and total economic impact was part of the evaluation.

Before a firm commitment, the various disciplines of engineering, operations, marketing, and finance made feasibility studies. The result of this process was the McDonnell-Douglas DC-10 (now MD-11), a far different approach to building an airplane than the telephone agreement of 1935.

The Great Depression had created hard times for many of America's industries and the government had formed the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to loan money to the private sector. Cyrus Smith took advantage of this agency and obtained a loan to fund the development of the new design. On July 8, 1935, Smith sent a telegram to Douglas ordering ten transports costing $795,000. The actual specifications for Smith's proposed airplane arrived at Douglas Aircraft on November 14, 1935 (long after construction had begun). Before the first flight of the DC-3, American doubled their initial order to include eight DSTs and 12 DC-3s. By the time the actual contract was signed on April 8, 1936, American Airlines and Donald Douglas both had a heavy financial commitment.3 In today"s business environment the contract always precedes work, but in 1935, American Airlines had such faith in Douglas' dependability and integrity that the order came first and the contract after delivery.

At the Newcomen Society's annual dinner in 1955, Cyrus Smith introduced Donald Douglas as the honored speaker. In response to Smith's gracious testimonial, Douglas gave Smith his due. "This is an ideal time to acknowledge our debt of gratitude to my good friend, C.R. Smith, for his part in the development of the DC-3. He had tremendous faith in us, and in the future of air travel. His boundless energy, clear vision, and uncanny knack in making the right decision at the right time were the catalytic agents that greatly influenced us in taking steps to build that famous airplane."


The plan called for using the DC-2 design as a starting point. Widening and rounding the fuselage would allow enough space for the berths, and increasing the power would help lift the larger plane. Littlewood had discussed the design with engineers at Curtiss-Wright, and they told him they could modify the 855 hp engines on the DC-2 to deliver 1000-hp. Littlewood then thought, more power, more airplane.5

Littlewood's drawings suggested the new design would have the DC-2 center section and outer wing panels, but a larger cockpit and tail surface than the DC-2. Littlewood tried to work within the framework of the DC-2, because he knew he could not sell Douglas on a brand new design.

When Douglas engineers reviewed Littlewood's drawings, they estimated they would reuse about 80% of the original DC-2 design, something Douglas could live with.

As Douglas had found out with the DC-1, sketches do not fly off drawing boards. As the engineers began to create the detailed drawings, it became apparent that a new airplane was evolving. This bothered Douglas, because it meant new tooling. What Littlewood had in mind was developing into the first "wide bodied" airplane, a super DC-2, and Douglas saw its potential.

Littlewood, his assistant, Otto Kirchner, and Arthur Raymond, worked nearly six months on the design. "We gave Bill Littlewood almost a free hand in establishing the dimensions in the cabin, said Raymond, "and deciding what went into the cockpit layout. We worked together without any friction. The DC-3 was a product of teamwork. This was the primary reason it was so successful. They could have built it themselves if they could do it in-house, but my relationship with Bill (Littlewood), and our relationship with the American Airlines people influenced that airplane a lot.";6 (See Appendix E.)

Like the prototype DC-1, the DC-3 design went through exhaustive tests. American Airlines flew a Curtis Condor to Santa Monica, so the Douglas engineers could study the berths and improve them. Littlewood and Wetzel laid down in the mock-up berths to judge the size and to find the best position for the reading light, call button, and airsick cup. Littlewood even made up the sleeper berths, and restored them to the day coach configuration to test their workability.

Wetzel tried the upper berth in the mock-up and got the feeling of being closed in. Littlewood felt the same way so they installed little windows in the upper berths to prevent claustrophobia.

"Conceptually the DC-3 design was easy. In reality, however, we spent more than half our time in the shop," said Raymond, "and we had over 400 engineers and draftsmen working on the design. We spent many long nights producing more than 3,500 drawings, but it was worth it."

C.R. Smith came up with an innovation for passenger comfort. He insisted on a right side door to the airplane. There were two reasons for this. It would standardize American's operations where they had ramp facilities to accommodate their right side door Ford Tri-Motors, but more importantly, Smith's philosophy behind the right side door was that pilots started the left engine first preparatory to departure. Boarding passengers would not be buffeted by the prop wash as they boarded the aircraft if the left engine were running. In the past, most airlines had ramp facilities to accommodate left-sided door airplanes. Other airlines soon followed this precedent.


WINGS: Wings are of cantilever, internally braced, multi-spar, stressed-skin type construction, consisting of formed aluminum alloy sheet and extruded members riveted and bolted together. They are made in three sections, i.e., the center section of constant chord to which engine nacelles are attached, and the right and left hand outer tapered wing panels. A series of progressive high-lift airfoils are used outward to the wing tip. Each outer wing panel consists of a main section, a detachable trailing edge section at the inboard end, and a detachable wing tip. The aft portion of the underside of the wing is provided with hydraulically operated split trailing edge flaps. The ailerons consist of an aluminum alloy riveted framework covered with fabric. They are cable actuated. The right aileron is provided with a cable-actuated trim tab. The center section and each outer wing panel have three spars. Pressed aluminum alloy ribs, made in sections, and aluminum lateral stringers comprise the wing structure. Steel fittings are used where the imposed loads make their use mandatory.

EMPENNAGE: Multi-cellular construction of formed aluminum alloy sheet and extrusions is used in the cantilever, internally braced, horizontal and vertical stabilizers. These surfaces are attached in a fixed alignment to the fuselage. The rudder and elevator are of aluminum alloy riveted framework covered with fabric. Each rudder and elevator is statically and dynamically balanced and is also provided with a cable actuated trim tab.

FUSELAGE: The fuselage is of all-metal, semi-monologue construction, almost circular in section and built up of channel-section transverse frames, or formers, and extruded bulb angle stringers. The framework is made of aluminum alloy sheets, extrusions, and rolled structural members all riveted and bolted together. Transverse frames are riveted to longitudinal stringers. Alclad 24-ST aluminum alloy of various gauges covers the fuselage framework and is joined to it with snap rivets. The fuselage is sub-divided into the pilot's compartment, right and left forward cargo compartments, main cabin and a lavatory aft of the entrance door.

LANDING GEAR: Landing gear consists of two independent wheel units, each located under an engine nacelle and attached to the primary spar of the center section of the wing. The hydraulically actuated landing gear can be retracted into the engine nacelles, although the lower part of each wheel projects. In order to make possible landings at normal sinking speed, four hydro-pneumatic shock absorber struts are provided. These struts, in conjunction with balloon tires and hydraulically actuated servo-type brakes, make it possible to operate from fields with rough runways or limited length. Each landing gear unit retracts individually. The tail wheel does not retract and is capable of swiveling 360 degrees. During take-off or landing operations, tail wheel is locked in a fore and aft position.

ENGINE INSTALLATION: Two Wright Cyclone 1,000 hp radial air-cooled engines are installed. Each engine is enclosed in a cowl and may be quickly removed with the accessories and relevant piping intact by means of quick-disconnect fittings on each line at the firewall in the engine nacelle.

PROPELLERS: In order to provide maximum propulsive efficiency and better cooling to the engines, paddle blade propellers have been used with success. These propellers are Hamilton Standard, Quick-Feathering, Hydromatic and constant speed types, and are controllable in blade pitch setting.

FUEL SYSTEM: The fuel system consists of four aluminum alloy fuel tanks which are located within the center section of the wing. Each engine gets its fuel supply by means of a separate piping system, fuel selector and cross-feed fuel valves. Fuel can be directed to supply either engine or to either engine-driven fuel pump when necessary. For emergency use, two auxiliary, manually operated fuel pumps are available for use by the pilot.

ENGINE OIL SYSTEM: An independent oil system is provided for each engine. Lubrication oil is contained in a tank inside the engine nacelle over the landing gear. Hot lubricating engine oil is cooled by means of an oil cooler attached to the underside of each engine nacelle. To facilitate engine starting in cold weather, each oil tank is provided with an oil dilution system.

HYDRAULIC SYSTEM: Landing gear, brakes, wing flaps, cowl flaps, and automatic pilot controls are actuated by means of hydraulic power generated by two engine-driven hydraulic pumps supplying energy to the hydraulic system. During normal operations, one pump and its relevant system supplies power to all the movable components, other than the automatic pilot. The automatic pilot is operated by the other hydraulic system, but it is possible to use either system to perform similar functions by means of a selector valve. For auxiliary use, a hydraulic fluid hand pump is available.

FLIGHT CONTROLS: A conventional yoke, column, and rudder pedals which by means of cables, actuates the flight control systems, and control surfaces, is provided for the pilot and copilot. Aileron, elevator, and rudder trim tabs are controlled as to setting from the pilot's compartment, and are also actuated by means of cables. The automatic pilot controls the movement of the rudders, ailerons, and elevators in order to maintain directional, lateral and longitudinal stability in flight.

ELECTRICAL: Two engine-driven generators provide electrical energy to the 24-volt ground return electrical system. Two large ampere-hour storage batteries are stowed within the fuselage


fuselage after it flows through a heat exchanger attached to the engine exhaust manifold. Regulation of the volume and the temperature of the warm air can be controlled by the pilot.

ICE ELIMINATION SYSTEM: Elimination of ice from the leading edge of the airfoil surfaces is accomplished by means of rubber de-ice boots, that are attached to the wings and tail surfaces. The inflation of the de-ice boots is done by engine driven vacuum pumps energizing a pneumatic

system to inflate and deflate the de-ice boots periodically. 7


What rolled out of the shop on December 14, 1935, was much more than Littlewood had put on paper. It was a totally new aircraft, both in design and size. It had a wider and longer fuselage, greater wingspan, more tail area, stronger landing gear, and more power than the DC-2. The final product used only about 10 percent interchangeable DC-2 parts.8

Arthur Raymond said, "The DC-3 was almost a new airplane as far as actual parts, but it was two-thirds finished before we started because we were so far ahead (in design and development) with work on the DC-2." There was a strong emphasis on comfort because the DC-3 was not pressurized, and flew at altitudes where turbulence was present. Douglas engineers adapted ideas in use at the time by the Pullman Company, designers of the railway sleeper car to provide passengers with a measure of comfort.

Douglas had a highly motivated team. "We made the DC-3 without a computer to test it," said Ivar Shogran. "There was plenty of data from the DC-1 and DC-2 to formulate the design. Often, we got down on the floor and worked things out ourselves. There was personal ingenuity, and application, and we made things happen overnight."

The DST's fuselage was arranged for the pilot's compartment, a 55 cu. ft. forward mail hold, and the passenger compartment was divided into eight sections with two seats in each section converting into lower berths. The upper berths were hinged to the fuselage bulkhead and folded down from the ceiling. There were separate dressing rooms and lavatories in the rear, on the DST. A private "Sky room" or &"Honeymoon Hut," as some called it, similar to the Pullman Drawing Room, was up front behind the cockpit.10 The sky room was designed to accommodate VIP passengers used to the private accommodations on the Pullman railroad cars.

Aviation had taken giant steps in a few short years. Aircraft design had moved out of the corrugated metal box design of the Ford Tri-Motor to streamlined comfort and power. Douglas engineers had discovered certain color combinations tied into a general uneasiness among passengers. The DST did not use certain shades of green, since tests revealed it gave some passengers balance problems, and air-sickness. Patterns in colors, although the colors were satisfactory, also caused passenger discomfort.

Carpets in the DST were dark to give the feeling of strength, and security under foot. The walls and ceiling were light in color to prevent an uncomfortable feeling of confinement, and evoke a feeling of "airiness and freedom."11

Stephen Zand developed a new sound absorbing material and used 240 pounds of it to line the walls of the DST. This insulation reduced the sound level to about 55 decibels, making it quieter than a railroad car.12

The solutions to the ventilation problems on the DC-2 made the DC-3 easier to engineer. A highly efficient air conditioning system changed the air every minute, and provided individual fresh air ventilators. A steam heat system maintained a 70 degree cabin temperature regardless of what the outside temperature was.

The semi-retractable landing gear design of the DC-1 and DC-2 was grandfathered into the DC-3 with improvements. The Douglas engineers corrected the "stiff legged" problem of the DC-2 landing gear by designing a new hydraulic system operated by two engine driven oil pumps. The extended gear had a three-degree off-center angle instead of a locking down latch.

New, improved shock absorbers, with seven more inches of travel eased the slam-bang touchdown experienced in the DC-2s. A hydraulic pump raised and lowered the gear in seven seconds, and if an engine failed on take-off, the cleaner aerodynamic lines gave it better single engine performance. The DC-2 hand pump system had taken a full minute, and 40 strokes to pump up or down, leaving the plane vulnerable to excessive drag during take-off.

There was also brilliant simplicity built into the landing gear. In the UP position, it rested on a bumper in the wheel well, held there by hydraulic back pressure. If the hydraulic pressure failed, gravity would cause the gear to lower automatically.

The DC-3 was larger than its predecessor, but resembled it in many ways. The aerodynamic secrets that would make it one of the most stable, and controllable aircraft ever to spread its wings were not so apparent.

While the original plan called for adding five feet to each wing, simply adding two wing tip panels as first proposed was not the answer. Dr. W. Bailey Oswald and Dr. Mage Klein constructed a scale model of the new design and put it in the wind tunnel. In plan form it was the same basic wing as the DC-2. Wind tunnel tests showed the wing did not provide the lift needed and was dangerously unstable. Oswald summed it up this way. "We tried dozens of models in the tunnel before we hit on the secret. We narrowed the airfoil, which changed the center of balance of the airplane resulting in the final wing design being enormously strong. The top skin was reinforced with corrugated sheeting with wrinkles running span-wise, strengthening the wing's capacity to withstand compression."

The wing had a built in flexibility, which was unnerving at first. In flight, the wings would "flap" as much as five degrees. Before a flight, pilots would reassure the passengers this was normal if the wings were to take the stresses of flight. The absence of all wires and struts on the wings was still a novelty and the first of many nicknames befell the DC-3, "The Flying Vagrant," because the wings, they said, had no visible means of support.

Hydraulically operated trailing edge flaps replaced the long-screw version found on the DC-2. The flaps would slow a landing approach, or increase the lift on take-off. Wing leading edge lights replaced the glare-producing nose lights found on the DC-2. They improved visibility under haze, snow, and dust conditions.

Although many complicated innovations in the DC-3 were flawless, a simple structure like the windshield created problems. The windshields leaked during a storm and some pilots wore rubber aprons to keep dry. A storm might produce "St. Elmo's Fire," a green glow accompanied by discharges of atmospheric electricity on the outside surfaces of the plane. If the windshield leaked, the discharge could be seen inside the cockpit. Pilots said you could see the glow against the black floor.13 Leaky windshields are no longer a problem for the surviving DC-3s. Bathtub silicon caulking is the final if not elementary solution to the problem.

Douglas took advantage of the rapidly developing state of the art. The variable pitch propeller, introduced by Frank Caldwell, vice president of engineering for Hamilton Standard Propeller Co. was one of those developments. Caldwell's team had perfected a gear in the propeller hub that automatically changed the propeller's pitch as needed for take-off, and cruising. This innovation would help the DC-3 lift unprecedented loads in high altitude atmospheres.


December 17, 1935, was a sunny but cool afternoon in Santa Monica, California. The holidays were coming and spirits were high in the Douglas Aircraft Company. It was another ordinary day at Clover Field. A big, polished propeller caught the sun's light as it began to turn. Slowly it revolved and then a belch of blue-white smoke appeared. The engine roared into life, and the propeller was lost in its own motion. A second propeller came to life. For a few minutes, the engines roared and then the plane began to move forward. A few engineers and draftsmen watched the shiny airplane taxi out to the runway.

The DST sat at the edge of the runway for about five minutes, its engines running at full throttle. Then it began to move, slowly at first but within 1,000 feet it lifted off, effortlessly. The lives of millions of people throughout the world were about to change.

In contrast to maiden flights of today's aircraft, covered extensively by the media, this flight, like the maiden flight of the DC-1 went unnoticed by the Press. But the event on a runway in Santa Monica, California, would be one of the most significant events of the twentieth century.

The DST remained airborne from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.14 Carl Cover reported everything went smoothly unlike his hair-raising maiden flight of the DC-1. Frank Collbohm, the copilot on the flight, described it as, "rather routine." The day was so routine that none of the company executives took time out for the historic moment. The historic flight drew so little corporate attention that no one thought to photograph the event.15 Frank Collbohm, who later became assistant to Arthur Raymond, said fifty years later, "I don't even remember whether it happened in the morning or afternoon. I can't separate it in my mind from any of the other test flights we made in those days. Obviously everything was fine. There was nothing special, it was just another airplane going up."16

Years later, Carl Cover had the same lack of recall, "I remember nothing beyond that it took place on that day. It was unremarkable, just another routine flight, similar to hundreds of others."

Arthur Raymond does not clearly remember the flight either. "When the plane was ready, Carl and the others (Collbohm and Fred Steinman) simply got aboard, and took off. Of course none of us had any idea it marked the start of an era."17

For the next two weeks, Carl Cover and American Airlines test pilots Dan Beard and Elling Velben logged 25 hours 41 minutes of test flying. They put the DST through its paces without any major problems.18 The only major change during the six month test period was an added dorsal fillet, to the fin, to improve directional stability.


Engineers wanted to study the effect of engine wear so on February 18, 1936, they replaced both engines on the prototype. Around this time, TWA asked for a demonstration of the plane's lift-off ability. To everyone's chagrin the airplane took more than 1,000 feet to "un stick." Frye and Robbins were not happy with the airplane's performance, as it would prohibit operations from some of TWA's smaller fields. Based on this performance they decided not to order this questionable newcomer and instead they ordered the proven performer, the DC-2.

Douglas and Wright engineers were not happy either. They had a serious problem facing them. They stripped the engines down and discovered the crankcase was retaining the churned up oil resulting from high engine rpm at take-off. This was costing a 75-hp loss from each engine. They drilled holes through the lower crankcase walls and moved an oil sump closer to the rotating parts.19

American Airlines was also worried about the long take-off roll. On February 28, Velben and Beard tried again. This time the plane lifted off in 970 feet, satisfying TWA's requirement. However, TWA had a new problem. Because of their hesitation, they lost valuable production slots to American and United Airlines. TWA would not take delivery of their first DC-3 until American and United had a dozen in the air.

The DST drew the aviation industry's attention. Douglas was besieged with requests to see the new plane. As a courtesy, American Airlines gave demonstration flights to TWA, United, Pan American Airways, and Eastern Airlines. Once the airlines saw the DST, they wasted no time. Each placed orders before American Airlines took delivery of its first aircraft.20

Just as the DC-1 had courted disaster on its maiden flight, the DST also flirted with disaster during a landing test. An improvement to the DC-2's lever controlled brake system came from Hal Adams, a hydraulic specialist. Adams knew the best hydraulic brake technology of the day was in the Pierce Arrow automobile, and incorporated that design, with modifications like toe brakes into the DC-3.

Dan Beard felt more brake pressure would help slow the landing roll, so he recommended an increase in the cylinder pressure. On March 5, 1936, with 66 hours on the airframe, Elling Velben was landing the plane, while Beard was taking motion pictures of the runway markers. As the plane touched down, Beard was thrown forward against the window. Dazed, he saw the plane heading off the runway toward a hangar, 200 feet away. Velben was gunning the left engine, and Beard realized the plane was in a ground loop. In seconds they would crash into the hangar. Instead of retracting the landing gear to slow the roll, which would have inflicted heavy damage on the aircraft, Beard gunned the right engine, and shut down the left, accelerating the ground loop. The plane crashed through a chain link fence and came to rest, just two feet from the hangar.

Engineers quickly discovered the right wheel brake cylinder had burst under the increased pressure. From that experience, Bendix, the manufacturer, installed an improved high-pressure brake cylinder.


For More information about purchasing this image, please visit our Photo Store. Thank You!

It is fitting that as the co-creator of the DC-3 that American Airlines also be the airline that used the most machines over the years. They used 114 DC-3s/DSTs and it all started with the acceptance of the first DST on April 29, 1936.21 Financial conditions at American Airlines mirrored the national economy depressed. To save several thousand dollars in California sales tax, they accepted the airplane in Phoenix, Arizona. Right after acceptance, they flew it back to Santa Monica.22 They continued this practice until 1940.

On June 26, 1936, American inaugurated its DC-3 Flagship service with simultaneous ceremonies introducing American Airline's "Flagship New York" (NC16001) at Newark, New Jersey, and the "Flagship Illinois" (NC16002) at Chicago's Midway Airport.23

The prototype DST "Flagship Texas" (NC14988, c/n 1494) flew for American Airlines until July 1936 when TWA purchased it. In July 1942, the Army turned it into a C-49E (USAAF 42-43619) and used it to ferry troops in the United States. On October 15, 1942, with six and a half years of service, it had an engine failure, crashed and burned at Knobnoster, Missouri, outside Sedalia Army Air Corps Field. It had 17,166 hours on the airframe.24 (The last DC-3 built was delivered to Sabena in mid-1946 as OO-AWH. It crashed at London's Heathrow Airport on March 2, 1948.)

Douglas had been reluctant to tool up for the DC-3 and had anticipated only a small production line. Incoming orders grew to 50, and then to 100. By the end of 1936, 30 DSTs/DC-3s had been delivered; American Airlines had 20 "Flagships," United had 10 "Mainliners," and Douglas had firm orders from TWA for eight "Skysleeper" DSTs. Eastern Air Lines also ordered ten for their "Great Silver Fleet." With a steady stream of orders from Pan American Airways, KLM, Western Air Express, Swissair, and others, it became clear to Douglas the DC-2 would be obsolescent, and the DST/DC-3 production line would carry all Douglas commercial production. Not even the most irresponsible optimist counted on Douglas producing 10,629 DC-3s or World War II making it a legend. (Almost ninety-eight percent of all DC-3s/C-47s were manufactured or modified under military contract.) 25

In December 1937, just two years after the first flight of the DST, the Douglas Company announced an all-time high in production. That month alone, they produced 36 aircraft and parts totaling almost $3,000,000 with the DC-3 making up the major portion of this revenue. There was also a backlog of more than $5,300,000 in foreign orders for the DC-3 and an additional $2,000,000 in domestic orders.

Arthur Raymond said, "People keep asking me ‘did we have any idea this airplane would last fifty years?" Of course we didn't! Our biggest decision was the question to design the fuselage tooling for 25 airplanes or 50. We took a deep breath and we said let's go for 50. Off that tooling, we built 300. We made another set of tooling, three plants, and the rest is history. We didn't have any idea what was evolving. Looking back, we were right to be conservative. We didn't know we were building a legend.2


The DC-3 overwhelmed the industry. It was the first plane that could fly from New York to Chicago non-stop. It made the trip in three hours fifty-five minutes westbound, and returned in four hours fifty-nine minutes, breaking the record of its older sister, the DC-2. Prevailing head winds and a time zone accounted for the time difference. The train took 18 hours.27

The DST was the first aircraft off the production line but American Airlines used it as a dayplane until the DC-3s came off the line in September. Coast-to-coast air travel on American Airlines new DST Sleeper Service began on September 18, 1936, with the new Douglas making the trip westbound in 17.45 hours.28 By the end of the year seven DSTs replaced the Condors on American's coast-to-coast run. American's DC-3 "Mercury Service' reduced coast-to-coast time to 15 hours westbound, and 19.5 hours eastbound. The fare was $269.90 round trip but today the same trip would cost the air traveler about $2,350 due to inflation.29

Today, when jets fly smoothly at 35,000 feet, it is difficult to appreciate the torture transcontinental air travelers endured in the early days of commercial aviation. In 1930, the Fords and Fokkers took more than 33 hours to cross the country, making 25 or more stops with intermediate nighttime travel on a train.

By 1934, the same trip took 25 hours, 55 minutes with one change of airline, two changes of aircraft, and 15 stops. These schedules were, of course, predicated on good weather. Bad weather often grounded the flights, extending travel time by hours.


For More information about purchasing this image, please visit our Photo Store. Thank You!

One attraction that lured people to the new Douglas planes was the free hot meals. The DST was the first American aircraft to have hot kitchen facilities. No longer did captive passengers have to eat boxed lunches consisting of a cold sandwich, and a piece of fruit. Now flight attendants served hot, full course meals. However, hot meals were not an innovation of Douglas, or American Airlines. As early as 1928, Lufthansa Airlines had served pre-heated meals in-flight. The DC-3 introduced the American flying public to quality in-flight hot meals.

American's "Flagship Mercury" service from Newark, New Jersey, to Los Angeles, California, offered three breakfast and dinner menus served on genuine Syracuse china with Reed and Barton silverware. Wild rice pancakes with blueberry syrup, cheese omelets, or Julienne of Ham omelet were the breakfast choices. For dinner there was Chicken Kiev, Long Island Duckling with Orange sauce, Breast of Chicken Jeanette, Strip Sirloin, or Filet Mignon, a choice of salads, and pastries for dessert. Lunch was on the light side with consommé, fried chicken, peas, and mashed potatoes. Deserts included ice cream, and chocolate sundaes. A flight attendant could serve 21 passengers in just over an hour.30


For More information about purchasing this image, please visit our Photo Store. Thank You!

Just a few short months after the introduction of the DC-3, United Air Lines (UAL) saw the potential in the new Douglas. "Pat" Patterson, president of United wanted a DC-3 that was different from his competitors. United Airlines was a part of the United Aircraft Technologies Company and as such could not buy an airplane with material from one of its competitors (Wright Engine Company). Coincidently, the Douglas Company did not have the manpower to design a new engine installation for United Airlines so United Airlines made all the engineering drawings for the Pratt & Whitney "Twin Wasp" engine.31 With the new engine, Patterson placed an order for 20 DC-3s with the new 14 cylinder Pratt & Whitney "Twin Wasp" engines (actually two seven cylinder engines mated together). This change cost Patterson more money but added 14 mph to the speed and increased its maximum altitude to 24,300 feet, which was ideal for United's routes over the Rocky Mountains. In September 1936, UAL took delivery of their first five DC-3s (designated DC-3As), breaking a long-standing tradition of operating Boeing airplanes.32

United called their DC-3 fleet the "Super Luxury Mainliners" and named them after cities and states along their routes. United quickly began service on the lucrative New York to Chicago route.

Douglas knew the requirements of the air traveler varied. They were no longer willing to take any airplane. Comfortable accommodations were in demand. Executives had special requirements, which they were willing to pay for, so Douglas made the DC-3 available in a 14-passenger Club model. It had overstuffed lounge chairs that rotated 225 degrees at the touch of a button. The seats could face the window, across the aisle, or reverse or adjusted from upright, to semi-reclining.

The competition was intense for the air traveler's dollar. United used the Club model with the deluxe interior to attract executives. They equipped their "Sky lounge Mainliner" DC-3s to Chicago with fourteen leather swivel chairs, like those found in the railroad parlor cars. United charged $2.05 extra for the semi-luxurious accommodations, which began in February 1937, and executive air travelers paid the extra fare willingly.33 A short time later, United inaugurated its 15 hour, New York to Los Angeles "Mainliner Sleeper Service." United had been flying coast-to-coast for ten years, and their tri-motored biplane, the Boeing 80A had taken 33 hours making 14 stops. During the decade they had carried 1,075,358 passengers safely.34 By December 1941, United had a fleet of 39 DC-3As and 15 more DSTs'. At the height of United's use of the DC-3 they had owned or leased 114 DC-3/DSTs, one of the largest users in the world.35

As the popularity of the meal service grew, United established food depots to service its fleet. The Flight Kitchens acted as assembly points for the caterers. Swiss chefs prepared the meals and packed them in special containers right before each flight.

When mealtime arrived aboard a DC-3, the flight attendant arranged each passenger's tray with the meat or chicken, and the fresh vegetables and soup.

United and American Airlines were the first to install Hamilton Standard, full-feathering propellers on their new DC-3s. If an engine failed in flight, a device enabled the pilot to stop the propeller from turning. A wind milling propeller caused severe vibrations, many Ford Tri-Motors, and other multi-engine airplanes crashed when this occurred. This new feature soon became standard equipment on all multi-propeller driven aircraft.


For More information about purchasing this image, please visit our Photo Store. Thank You!

TWA was the third airline to put the new DST in service. They accepted the first eight in April, 1937. On June 1, 1937, they put their "Super Sky liner Sleeper" DSTs outfitted with eight berths up front and nine divan chairs in the rear, in service between New York and Los Angeles. TWA called this flight the "Sun Racer," although it never quite won the race. It chased the sun across the country, leaving New York at 8:30 a.m., and arriving in Los Angeles at 11:30 p.m. the same day.

The entire aviation industry praised the DC-3. "Substantially less work for the pilots of TWA became a reality with the inauguration of the company's Sky Sleeper planes," said Paul Richter, TWA's vice president of operations. "Douglas has simplified the controls aboard the new aircraft, and made those most often used automatic. Because of these features and the automatic pilot, TWA pilots are finding more time for other flying duties."36

The other flight duties he was referring to were monitoring the forty-six panel instruments, seventeen electrical switches, eight radio controls, and others totaling 115 instruments, switches or controls. In the ten years that elapsed since the Ford Tri-Motor's introduction, flying had evolved into a sophisticated science.

For many pilots who had their training on the early mail routes, when wits and reflexes were often more reliable than instruments, flying had become mental anguish. With Bailey Oswald's performance graphs and tables dancing through their heads, pilots were no longer the glamorous daredevils. Their metamorphosis had been from flamboyant barnstormers to dedicated professionals. The Douglas Commercial transports required a multi-talented pilot, well-versed in aerodynamic theory and the airplane itself.

After flying the DC-3, Harlan Hull, TWA's chief test pilot said, "Tests revealed the new Douglas exceeded our own expectations. The reliability factor on one engine is gratifying. The engines are astonishingly smooth, developing considerably more horsepower than previously. The new carburetor will not ice up, and combined with the new automatic mixture control, afford an unequalled motor operating combination. TWA's "Super Sky liner Sleeper" will be superior to any transport our pilots have ever flown."37

Businessmen were flying more and the number of women flying was increasing. TWA encouraged women to travel their routes. Walter A. Hamilton, TWA's superintendent of maintenance said, "On our DC-3 Sky liner, we are installing interior arrangements especially designed to please the woman's taste for color harmony." To relieve any anxiety passengers may have had about the big plane's engines being powerful enough, Hamilton continued, "The airline will use a maximum of 1,000-hp for take-off and 550-hp or 45 percent of available horsepower for cruising operations. This will result in a reserve of 200-hp for take-off, and a 655-hp reserve for cruising operation. Douglas and TWA have built in reserve safety factors which will comfort even the most critical skeptic."38

On August 15, 1937, TWA jumped into the Chicago market by introducing their 21-seat DC-3 "Super Sky liner" service between New York and Chicago. This brought the number of scheduled flights a day between the two cities to at least 40. By the time TWA had retired their last DC-3 they had owned or leased 76 DC-3s.39


For More information about purchasing this image, please visit our Photo Store. Thank You!

Eastern Airlines retired the last of its 10-passenger Lockheed' and called its 21-plane fleet of Douglas ships "The Great Silver Fleet." Eastern Airlines president Captain Eddie Rickenbacker made it clear just how the DC-3 affected them. "We can now offer the greatest number of seats in our history. The 21-passenger DC-3s now in operation have increased business in the first eight months of 1938 by 27.5 percent in revenue passengers carried. We now have a total of 15 round trips a day on our New York to Washington route alone." The DC-3 had enabled Eastern Air Lines to expand their daily mileage from 18,918 miles in 1936, to 23,068 in 1937.

To present an up-to-date image, while they were waiting for delivery of the DC-3s, Eastern Airlines advertised its DC-2 equipment as, "The Giant Douglas Airliners," and hoped the public assumed they were flying the new DC-3s. Douglas' name was gaining a strong following and some people didn't care if it was a DC-2, since it was a Douglas. January 1939 was the best in the airline's history due primarily to the operating efficiency of 93 percent.

The New York to Florida route was the most popular. A radio jingle hyped Eastern Airline's new DC-3 service singing, "From frost to flowers, in just eight hours." The Douglas ships were a major reason Eastern Airlines recorded a profit every year for 20 consecutive years.40

For seventeen years, Eastern flew DC-3s and accumulated more than 2,228,000 hours of flight time, equating to more than 254 years in the sky. The venerable DC-3 covered more than 83,584,000 miles.41


In the evolution of the Douglas Commercial transports, the DST occupied only a slightly better position than the DC-1. Like the DC-1, progress quickly replaced its younger sister, the DST.

Contrary to popular belief, the DC-3 day plane seating of 21 was not an accident. An engineer noticed that removing the berths made room for a third row of seats, two on one side of the aisle, and one on the other. According to Dan Beard, Littlewood and Kirchner drew up the specifications, and worked out the details with the Douglas engineers for a day plane and a "sleeper" simultaneously. The 21 seat day plane originally started out in mock-up with 24 seats.

With the introduction of the new Wright 1000-hp Cyclone engines, Littlewood felt he could increase the number of seats and baggage allowance. He laid out eight rows of three-abreast seating in the dayplane, and seven passenger sleeping compartments, three full-length (6 foot, 5 inches long) upper and lower berths on the left side of the cabin, four on the right side, plus the private "Sky room" berths. The DST version had a maximum capacity of 28 passengers (although it never flew as a DST in this configuration) since each berth had forward and aft facing double seats.

After drawing the fuselage design to scale, Littlewood found the day plane would need more baggage and cargo space. The only way he could make more room was to move the baggage compartment bulkhead back forty inches, and remove the first row, reducing the seating capacity to seven rows for 21 passengers. This was still a 50 percent increase in payload over the 14 passenger DC-2. The larger engines handled the additional baggage weight, and yet, the operating costs increased only three-percent over DC-2. Because of this economy, the DST immediately lost its advantage in favor of the day plane and only 38 DSTs came off the assembly line. The airlines opted for economy over luxury. In 1994, seventeen original DSTs were still flying, not as DSTs but freighters. They long ago gave up their berths for cargo.42

The later removal of the "Sky Room" provided space for an additional cargo-mail compartment, and eventually allowed high density, 28-passenger seating. Arthur Raymond said, "If we had been smart, we would have designed it for four abreast seating right from the beginning, but we were only feeling our way."43

When Douglas reported to the Board of Directors he said, "The DST's payload is one-third more than any previous airliner. Its gross weight of about 25,000 pounds is half again as great as any airliner now in service." (Later, World War II C-47s would average 29,000 to 35,000 pounds gross weight.) "More important," Douglas continued, "our estimates show that it costs about 69 cents per mile to operate the plane. It can carry 6,000 pounds in passengers, mail, and freight, more than double the capacity of the Ford Tri-Motor."44

Later Douglas would make perhaps the understatement of the century. "One thing seems certain. The DC-3 converted millions of ground lubbers to accept air travel as a safe and practical means of transportation." (Santa Monica produced 38 DSTs, 19 used Pratt & Whitney Twin Wasp radial engines and 19 used Wright Cyclone power plants.) Design economies made the plane a moneymaker. Its all-metal, stressed skin construction made it easy to repair and maintain. Covers in the wings and fuselage made it possible to reach control cables and other critical internal parts. Because of specially designed engine mounts, electrical lines, and fuel lines that plugged into permanent fittings, three mechanics could change an engine in two hours. This was a windfall of economy; changing an engine became a routine flight line procedure. Wing panel bolts made wings easy to remove. There were no long maintenance delays on the ground so maintenance costs dropped, and planes spent more time in the air, making money.


Even the first fatal crash didn't slow the progress of the DC-3. In December 1936, a United Airlines DC-3 crashed in San Francisco Bay, killing all 21 on board. The weather was clear, and the aircraft was on a correct final approach when it suddenly dropped into the water. The investigation ruled out engine, propeller, or structural failure, and found the copilot's microphone had dropped to the floor, jamming the control column. This prevented the crew from pulling up out of the glide.

Notoriety followed some crashes. Movie star Carole Lombard died in a fiery DC-3 crash in 1942, and the press had a field day. At first they thought the plane was at fault but the investigation showed the pilot did not follow his radio beacon, and flew into a mountain.

In the summer of 1937, United Airlines installed a new device called a Flight Analyzer in their DC-3s. It recorded altitude, rates of climb and descent, when the autopilot was on, and when radio transmission from the pilot took place. If there were a crash, investigators would look to the device to help show the cause of the accident. The device, contained in an aluminum box 2x5x8 inches, placed in the rear baggage compartment, consisted of a barograph attached to a clock and several recording pens. Pilots became instantly hostile and suspicious, calling it a mechanical stool pigeon, among other derogatory names. One pilot said the only thing it did not record was the conversation in the cockpit. Another said sarcastically if they installed Dictaphones they had all the bases covered. He had unknowingly predicted the future.

A few months later a Flight Analyzer paid dividends. A United DC-3 from Newark, New Jersey, westbound for Oakland, California, flew into a mountain east of Salt Lake City. Analysis of the data showed static from a storm had caused the plane to drift from its course, colliding with one of the highest mountains in the area. After these findings, United boosted the minimum flight levels from 9,000 feet to 15,000 feet in the mountainous area.45

Early in its career, the DC-3 began to show the signs of the legend it would become. In 1938, a hurricane raked the eastern coast of the United States, leaving hundreds dead, and millions of dollars in property damage. Blocked highways and damaged railroads that ranged from Long Island, New York, to north of Boston, Massachusetts, prevented rescue efforts.

American, Eastern, TWA and United pooled their resources and 49 DC-3s and hauled more than 7,000 people out of the flooded areas and carried more than 86,000 pounds of freight, within a seven-day period. Later statistics reported more than 60 percent of the passengers were first time flyers. The DC-3 performed heroically and won many converts to air travel.46


The accident rate in the early days of the DC-3 was comparatively low. As the DC-3 became more universal, the number of fatal accidents even decreased. In 1936 for example, domestic airlines flew 63,000,000 miles, and had eight fatal accidents; in 1941 there were only four fatal accidents for 133,000,000 miles flown.47

Historically, newspapers splash crash news on the front pages and pepper the papers with the tragic aftermath of the crash. On the other hand, the airlines almost never discussed a crash. In 1937, C.R. Smith broke the long-standing taboo and addressed the growing public concern about the safety of air travel. "We know that fear keeps many people from enjoying the advantages of air transportation. So why should we be silent on this subject? Some people associate danger with a transport plane more than they do with a train or a motor car, because airline accidents have received more publicity.

American Airlines has carried more than a million passengers. These people travel by air for the same reason they use their telephone, send telegrams, and ride elevators. It is a quicker, more efficient way to accomplish what they want to do. Whether you fly or not, does not alter the fact that every form of transportation has one thing in common risk! No form of transportation, on the ground, on the water, or in the air can guarantee its passengers absolute immunity from danger.

Smith got down to the basic issue. "People fear things they do not know about. You would be equally afraid of trains if you had never ridden one. There is only one way to overcome that fear and that is to fly. As you become more acquainted with air transportation your fear will begin to be replaced by your enjoyment of the many advantages of air travel." 48

People listened to Smith because air travel continued to grow in popularity. There were other DC-3 crashes but none from structural failure. Pilot error or bad weather was the principal cause.

With most of the major airlines in the United States flying DC-3 equipment, the safety record of the airplane began to show in the statistics. In 1938, American Airlines received the National Safety Council Award for having flown over 10,338,000 passenger-miles without a single passenger fatality. TWA also won the award for a record of 151,204,506 miles and Continental Airlines for 10,100,000 safe miles.

The National Safety Council even took into account the continued high safety standards of Eastern Air Lines. They discounted the freak accident that befell one of Eastern's DC-2s at Daytona Beach and awarded them the safety award for over 178,000,000 safe miles.49

June 1, 1939, marked a milestone in Douglas commercial production with the delivery of the 200th DC-3 (NC17340, American Airlines "Flagship Oklahoma City"). In comparison, maximum production for the DC-2 had been 131 civilian versions, 62 military versions, and six for parts.50

Seven years had elapsed since Jack Frye wrote the "Birth Certificate of the DC ships." When Douglas received Frye's letter, he employed 902 workers, with yearly payroll of $1,514,785. By 1939, when 90 percent of the country's air commerce used the DC-3, the Douglas Company employed more than 8,500 workers in two plants covering 28 acres, and had an annual payroll of more than $12,000,000.51 The Douglas Company estimated the DC-3 grossed more than one billion dollars. Today there are approximately 1500 still flying world-wide and earning money. No single aircraft has affected commercial aviation or world economics like the DC-3.

The popularity of the DC-3 prompted American Airlines to take a sophisticated and aggressive approach to attract passengers. Instead of competing with the other airlines for passengers, they aimed their advertising at the business person who traveled by train. Their advertisements encouraged travel in the winter, when air traffic normally dropped off, and they pictured executives traveling with their families in the advertisements. The ads implied non-fliers were missing the fun, besides possibly losing business to a competitor who flew.

For a deposit of $425, American Airlines issued an "Air Travel Card." The card encouraged frequent flyers by billing the company or individual at a 15% discount. By 1941, seventeen airlines had inter carrier agreements and half the airlines" revenue came from air travel card users.52

To impress air travelers that they were flying in high technology, expensive equipment, American Airlines advertised some relative costs of a "Flagship." "Two carburetors on a Flagship cost as much as a complete automobile, $650. An engine for a Ford V8 costs $75. A Wright "Cyclone" engine for a "Flagship" costs $8000 ($16,000 for two)."53

Seven years after TWA put the DC-1 in service, Paul Richter was still talking about the virtues of the Douglas planes. "At the end of four-and-a-half years of operation, that airplane," he said pointing to a DC-3 on the ramp, "is just in the prime of its life. It still has many years ahead of it. So far, no DC-3 has ever worn out. There is no evidence of metal fatigue, and there is no one at the Douglas factory will estimate a DC-3's life." Richter continued, "Roughly 350 pilots have flown that plane and she has stood up wonderfully under their various handling techniques. That airplane has hauled more than 32,978 revenue passengers at a gross revenue of $814,450 and carried 17,280 pounds.

"Now if you ask how much longer will she last, the only thing I can say is this: The secret of the airplane's life lies not in its components, but in its maintenance. Since TWA continues to keep the ship at top efficiency, it should last as long as you or I want it to. Someday, more efficient and faster equipment may come along but it will go on for a long time, I think."54

One spin-off of the speed and economy of the DC-3 was the large reduction in the number of planes needed to carry the increasing air traffic. In 1935 there were 460 airliners in scheduled passenger service in the U.S. Five years later, there were only 358 planes, 90 percent of them DC-3s, and passenger volume had quadrupled. Eventually over 200 machines were purchased by just five U.S. airlines; American (72), United (67), Pennsylvania-Central (15), Eastern Air Lines

(50) and Braniff (10). There is no accurate record of TWA's purchases but in 1947, they were operating 76 DC-3s. The DC-3 was carrying people faster, more safely, and made money, too. Interestingly, American Airlines, the airline that worked with Douglas to develop the Douglas Sleeper Transport had only eight still flying. The rest had been converted into the higher density passenger volume of the DC-3. (See Appendix F.)

The DC-3 greatly affected airline revenues. Between 1934 and 1935, American Airlines had lost more than $3 million. C.R. Smith had gone on record as saying either mail rates go up, or American Airlines would go out of business.55

When American Airlines put its DC-3s on the line they became the number one airline in the United States. In 1936, American showed its first profit in years, of $4,590. By 1937, their earnings were up more than $1,400,000, with a 22 percent increase in revenue passengers.56 They carried more passengers than United, and twice as many as TWA. The DC-3 enabled the airline to fly passengers only, and show a profit. It also enabled them to expand and open new, profitable routes where there was no mail subsidy. Years later, C.R. Smith said, "The DC-3 freed the airlines from complete dependence upon government mail pay. It was an airplane that could make money by just handling passengers. With previous planes, if you multiplied the number of seats by the fares you couldn't break even, not even with 100 percent load."

In 1941, American Airlines was using half as many airplanes as Pan American Airways, and these aircraft carried 1,200,000 passengers. Pan American the same year carried only 375,000 passengers. Part of this imbalance in passengers was because of American Airlines" routes between New York, Boston and West Coast cities, some of the more densely populated areas in the country. American Airlines" routes were about one-fifth the size of Pan American's and using the DC-3 with its built in economy of making money by just flying passengers, it gave American Airlines far greater "revenue miles" than Pan American.

There was another factor operating in the economy of the DC-3. The domestic airlines operated the standard DC-3 twenty-one passenger airplanes at an average direct cost of 35 cents per plane mile. Pan American in 1940, reported a cost for the same type of plane in its Latin American system of approximately 71 cents per mile.58 Many of the technological advances that had been developing in the United States had begun to come together and pay off. The government regulations, weather reporting, communications, and airport services, for example, all were far ahead of those in Latin America. Combined with the economy of the DC-3 itself, these provided United States carriers with profits for the first time in the history of air transportation.

United Airlines also recorded a profit in 1937 of $370,000. The following year, a recession resulted in all the major airlines showing losses. By 1939, however, the economic picture had changed. American, Eastern, and United all showed profits of more than one million dollars. If the Ford Tri-Motor had been the "Tin Goose" then, the Douglas DC-3 had become the golden goose, laying golden eggs everywhere it flew. The Douglas Company also shared at the well of profits. By 1941, the best pre-war year in the company's history the net profits were $18,177,000 after taxes on its gross of 1,877,000.59

There was no doubt economics was the major reason for the instant success of the DC-3. From a perspective of more than half a century, there may have been another more subtle influence at work. Malcolm Oleson, chief engineer on the C-53 project and Super DC-3 project, who was as a young draftsman witness to the first flight of the DC-3 said, "Douglas didn't arrange a first flight program for the DC-3. I snuck out from my drafting room to watch the takeoff and landing. I had done some work on the engine shroud drawings and was interested in seeing how the airplane performed."60 Oleson went on to say, "The DC-3 introduced higher speed and greater comfort. It was very reliable. The DC-3 gave aviation a sense of security. People suddenly had faith in the airplane. This airplane made the airplane look good to everyone. That is why so many people have a soft spot in their heart for the DC-3, many had their first air travel in one." 61

When asked what the consensus about the airplane was, he said, "Everyone thought it was too big. It would never sell they thought."62

The DC-3 was popular with the flying public because it was safe, economical and comfortable. Pilots liked it for other reasons. Bailey Oswald explained. "The DC-3 was a pilot's airplane. Its mechanical control system approached zero frictional drag, and inputs and outputs were freely and directly transmitted both ways. The pilot could tell what was going on with the control surfaces."63

Ernest Gann, who also flew the DC-3 said, &"The DSTs (nee DC-3s) are an easy aircraft to fly, almost totally forgiving to the most ham-handed pilots. Their inherent stability makes them an excellent instrument aircraft and their low stall speed combined with practically full control response at slow approach speeds allows the use of very short fields. They can be slipped with full flaps or held nose high and allowed to descend in a near power stall. In the hands of a skilled pilot DC-3s can be successfully landed in just about any cabbage patch some optimist has dared to call an air field."64

One Delta Air Lines captain said years later, "It flew like a leaf, responsive to every mission. It bounced up and down in turbulence, bored through thunderclouds, skidded on snow-covered runways, but it did the job. We cannot help having a soft spot for them. No matter how many trips out, they always came chugging home with you. The newer planes are faster, and have all the latest gadgets on them. I doubt if any will ever be more dependable than the old DC-3"65

Arthur Raymond explained the phenomena this way. "The reason the DC-3 never had a competitor is that we had a head start on everyone else. Anyone who tried to build a competitor had to charge a higher price."66

By 1939, Douglas had delivered 350 DC-3s world-wide, and was so swamped with orders that they could not meet the domestic airlines needs. In May 1941, Northeast, a struggling new airline acquired three brand-new DC-3s. In the months that followed inauguration of their DC-3 service, the airlines discovered a problem. It was harder to fill 21 seats of a DC-3 than 10 seats in their Lockheed's. The New England cities Northeast served complained loudly when the airline reduced schedules. Northeast was able to fill fewer aircraft with more passengers and hoped that as passenger traffic increased they would add more flights and perhaps buy more airplanes.

The airline, however, found the increased cost of maintaining the larger aircraft strained their cash flow to the point where they almost went under. Sam Solomon, president of Northeast, decided to do some horse trading with TWA, who was looking for more DC-3s. In April 1942, Solomon swapped Northeast's three DC-3s for five much older DC-TWEEs, a name given (unofficially) to the DC-2s fitted with DC-3 components, i.e., rudder, wings, etc. They carried fourteen passengers each, and were easier for Solomon to fill. In addition, TWA added $220,000 cash to the deal, which Solomon could use as operating capital. Northeast operated these "Twees" for a month before the Army bought them for the war effort. Northeast then bought two used DC-3s from American Airlines which they used throughout the war.67

Pan American records show it had at various times some 40 "DC-Twees" Ten of them went to CMA (Mexico) and the remainder to their South American affiliate, Panagra.68


Several European manufacturers, seeing the commercial demand for modern aircraft, attempted to compete with the Douglas DC-3. They all failed miserably. France produced the "Bloch 200"; in 1938. It was a 22-passenger DC-3 look-a-like. Italy also tried to manufacture a pseudo Douglas but failed to capture any of the Douglas-dominated market.


To relieve the pressure on the factory, Douglas sold the licenses to manufacture the DC-3 to three countries; Holland, Japan, and Russia. A royalty paid to Douglas for each aircraft manufactured was part of the license agreement. Tony Fokker never manufactured any DC-3s for Holland, but he distributed 63 before the war in Europe ended his operation. Fokker died of pneumonia complicated by meningitis a week before Germany invaded Holland.69


For More information about purchasing this image, please visit our Photo Store. Thank You!

The Russians imported 21 prewar DC-3s and two unassembled airframes. Initially the Russians designated their home-built DC-3s, PS-84 (Passazhirskii Samolet -Plant 84 {near Moscow}). On September 17, 1942, renamed them "Li-2s," after Boris P. Lisunov, the aeronautical engineer who supervised production (Lisunov had spent almost two years in the United States, in Santa Monica, studying DC-3 production methods). The Russians built at least 3,500 DC-3s and according to Douglas records, a Russian official of the old Soviet Union said they built as many as 7,500. 70 Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union there have been unsubstantiated and no doubt exaggerated reports that Russia built as many as 20,000 Li-2s. Russia has never paid Douglas a cent in license fees.

The PS-84 used the 900 hp Shvetsov M-62 engine (developed from the licensed Wright SGR-1820F which powered the DC-2) and the engine configuration gave the nacelles a narrower chord. Even after they upgraded the engines to 1200 hp ASH-62, the nacelle shape remained close to the first models. (See Appendix G.)

Besides receiving civilian DC-3s the Russians also received 707 Lend Lease C-47s. After the war, the survivors went to Aeroflot, the Russian state-owned airline, and other Communist bloc countries, and were in service up through the 1970s. American ferry crews, either from the Air Transport Command or by contracted airline pilots, delivered most of the Russian Lend Lease C-47s to Fairbanks, Alaska. The Russian pilots took over from there and delivered the ships to Russia.

Between the Lend Lease and Russian production, the numbers were so large that the survivors remained in service with some being observed in China, and with Aeroflot in the remote parts of Russia as late as 1980.

Holland's KLM Airline was the principal purchaser of the DC-3s, buying a total of 25. Sweden, Swissair, Czechoslovakia (CSA), France, Poland, Hungary, Australia (ANA), Sabena, and Romania (LARES) purchased the rest.


When the DC-3 came along, the Japanese immediately recognized its potential, especially since they had such great success with the DC-2. Great Northern Airways and the Far East Fur Trading Company (another Japanese military front company) purchased at least 21 DC-3s from Douglas between 1937 and 1939. The first intended for KLM as PH-ARA, but canceled, arrived in Japan on December 6, 1937. These transports were operated by Dai Nippon Koku and impressed into Imperial service during the war. The surviving transports were scrapped at the end of the war.

On February 24, 1938, a Japanese manufacturer, Mitsui (a subsidiary of Nakajima Hikoki), purchased the production rights and technical data to the DC-3 for $90,000. Unknown to the United States at the time, the sale was directed behind the scenes by the Imperial Japanese Navy (who was planning on using the type in the invasion of the East Indies). They saw the potential in the DC-3 to serve as a military transport. Mitsui and Showa Hikoki, another manufacturer, made many engineering revisions to take advantage of standard Japanese parts and raw materials. Japan also purchased and imported some machinery from the U.S. to speed up production. The first Japanese-produced DC-3 appeared in September 1939. By May 1941, the fifth DC-3 left the Showa factory, this one using the last Douglas-built fuselage. By July 1941, the factory was producing one DC-3 transport per month, far short of the one airplane per day demanded by the Imperial Japanese Navy.71 Finally by 1942, the production quota was reached. (See Appendix H.)

Although ostensibly purchased for civilian use, the Japanese DC-3s were given a Navy designation L2D2 (L-transport, 2-second Navy type, D2-second Douglas design). L2D1 became the designation for imported DC-3s. The Japanese built eight separate sub types in two basic configurations, straight airline type, and cargo planes.

Japan modified the transport design for easier production. In addition, they replaced the Pratt & Whitney 1,000 hp engines they imported with 1,000 hp Mitsubishi Kinsei 43 radial engines.

After two years of manufacture, Nakajima had built 71 C-47 type aircraft (designated L2D2 Navy Type 0 Transport Model 11) and switched to manufacturing combat aircraft. Meanwhile, Showa built 416 DC-3 type aircraft, including 75 cargo versions with the "barn door" and reinforced floor (designated L2D2-1). The first Japanese military version with wide cargo doors, remarkably similar to the U.S. C-47, appeared about the same time as the C-47. There are strong suspicions that it was a copy, and not the product of an independent design. The Japanese manufactured 75 cargo versions of the DC-3.

Japan's civilian DC-3 was similar to the U.S. version, but the military version was noticeably different. The main production version of the Japanese DC-3 appeared in four variants; the L2D3 was a personnel transport powered by 1,300-hp Kinsei 51 radials, the L2D3G, also a personnel transport but with Kinsei 53 radials, the L2D3-1 and L2D3-1a were cargo transports powered by Kinsei 51s and 53s respectively. Some obvious differences were the three extra windows behind the cockpit, larger engine cowlings on the 1000-hp Kinsei-43 engines, and larger spinners on the propellers. They moved the cockpit bulkhead back 40 inches so all four men were in one compartment. The military version included a 13mm machine gun turret in the navigator's dome and a 7.7mm machine gun in the rear window on each side of the fuselage. This aircraft was designated L2D4 Navy Type 0 Model 32. (See Appendix J.)

After the war, inspection and flight testing of these later versions showed that because of Japan's use of plywood on fairings, tail cone, surface controls, and doors, it out-performed the U.S. version. The 30 part wood, part metal versions were sent to the scrap pile.

Because of shortages of strategic materials, Japan redesigned less critical components in the DC-3s and replaced the metal versions with wood. These parts included rudder, stabilizer, ailerons, fin, elevator, and entrance door. As many as 30 transports with these wooden parts entered service apparently with satisfactory results. The success of this modification and the growing need for metal forced Japan to design an all-wooden version of the DC-3, which they designated the L3D5. The Showa facility was to have produced this new version in quantity but the government shifted the priority of the factory to building bomber and suicide aircraft.

It is not certain how many wooden Gooney Birds were built, but the occupation troops found at least one all-wooden C-47. Japan had available aviation grade birch, spruce and other woods. However, they had begun to suffer setbacks in the logging and transportation of this material. They had long been a producer of high-grade plywood and veneers and this form of material substitution for metal should not have surprised the Allies. The Japanese were superior artisans at shaping wood, and had mastered the complex shape of the C-47. Another strategic problem that would have delayed plans to produce the wooden version was the increasing shortage of adhesives for the bonding process. The war in Indo-China, where Japan obtained much of her raw material, was going poorly for the Japanese. The government had already given glue-making materials higher priorities and engineers had been forced to experiment with substitutes like animal bone, skin, blood, milk, soybeans and corn.

The all-wood Gooney Bird was a static test fuselage but preparations were underway to mount two 1,560-hp Kinsei-62 engines on the airframe. Expert opinion is that it required the larger engines to lift the heavier structural weight. It never flew, and went to the scrap pile with most of Japan's DC-3s.72 It is believed, however, that a few Japanese versions went to the Chinese Air Force.

Japan built a total of 487 C-47 type transports from 1939 to 1945.73 In 1955, the first Douglas-built DC-3 went into service with Japan Airways, the civilian airline. It was an ex-American Airlines machine. It was soon followed by more DC-3s and ex-C-47s.

The Allies code-named the L2D3s "Tabby" and its sister ship, the L2D2, the Japanese version of the DC-2 "Tess"


From the beginning, the intention was to make the DC-4, "Skymaster," a different plane. It took advantage of the requirements generated by the success of the DC-3. The public wanted larger and faster equipment, so Douglas invested three million dollars in the DC-4, their first four engine, 42 passenger (30 berth), commercial airliner.

United Airlines had approached Douglas in 1935 to start development of the DC-4. In 1936, it became a cooperative project among five airlines (UAL, EAL, TWA, PAA, and AA).

Arthur Raymond said, "We designed the first DC-4 by committee. Before this, we worked with one airline, like American or TWA. Five airlines were in on the DC-4 design, and everyone wanted something special on their version. The crowning blow came when they all said it had to fit in the DC-3 hangar. This meant we had to put five tails on it. We had to take the control surface area under engine out conditions, and spread it over the five tails (three above and two below) to squeeze it in the DC-3 hangar. That was its downfall. We had a terrible time working out the stability and getting it licensed."

In May 1939, following its first flight and a year of factory testing, United Airlines took tentative delivery of the experimental DC-4. For three weeks they tested it and found it met some but not all the specifications. They decided not to purchase it. The other airlines followed United's lead, and as previously agreed, each paid Douglas Aircraft $91,250 to cover partial engineering and development costs.77

"When we got it to the point of flying," said Raymond, "it had gained so much weight (65,000 pounds) and was so ungainly that Doug junked the whole thing. He knew it was a lemon. Then we redesigned it the way we wanted it, with a single tail, not so heavy, and it was a success."

"We sold the original DC-4 prototype to Japan and it later crashed with some high ranking military officers aboard into Tokyo Bay. We like to think that helped hasten the conclusion of the war. We then called it the DC-4E for "Extinct."

The Japanese did use the DC-4 prototype to fashion their own version of a four engine bomber, and transport, the G5N-2 and the G5N-L, which the Allies designated "Liz." Modifications included changes in the wing spar and a slight extension in the nose. Both aircraft were equally unsuccessful.

Douglas started the second DC-4 version in 1940. United Airlines was still interested in a redesigned DC-4, so Douglas modified and trimmed the original design down to 48,000 pounds.

World War II interrupted its civilian destiny. On the production line the 40 machines ordered by the airlines, and already in airline livery became the C-54, military transport, and never delivered to the airlines.

"The original design of the DC-4 was to have included a pressurized cabin but we delayed that until we grew the fuselage into the DC-6," said Malcolm Oleson.78 (Note: the aerodynamic shape of the DC-4 wing and fuselage is identical to the later DC-6 and DC-7.) The C-54 became the Army's long range transport during the war and proved trans-ocean air service was practical by land-based planes. Between 1941 and 1945, C-54s successfully completed 79,642 transoceanic flights with only three ditching, one of which was a test.79

Douglas manufactured 1,162 DC-4s and one dubbed "The Sacred Cow" won fame as the first airplane designated for the service of the President of the United States, at the time, Franklin Roosevelt. Although Roosevelt flew in it only twice, it flew many high diplomatic missions. Today it is in the U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.


Douglas realized that for airlines to be profitable they would need a variety of aircraft sizes and capabilities to service routes of various lengths and passenger densities. The DC-3 would serve the medium range routes and the DC-4, under development, would relieve the DC-3 on the transcontinental routes. To fill the gap in the short haul routes serving the small, out-of-the-way communities, Douglas developed the DC-5.

This 16 to 22 passenger, twin-engine transport, had a high wing, a streamlined, circular fuselage, and a tricycle landing gear. To minimize spare parts required by an airline, many parts were interchangeable with the DC-3.

The tricycle landing gear on the DC-5 offered greater safety by permitting more positive contact with the ground, for quicker braking, and shorter roll-outs.

There was a significant trade off between the DC-3 and DC-5 in performance. For example, the nose wheel on the DC-5 provided a safety factor, which prevented ground looping, but the tail wheel of the DC-3 was a valuable feature for operating from rough and unsurfaced runways. The high wing DC-5 resulted in greater empty weight, and as a result, payload, and range suffered. The DC-5 was impossible to sell to the airlines, Arthur Raymond recalled. "We already had an airplane we were all tooled up for, and the airlines could handle repairs on. We didn't realize at the time it isn't smart to introduce another model which isn't more advanced. To me, we got into that again with the Super DC-3. Although the Super 3 was a much improved airplane as far as we could do it then, not many people bought it.74

Bugs in the DC-5 kept it out of production and the delay affected its fate. According to a Douglas engineer: "There was the presence of an aerodynamic phenomenon of tail buffeting, caused by the nature of the wing and engine wake as it struck the horizontal tail surfaces. After months of flight testing, we finally plotted the wake accurately and made the necessary changes in tail location and engine nacelle."75 Even a hint of a problem would cause hesitation in the industry.

When the Douglas sales force attempted to sell the DC-5 the airlines reaction was less than enthusiastic. The salesmen instead returned with more DC-3 orders, proving the soundness and popularity of the DC-3 design. When American Airlines saw the DC-5, they ordered 10 more DC-3s.

Douglas manufactured 12 DC-5s and three airlines placed orders for them, KLM, Penn Central, and SCADTA. The rest went to the U.S. Navy and Marines.

When clearly war was unavoidable, Douglas stopped production of the DC-5, and the A-20 bomber took its place on the production line.

Arthur Raymond summed up the DC-5 project this way "The main problem with the DC-5 was it was competing with the DC-3, in spite of the other features it had. Compared with its predecessor, it was hardly a success, but we had not reached the point where a new airplane had to be a success for the company to survive. That came later."

DC-3 Specifications:

First flight: December 17, 1935

First deliveries:
June 7, 1936 (AA)
DST: June 30, 1937 (UAL)
Std:** August 8, 1936 (AA)
Std: November 25, 1936 (UAL)

Super DC-3
July 30, 1950 (Capital) Engines (2):

DST:Wright SGR-1820-G2 (1,000 hp)
DST:P&W SB3G (1,000 hp)
Std:Wright R1820 (1,200 hp)
Std:P&W R-1830 (1,20(1 hp)
Super DC-3:Wright R 1820 (1,475 hp)

Max. gross weight: From 25,000lbs (11,340 kg) to 36,800168 (16,692 kg)

Max. payload: From 13,135 Ibs (5,958 kg) to 12,900 Ibs (5,851 kg) depending on model.

Passengers: 14 to 28
Landing speed: 64 mph
Rate of climb: 1,050 FPM-one engine 375 FPM
Take off distance: 900 ft
Landing distance: 1,640 ft

Cargo space: 250 to 293 cu ft (7.08 to 8.29 cu m) passenger or 1,244 cu ft (35.23 cu m) cargo

Operating altitude: 10,000 ft (3,048 m)
Absolute ceiling: 24,000 ft Cruise speed:

DST & Std: 180 mph (309 km/hr) 167 kts
Super DC-3: 218 kts (404 km/hr) Range (max fuel):

DST: 1,200 nm (2,224 km)
Std: 1,300 nm (2,409 km)

Super DC-3 1,900 or (3,521 km) Aircraft dimensions:

Length: DST & Std 64ft, 5 I/2in (19.65 m) Super DC-3 67ft, 8 I/2in (20.64 m)
Wingspan: DST & Std 94 ft, 7 in (28.81 m) Super DC-3 90 ft, (27.43 m)
Height: DST & Std. 16 ft, I I in (5.16 m) Super DC-3 17 ft, I1 in (5.46 m)
*DST - Douglas Sleeper Transport
**Std - Standard Passenger or Cargo Aircraft

DC-3C: Post-war designation given to C-47s later converted for civilian use. Usually had cargo door replaced with standard door, eliminated navigator's astrodome, and installed DC-3 tail cone over glider tow hook. Many had variations in cabin window count, depending on passenger configuration. Twenty-one C-47s were converted and assigned new serial numbers but they were not added to the airframe total.

DC-3: This designation was assigned to the 28 civilian DC-3s completed in the Oklahoma City facility from parts of the Army's

C-117 order cancelled after VJ Day. These were the last DC-3s manufactured and were included in the airframe total.

Total DC-3/C-47 and Variant Production in The U.S

Santa Monica - 966
(DST, DST-A, DC-3, DC-3B, DC-3D, C-41, C-41A, C-53, C-53D)

Long Beach - 4,285
(C-47, C-47A, C-47B, etc.

Oklahoma City - 5,381
(C-47A, C-47B, etc.
C-117A, R4D, 28 civilian DC-3D)

Total 10,632

DC-1 DC-2 DC-3 C-47 Dakota Aircraft
e-mail us

A Military Disabled Veteran Owned Organization
History DC-1 DC-2 DC-3 C-47 Dakota Aircraft