DOUGLAS DC-3 / C-47
SKYTRAIN - SKYTROOPER - DAKOTA - GOONEY BIRD

The birth of a legend

In 1935 American Airlines director, C.R.Smith, approached Douglas to built an aircraft that would be competitive against other airlines who were flying with the Boeing 247 and the DC-2. Fred Stineman proposed an upgrated and larger DC-2, and named it the Douglas Sleeper Transport (DST). The first draft was for 14 sleeping bunks, but the option for 21 seats was more realistic and profitable. Two Wright Cyclone engines producing 900 pk could manage twice the weight of the DC-2. Exact 32 years after the first flight by the Wright brothers, on December 17, 1935, the first flight was made by the Douglas Sleeper Transport (X14988) from Clover Field, Santa Monica, California.

A Douglas Sleeper Transport in service with the American Airlines

On July 11, 1936, the new aircraft entered service as the flagship of American Airlines. There are at that point already more versions, such as the 'Dayplane' for 24 passengers and the the luxe version, the 'Skylounge', for 16 passagiers. The official name for the aircraft is Douglas Commercial, 3rd Model, short: DC-3.

How the bedding was composed in the DST

The success was at once obvious, and the orders at Douglas mounted. At the end of 1939, in de US were seven airlines flying with the DC-3. The first foreign client was the Dutch Airline KLM any many would follow. The Dutch machines had a five letter registration, with the last as the first letter of a birds name for the aircraft (like the PH-ALI, Ibis, pictured below). Japan built the DC-3 under license, and their first DC-3 left the production line on September, 1939. The Soviet Union bought 18 DC-3s, and produced a large quantity under license for Aeroflot and the Red Army (first as the PS-84, later as the Lisunov Li-2). Fokker, in Holland, also built DC-3s under license, 13 machines, and probably a 14th, but it was cut short because of the German occupation in May 1940.

The Second World War

When the Second World War starts, the Germans confiscated a lot of DC-3s in the countries they overrun. Five machines from the KLM, the PH-ALH 'Hop', PH-ALV 'Valk', PH-ASK 'Kemphaan', PH-ASM 'Mees', and the PH-ASR 'Roek', where placed in the fleet of the Lufthansa. 'Roek'. The Italians did the same, they confiscated a Belgium DC-3, the OO-AUF in Algeria, which went into Italian service as I-EMOS, MM.60520. When the Lufthansa lost D-ABBF, they took over the Italian I-EMOS (this aircraft was later confiscated by the RAF, but eventual scrapped).

This Czech DC-3 OK-AIF flew after August 24, 1939 with the Lufthansa

In the United States the Air Transport Command grew to some extent. Most of this organization consisted of aircraft that were leased from airlines. In 1940 a single order was placed for 545 DC-3s, converted to transporters. The cabin floor was strengthened, just as the tailplane. In the rear fuselage a large door was built.

A Jeep is pushed into a C=47

The transporter version the Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 with 1200hp, was given the designation C-47 'Skytrain', with the nickname 'Gooney Bird'. All the extra reinforcements to the aircraft meant, that the weight had run up with an extra 2000 kg. The total empty weight was now 13.290 kg. The order was extended at the end of 1941 with an extra 70 C-47s and 100 C-53s (the passanger version for the American army).

C-47, 41-7723 in the Pima Air Museum

After 953 C-47s were produced at the new plant at Long Beach, the electric system switched from 12 volts, to 24 volts. These new aircraft received the extention A, the C-47A. At Long Beach a total of 2832 C-47As were built. In Tulsa Oklahoma was aslo a new factory erected, which produced 2099 C-47As. A third version was introduced with the R-1930-90 or Dash-90B engines. This type, the C-47B, was designed to operate on a higher altitude, so the C-47 could fly over the so called Hump, the route China, Birma and India. Long Beach produced 300 C-47B's and Tulsa built 2808, plus another 133 TC-47B Trainers.

A C-47 from the 75th Troop Carrier Squadron takes paratroopers on board

In 1942 the Troop Carrier Command was founded to transport paratroopers and tow gliders. During the first great scale airborne operation, the invasion of Sicily on July 10, 1943, the C-47s extensively used. Together with other aircraft, they release 4381 paratroopers over the island. on June 6, 1944, and the following first 50 hours saw the dropping of 50.000 paratroopers over Normandy. During D-Day they towed an enormous fleet of gliders to the mainland of Europe.

Biggest different (on the outside) between the C-47A/B and the C-53
is the lack of the larger rear door in the C-53

The C-53, 'Skytrooper' was developed from the C-47 and was designed to transport (higher) military personal. The C-53 lacked the strengthened floor, the double large door at the rear and the crane. Because this type was built for just one purpose, and not built for multi task operations, just 380 were produced. In the first 221 C-53s there were 28 metal seats in the cabine, just as the configuration in the commercial DC-3. The last 159 C-53s, which was designated C-53D, had the 28 seat arrangement as the C-47 placed against the side walls, to transport (para)troopers.

British paratroopers have faith in this American built Dakota

The British RAF had 1895 C-47s, under the name Dakota, in their inventory. The First Dakotas were placed with the No.31 Squadron and operated at the Burmese front. A total of 25 squadrons were equipped with all sort of variants. The standard C-47 became the Dakota I, the Dakota II was the C-53 vesrion, the Dakota III the C-47A and the Dakota IV was the C-47B version.

Confiscated DC-3s were refurbished to accommodate the high Allied brass officers. These aircraft received the designation C-48 to C-52 to tell these versions apart. Some of these aircraft received the Wasp, others the Cyclone engines. Some had 14 seats, the other version 14 beds, or the weight differed. A luxe VIP version with 28 seats was built in Tulsa with the designation C-117. There was an order for 131 C-117s, but just 17 were produced and the others cancelled, because the war ended after Japan capitulated.

The cockpit of the C-47 is almost similar to the DC-3

After the war, many C-47s Skytrains and C-53 Skytroopers went to civil users all over the World. On June 1, 1948, the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) was founded, and had 248 C-47s in their inventory, in several versions.
On June 24, 1948, the Soviet occupation in Berlin, deny further transport of goods, like food, by the Western Allies through Eastern Germany. The Soviets want to be the single nation to transport goods into Berlin, just to show the world what a superpower the Soviet-Union is. The Russians block the railways and canals, and the only option is to supply the stricken people of Berlin by air transport.

C-47s unload their cargo during the 'Berlin Airlift'

When the only way to enter Berlin is by air, the MATS deploy 105 C-47's. During the so called 'Berlin Airlift' a record was made, but not a planned one. According to the cargo papers there were aluminum plates on board for the airport Tegel. But the pilot had to work hard to get the C-47 airborne. Extremely slow flying, and fighting against stalling, he managed to reach Berlin. When, after landing, he checks his cargo, he noticed that he was not transported aluminum plates, but iron plates! Normally a weight between 3500 kg to 4500 kg was the standard, but this weight was 6500 kg! The pilot his outburst of curses cant be reproduced here,
On May 12, 1949 the blockade was lifted by the Soviets, and it became evident that there were more good flown in than there where ever transported by train or boat!

SPECIFICATIONS: C-47 Skytrain

Engines: Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 Twin Wasp (14 cilinders, 1200 pk)
Performance: Max. speed. 365 km/u at a height of 2285 m., Altitude 7315 m. Range 2575 km
Weight: Empty 8256 kg. Maximum take off weight 11.794 kg
Dimentions: Span 29.11 m. Length 19.43 m. Hight 5.18 m.
Cargo weight: 3629 kg/4536 kg (depends on version)

For more on the C-47
and some remarkable stories,
click below