DH Comet 1 prototype

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Douglas DC-3 Dakota

Douglas DC-3 Dakota

It's difficult to write about the fabled Dak without lapsing into superlatives, and still more tricky to find anything new to say. When its predecessor, the DC-2, was unveiled in 1934, it joined the boeing 247 in defining a new, streamlined shape for civil aviation. The DC-2 was slightly faster than the Boeing, and had a range advantage of nearly 50%. It used he short-nosed shape that we associate with modern airliners, giving far superior visibility during ground handling.

When a DC-2 came second in the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race in 1934, beaten only by the purpose-built DH88 (still to been flying today at Old Warden), it became clear that a new breed of fast, reliable of airliner had been born. Orders were placed by TWA, KLM and Pan Am and nearly 200 were built.

Just a year later, Douglas flew a new type, based on the successful DC-2. Though only slightly larger, the DC-3 could carry more than double the number of passengers, and cruised more than 20mph faster than its predecessor. Range was increased by almost 50%. It entered service with its first operator, American Airlines, on June 26, 1936, only six months after its maiden flight.

With the outbreak of war, the DC-3 was modified for military use and re-christened C-47 Skytrain. It was known to the American military as Gooney Bird. The RAF became major operators of the type. They gave it the name that was to become the one that's now recognised the world over. They called it Dakota*.

The C-47 was the principal transport aircraft for the D-Day invasion. More than 11,000 of the military version were built.

After the war, thousands of C-47s were sold off. Here was a fast, reliable and easily maintained workhorse that could operate from short fields, available at a bargain price. With many thousands of recently demobbed wartime pilots looking for peacetime employment, small air carriers sprung into existence everywhere. More than any other aircraft, it was the DC-3/C-47 that brought air travel to the worldwide public.

The second-hand C-47s were so successful that they actually damaged Douglas's profits. The company had developed an improved version, the Super DC-3, but no one wanted it. The original was so good and so plentiful that only five of the new machine were sold.

Today, it's estimated that more than 2,000 Dakotas remain airworthy. Many are still in active commercial service, more than eighty years after Douglas rewrote the rule book.

* The name Dakota is sometimes said to come from Douglas Aircraft Company Transport Aircraft. We have strong doubts about this, but it's a nice idea.

DC-3 Dakota by numbers
First Flight:17 December 1935
Capacity:36 passengers
Powerplant:2 × Wright R-1820 Cyclone 9-cyl. air-cooled radial engines of 820 kW (1,100hp)
Range:2,400km (1,500mi)
Maximum Speed:370km/h (230mph)
Ceiling:7,100m (23,200ft)
Length:19.7m (64ft 8in)
Wingspan:29.0m (95ft 2in)
Height:5.16m (16ft 11in)
Weight:7,650kg (16,865lb)


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