Douglas DST/DC-3/C-47/C-53 etc. Scrapbook

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Story and photos by Ken Kula

The “Douglas Commercial” DC-3 is a large, twin engine commercial transport that the Douglas Aircraft Company produced from roughly 1936 to 1943. Military variants include the C-47, which was produced continuously from the beginning to the end of World War II. Although whole books have been written on the aircraft, we’ll look at just a little history, and a number of photos of active airframes… some of the 16,079 airframes produced.

The origins of the aircraft begin in the mid-1930s, when airlines like American Airlines and Transcontinental and Western Airlines (TWA) were looking to upgrade their fleets to improve efficiency and opportunities that the then-current aircraft designs couldn’t offer. The Douglas Aircraft Company, capitalizing on their DC-2 design, offered the DST (Douglas Sleeper Transport). The prototype first flew on December 17, 1935. The DST would hold between 14 to 16 sleeper berths, and a second version, named the DC-3, could hold up to 21 seated passengers. Both Wright and Pratt and Whitney radial engines were used in various versions.

DC-3-178

American Airlines first used the aircraft during June, 1936, and TWA, United, Eastern, and Delta Airlines all ordered commercial airline versions for U. S. service. International airlines like KLM and China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) followed suit. All told, just over 600 civilian airframes were constructed.

When World War II struck, many American-operated civilian transports were impressed into military service. Close to 200 aircraft were used by the US Army Air Corps and US Navy. Additionally, over 10,000 militarized versions, some with cargo doors and others with paratroop equipment, were built. Grouped together, the original USAAC design was called the C-47 Skytrain, but others like the C-53 (paratroop version) were used for other-than-transport duty. The U. S. Navy called theirs the R4D series. Britain’s Royal Air Force called theirs the Dakota transport. Before the War, Japan’s Showa company built the L2D transport under license, and during the War, Russia built the Lisunov Li-2 under license too Around 5400 foreign-built airframes were produced.

After World War II ended, many C-47 and R4D transports were converted for civilian use. One could be flying on a DC-3 which was once a R4D or Dakota, and couldn’t tell what it used to be unless you were a keen observer of minor details. Other military versions served as VIP and staff transports, electronic countermeasures, and even aerial gunships.
Douglas produced a retrofit kit that became known as the C-117D or R4D-8. These have streamlined engine and landing gear assemblies and a taller vertical tail to handle the increased torque of more powerful Twin Wasp or Cyclone radial engines. Five civilian and 100 military aircraft were converted from their original configuration into these so-called “Super DC-3” transports.

From the 1950s through to today, companies have replaced the radial engines with turboprop power, Basler (USA) and Braddick Specialised Air Services (South Africa) are two of the most prolific companies which transform old airframes into these upgraded engines.

Here is a series of photos of the famous Douglas twins from around the world. Enjoy!

Ken Kula

Assignment and Content Editor, writer and photographer A New Englander all of my life, I've lived in New Hampshire since 1981. My passion for all things aviation began at a very early age, and I coupled this with my interest of photography during college in the late 1970s. I spent 35 years in the air traffic control industry, and concurrently, enjoyed my aviation photography and writing adventures, which continue today. I've been quite fortunate to have been mentored by some generous and gifted individuals. I enjoy contributing to this great site and working with some very knowledgeable and equally passionate aviation followers.

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