• Celebrating The Centennial Of Flight: The Douglas DC-3

    FlightSim.Com Celebrates The Centennial of Flight
    History's most important airliner: The Douglas DC-3

    By Cap Mason

    No discussion of the Centennial of Flight would be complete without honoring the Douglas DC-3. One of the very best payware models is the DC-3 in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight. Plus, we have hundreds of other freeware examples of this aircraft for every flavor of flight simulator from FS5 to FS2004, including CFS 1, 2, and 3.

    Wonderful childhood memories of the Gooney Bird

    I personally love to fly the FS2004 DC-3 with the Eastern Airlines freeware livery because some of my earliest and most pleasurable childhood memories of flight involve the “Gooney Bird”. My father was an airline mechanic and my older brother was an Air Force F-100 fighter jet RIO career officer. So I grew up around airplanes and have avgas in my blood. My dad used to work for a small local airline in Florida called Mackey Airlines. Mackey flew around Florida and to the Bahamas. They were eventually acquired by Eastern Airline in 1967 as part of that company’s expansion into the Bahamas and Caribbean.

    Mackey flew these old World War II vintage Gooney Birds and my dad was among the many busy mechanics who worked hard to keep those ancient buckets in the air. They did a damn good job too, because Mackey never lost an aircraft or ever declared an in-flight emergency due to mechanical failure.

    Bonehead blunder gets me into big trouble

    I remember one ground level emergency, of sorts. It happened 40 years ago. I must have been about 11 years old. Whenever my dad had to put in weekend overtime overhauling Mackey’s DC-3 fleet, I would beg him to let me tag along. The supervisors got to know me and I could freely roam the aircraft in the hangars under repair. I was a kid in a candy shop pretending to fly to the Bahamas while sitting in the cockpit of the planes parked in the hangar. I would go through the entire checklist, take off, cruise to Nassau, make my VFR approach, touch down, taxi to the terminal and disgorge my passengers. I knew it all by heart right down to making cabin calls describing the scenery to my passengers along the way. Those Gooney Birds were my first flight simulators as I let my childhood fantasies soar.

    I learned from the pilots and mechanics what I could safely do and what NOT to do in the cockpit. Normally, I would just gently touch the controls and not actually flip the switches or move the levers, trim wheels, yoke and rudder pedals.

    Well, one weekend, I got frisky. I was with my buddy, Robin Pittock, whose father flew Viscounts for Capital Airlines. I wanted to show off for my pal how cool I could be as we played flight crew on a Gooney Bird. Of course, I got to play the Captain. I started going through the start-up check list but this time, I actually flipped switches, moved levers, turned on the magnetos, and started to light up the aircraft. I knew just enough to be dangerous! I also knew to stop short of actually firing up the engines and turning the props, which would have been catastrophic in the hangar with mechanics all over the place. Please! I was just a stupid kid showing off, not crazy.

    I did indulge myself one bonehead luxury, however. As we pretended to lift off, I pulled back on the yoke. Suddenly, I heard a loud thump followed by a torrent of eloquent cursing in both English and Spanish. Seems my dad and another mechanic were working on the elevators! When I pulled back the yoke, they both got smacked on the chin as the elevator unexpectedly flipped up. The mechanics were not amused. I was lucky I didn’t get smacked on my bottom for that little stunt. My ignominious career as a “virtual” DC-3 pilot came to an abrupt end that day as I was banned from the hangar.

    Now, back to the Gooney Bird history.

    The Douglas DC-3 is the most successful passenger plane ever flown. Designed by the legendary aeronautical engineer Arthur Raymond, the DC-3 featured innovative approaches to retractable landing gear, wing flaps, variable-pitch propellers, stressed-skin structure and flush riveting. Legend has it that the cantilevered wing was so strong that even steamrollers driven over them could not cause significant damage. The DC-3 could fly above most bad weather at its altitude ceiling of over 20,000 feet. Its range of nearly 1500 miles more than doubled that of its rival airliner, the Boeing 247.

    The DC-3 came about when Douglas (creator of the DC-1 and DC-2 airliners) fulfilled a requirement from American Airlines. American operated sleeper berth on its trans-continental flights and asked Douglas to build a suitable airliner. The answer was the DC-3, a direct but slightly larger development of the DC-2. The prototype first flew on 17 December 1935.

    During flight, passengers enjoyed such amenities as an on-board dining service and plush, soft seats. The roomy cabin offered space for up to 24 passenger seats or 14 sleeping berths. Engine noise was significantly softened by the use of noise-absorbing fabric, as well as carpet on the cabin floor. To reduce noise even further, the engines were mounted on rubber insulators.

    The first DC-3 built was the DST (Douglas Sleeper Transport) with 14 berths for travelers wanting the luxury of slumber during long trips.

    During a time when government air mail subsidies were required just to keep planes in the air, the DC-3 proved that passenger travel alone could sustain the airline industry. The DC-3 was the first plane to turn a profit exclusively from passenger fares. When President Franklin Roosevelt cancelled all government air mail contracts in 1934, TWA's Jack Frye took to the sky to demonstrate the commercial industry's advancements. Frye flew the Douglas transport across the country - loaded with both mail and passengers - in a record-setting 13 hours and 4 minutes.

    When the world was plunged into war, the most important airliner in history quickly established its reputation as a fighting machine. 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, it was 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 DC-3 in all its variants was active in all theaters of war. Dakotas served with distinction 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, although as larger capacity piston engine airliners and then jet airliners became available, DC-3s were gradually turned over to smaller operators.

    By the time production came to an end in 1944, over 10,000 DC-3s had been produced by Douglas Aircraft, accounting for over 90% of the world's commercial aircraft. An additional 8,000 were produced around the world under license agreements. The legacy of the DC-3 lives on. The plane is so reliable that an estimated 2000 are still flying to this day, many in commercial service.

    Now you can fly the DC-3. With the world’s largest library of flightsim add-ons over 65,000 files strong, we have 548 DC-3 files. Log in and grab your favorite Gooney.

    The photorealistic texture of this Eastern Airlines DC-3 illuminated by the setting sun is an impressive sight as it climbs away from Nassau International Airport. Get yours by downloading the file named TXTEALD3.ZIP from our file library.

    My personal favorite by far is the DC-3 in FS2004: A Century Of Flight. While I could not find a Mackey Airlines livery, the Eastern Airlines photorealistic livery by William C. Schulz is close enough for me. My dad worked for Eastern a lot longer than he did for Mackey so flying that DC-3 is a trip down memory lane for me.

    Cap Mason

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