Douglas DC-3
United States twin-engine passenger/cargo aircraft

Archive Photos ¹

Douglas DC-3 (N20TW) on display (c.1994) at the Hawthorne Air Faire, Hawthorne, California (35mm photo by John Shupek copyright © 2000 Skytamer Images)

Douglas DC-3 (N20TW) on display (c.1995) at the Hawthorne Air Faire, Hawthorne, California (35mm photo by John Shupek © 2000 Skytamer Images)

Douglas DC-3 on display (9/24/2003) at the Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan (Photo by John Shupek copyright © 2003 Skytamer Images)

1942 Douglas DC-3 “Dakota” (CF-TDJ, c/n 6261) (9/17/2003) Canada Aviation Museum,, Ontario, Canada (Photos by John Shupek copyright © 2003 Skytamer Images)

Douglas DC-3-201B “Dakota” (C-GDAK, c/n 2141, KN563 X) on display (9/22/2003) at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, Mount Hope, Ontario, Canada (Photos by John Shupek copyright © 2003 Skytamer Images)

Douglas DC-3-362 “Spirit of Seventy Six” (N760, c/n 3269) on display (12/1/2007) at the Flight Path Learning Center-Museum, Los Angeles International Airport (Photos by John Shupek copyright © 2007 Skytamer Images)

Overview ²

The Douglas DC-3 is an American fixed-wing propeller-driven airliner, the speed and range of which revolutionized air transport in the 1930's and 1940's. Its lasting impact on the airline industry and World War II makes it one of the most significant transport aircraft ever made. The major military version was designated the C-47 “Skytrain”, of which more than 10,000 were produced. Many DC-3/C-47's are still used in all parts of the world.

Design and Development ²

The Douglas DC-3 was the culmination of a development effort that originated out of an inquiry from Transcontinental and Western Airlines (TWA) to Donald Douglas. TWA's rival in transcontinental air service, United Airlines, was inaugurating service with the Boeing 247 and Boeing refused to sell any Boeing 247's to other airlines until UniteD's order for 60 aircraft had been filled. TWA asked Douglas to design and build an aircraft that would enable TWA to compete with United. Douglas' resulting design, the 1933 DC-1, was promising, and led to the DC-2 in 1934. While the DC-2 was a success, there was still room for improvement.

The Douglas DC-3 was the result of a marathon telephone call from American Airlines CEO C. R. Smith to Donald Douglas, during which Smith persuaded a reluctant Douglas to design a sleeper aircraft based on the DC-2 to replace American's Curtiss “Condor II” biplanes. Douglas agreed to go ahead with development only after Smith informed him of American's intention to purchase twenty aircraft. The new aircraft was engineered by a team led by chief engineer Arthur E. Raymond over the next two years, and the prototype DST “(Douglas Sleeper Transport)” first flew on December 17, 1935 ... the 32nd anniversary of the Wright Brothers' flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. A version with 21 passenger seats instead of the sleeping berths of the DST was also designed and given the designation DC-3. There was no prototype DC-3, the first DC-3 built followed seven DST's off the production line and was delivered to American.

The amenities of the DC-3 and DST popularized air travel in the United States. With only three refueling stops, eastbound transcontinental flights crossing the U.S. in approximately 15 hours became possible. Westbound trips took 17½ hours due to prevailing headwinds, still a significant improvement over the competing Boeing 247. During an earlier era, such a trip would entail short hops in slower and shorter-range aircraft during the day, coupled with train travel overnight.

A variety of radial engines were available for the DC-3 throughout the course of its development. Early-production civilian aircraft used Wright R-1820 “Cyclone” 9's, but later aircraft (and most military versions) used the Pratt & Whitney R-1830 “Twin Wasp” which offered better high-altitude and single engine performance. Three DC-3S “Super DC-3”s with Pratt & Whitney R-2000 “Twin Wasp”s were built in the late 1940's.

Production ²

Total production of all derivatives was 16,079. More than 400 remained in commercial service in 1998. Production was as follows:

  • 607 civil variants of the DC-3.
  • 10,048 military C-47 derivatives were built at Santa Monica, California, Long Beach, California, and Oklahoma City.
  • 4,937 were built under license in Russia as the Lisunov Li-2 (NATO reporting name: “Cab”).
  • 487 Mitsubishi Kinsei-engined aircraft were built by Showa and Nakajima in Japan, as the L2D2-L2D5 “Type 0” transport. (Allied codename “Tabby”).

Production of civil DC-3's ceased in 1942, military versions were produced until the end of the war in 1945. In 1949, a larger, more powerful “Super DC-3” was launched to positive reviews; however, the civilian market was flooded with second-hand C-47's, many of which were converted to passenger and cargo versions and only three were built and delivered the following year. The prototype “Super DC-3” served the US Navy with the designation YC-129 alongside 100 C-47's that had been upgraded to the “Super DC-3” specification.

Turboprop Conversions ²

From the early 1950s, some DC-3's were modified to use Rolls-Royce “Dart” engines, as in the Conroy “Turbo Three”. Other conversions featured Armstrong Siddeley “Mamba” and Pratt & Whitney PT6A turbines.

Each Dodson International “Turbo Dakota” began its life as a Douglas DC-3 or C-47. The aircraft went through a detailed process of remanufacturing and new certification under United States FAA Supplemental Type Certificate SA3820SW or South African CAA Modification Number M89/483 and M93/011E. Virtually every system is replaced with new technology and design features. A team of engineers and mechanics who worked with the original AMI Conversion Process (a progenitor of the DC-3 PT6 conversions) created this conversion. The low-time structures have been stripped, restored and corrosion-proofed. The center section has been reinforced for 29,300 GW and the cabin fuselage has been extended to 40 in. with cabin and flight control extensions added. The Dodson International DC-3 is widely licensable with mission-specific customization.

The Dodson International “Turbo Dakota” aircraft is maintained in accordance with a modified version of the Douglas AAIP with no fuselage life and a very easy to follow series of inspections, based upon hourly service. Owners/Operators receive an Illustrated Parts Catalog (IPC), Maintenance Manual (MM) and Airplane Flight Manuals (AFM) specifically for their aircraft. They receive the aircraft documentation in print and electronically. Due to its design, and because the “Turbo Dakota” is unpressurized, it has a virtually unlimited service life.

The Basler BT-67 is a conversion of the DC-3/C-47's. Basler refurbishes C-47/DC-3's at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, fitting them with Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-67R turboprop engines, lengthening the fuselage by 40 in (100 cm) with a fuselage plug ahead of the wing and strengthening the airframe in selected areas. The airframe is rated as having "zero accumulated fatigue damage." This and extensive modifications to various systems and avionics result in a practically brand-new aircraft. The BT-67's have been supplied to civil and military customers in several countries.

Braddick Specialised Air Services International PTY Ltd in South Africa is another company able to perform a Pratt & Whitney PT6 turboprop conversion of DC-3s. Over 50 DC-3/C-47's/65ARTP/67RTP/67FTP's have been modified.

Conroy Aircraft also made a three engine conversion with Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6 called the Conroy “Tri-Turbo-Three.”

Operational History ²

American Airlines inaugurated passenger service on June 26, 1936, with simultaneous flights from Newark, N.J. and Chicago, IL. Early U.S. airlines like American, United, TWA and Eastern ordered over 400 DC-3's. These fleets paved the way for the modern American air travel industry, quickly replacing trains as the favored means of long-distance travel across the United States.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines received its first DC-3 in 1936, it replaced the DC-2 on the service from Amsterdam via Batavia (now Jakarta) to Sydney, by far the longest scheduled route in the world at the time.

The first airline in Latin America to use DC-3's was “Cubana de Aviación”, initially placing them in service in its domestic routes, and then using them to start its first international scheduled service, from Havana to Miami, in 1945. This was the first scheduled service to Miami by a Latin American airline. Cubana used DC-3's in some of its domestic routes well into the 1960's.

Piedmont Airlines operated DC-3/C-47's from 1948 to 1963. A DC-3 painted in the representative markings of Piedmont, operated by the Carolinas Aviation Museum, was retired from flight in March 2011. Both Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines operate “commemorative” DC-3's wearing period markings.

During World War II, many civilian DC-3's were drafted for the war effort and just over 10,000 US military versions of the DC-3 were built, under the designations C-47, C-53, R4D, and “Dakota.” Peak production was reached in 1944, with 4,853 being delivered. The armed forces of many countries used the DC-3 and its military variants for the transport of troops, cargo, and wounded.

Licensed copies of the DC-3 were built in Japan as Showa L2D (487 aircraft) and in the USSR as the Lisunov Li-2 (4,937 aircraft).

Thousands of surplus C-47's, previously operated by several air forces, were converted for civilian use after the war and became the standard equipment of almost all the worlD's airlines, remaining in front line service for many years. The ready availability of cheap, easily maintained ex-military C-47's, both large and fast by the standards of the day, jump-started the worldwide post-war air transport industry. While aviation in pre-war Continental Europe had used the metric system, the overwhelming dominance of C-47's and other US war-surplus types cemented the use of nautical miles, knots and feet in post-war aviation throughout the world.

Douglas had developed an improved version, the “Super DC-3”, with more engine power, greater cargo capacity, and a different wing but, with all the bargain-priced surplus aircraft available, this did not sell well in the civil aviation market. Only five were delivered, three of them to Capital Airlines. The U.S. Navy had 100 of their early R4D's converted to “Super DC-3” standard during the early 1950s as the R4D-8, later C-117D. The last U.S. Navy C-117 was retired July 12, 1976. The last U.S. Marine Corps C-117 (BuNo 50835), was retired from active service during June 1982. Several remained in service with small airlines in North and South America in 2006.

A number of aircraft companies attempted to design a “DC-3 replacement” over the next three decades (including the very successful Fokker F27 “Friendship”), but no single type could match the versatility, rugged reliability, and economy of the DC-3. It remained a significant part of air transport systems well into the 1970's.

Douglas DC-3 Today ²

There are still small operators with DC-3's in revenue service and as cargo aircraft. The common saying among aviation buffs and pilots is that “the only replacement for a DC-3 is another DC-3.” The aircraft's legendary ruggedness is enshrined in the lighthearted description of the DC-3 as “a collection of parts flying in loose formation.” Its ability to take off and land on grass or dirt runways makes it popular in developing countries, where runways are not always paved.

Some of the uses of the DC-3 have included aerial spraying, freight transport, passenger service, military transport, missionary flying, and sport skydiving shuttling and sightseeing.

Perhaps unique among prewar aircraft, the DC-3 is in daily use. The very large number of civil and military operators of the DC-3/C-47's and related types, means that a listing of all the airlines, air forces and other current operators is impractical. As of 2012, DC-3 #10 is still used daily for flights in Colombia. Buffalo Airways, based in Canada's Northwest Territories, operates scheduled passenger service between their main base in Yellowknife and Hay River, plus some passenger charter operations, using DC-3's. Some DC-3's are also used by the airline for cargo operations.

The oldest surviving DC-3 is N133D, the sixth “Douglas Sleeper Transport” built in 1936. This aircraft was delivered to American Airlines on July 12, 1936 as NC16005. The aircraft was at Griffin-Spaulding County Airport, Griffin, Georgia as of November 2010, where it was being prepared for a ferry flight to Charlotte County Airport, Punta Gorda, Florida. The aircraft will be restored back to “Douglas Sleeper Transport” standards, and full airworthiness.

The oldest DC-3 still flying is the original American Airlines Flagship Detroit (c/n 1920, #43 off the Santa Monica production line), which can be seen at airshows around the United States and is owned and operated by the nonprofit Flagship Detroit Foundation.

Basic price of a new DC-3 in 1936 was around £18-23,000 and by 1960 used examples were available for £25,000.

Variants ²

  • DST: Douglas Sleeper Transport, the initial variant, 24 passengers during day and fitted out with 16 sleeper accommodation in the cabin for night.
  • DC-3: Variant of DST with 21 passenger seats.
  • DC-3A: Improved DC-3 with two 1,200 hp (895 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-21 radial piston engines.
  • DC-3B: Improved DC-3 with two Wright R-1820 “Cyclone” engines.
  • DC-3C: Designation for ex-military C-47, C-53 and R4D aircraft sold on the civil market.
  • DC-3S: “Super DC-3”, improved DC-3 with a new wing, tail, and powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-2000 engines.
  • LXD1: A single DC-3 supplied for evaluation by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service.
  • C-41A: A single DC-3A (40-070) modified as a VIP transport, powered by two 1,200 hp (895 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1830-21 radial piston engines, used to fly the Secretary of War. (The Douglas C-41 was not a DC-3 derivative but a modification of a Douglas C-33.)
  • C-48: One former United Air Lines DC-3A impressed.
  • C-48A: Three impressed DC-3A's with 18-seat interiors.
  • C-48B: Sixteen impressed former United Air Lines DST-A's with 16-berth interior used as air ambulances.
  • C-48C: Sixteen impressed DC-3A's with 21-seat interiors.
  • C-49: Various DC-3 and DST models, 138 impressed into service as C-49, C-49A, C-49B, C-49B, C-4D, C-49E, C-49F, C-49G, C-49H, C-49J, and C-49K.
  • C-50: Various DC-3 models, 14 impressed as C-50, C-50A, C-50B, C-50C and C-50D.
  • C-51: One aircraft ordered by Canadian Colonial Airlines impressed into service, had starboard-side door.
  • C-52: DC-3A aircraft with R-1830 engines, five impressed as C-52, C-52A, C-52B, C-52C and C-52D.
  • C-68: Two DC-3A's impressed with 21-seat interiors.
  • C-84: One impressed DC-3B aircraft.
  • R4D-2: Two Eastern Air Lines DC-3's impressed into USN service as VIP transports, later designated R4D-2F and later R4D-2Z.
  • R4D-4: Ten impressed DC-3's for the US Navy R4D-4R Seven impressed DC-3's as staff transports for the US Navy.
  • R4D-4Q: Radar countermeasures version of R4D-4 for the US Navy.
  • Dakota II: RAF designation for impressed DC-3's

Conversions ²

  • DC-3/2000: DC-3/C-47 engine conversion done by Airtech Canada, first offered in 1987. Powered by two PZL ASz-62IT radials.
  • Dodson International “Turbo Dakota” DC-3 PT6A-65AR: A team of engineers and mechanics who worked with the original AMI Conversion Process (the father of ALL DC-3 PT6 Conversions) created this quality conversion.
  • Basler BT-67: DC-3/C-47 conversion with a stretched fuselage, strengthened structure, modern avionics, and powered by two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT-6A-67R.
  • Conroy Turbo Three: One DC-3/C-47 converted by Conroy Aircraft with two Rolls-Royce Dart Mk. 510 turboprop engines.
  • Conroy Super-Turbo-Three: Same as the Turbo Three but converted from a “Super DC-3”. One converted.
  • Conroy Tri-Turbo-Three: One DC-3/C-47 converted by Conroy Aircraft with three Pratt & Whitney Canada PT-6A turboprops.
  • USAC DC-3 Turbo Express: A turboprop conversion by the United States Aircraft Corporation, fitting Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-45R turboprop engines with an extended forward fuselage to maintain center of gravity. First flight of the prototype conversion, (N300TX), was on July 29, 1982.
  • BSAS C-47TP “Turbo Dakota”: A South African C-47 conversion, by Braddick Specialised Air Services, with two Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-65R turboprop engines, revised systems, stretched fuselage and modern avionics for the South African Air Force.

Military and Foreign Derivatives ²

  • Douglas C-47: Production military DC-3A variant.
  • Showa/Nakajima L2D: 487 License built DC-3's and derivatives for the IJNAS.
  • Lisunov Li-2/PS-84: 4,937 DC-3 derivatives license-built in the USSR.

Specifications (DC-3A) ²

General Characteristics

  • Crew: 2
  • Capacity: 21-32 passengers
  • Length: 64 ft 8 in (19.7 m)
  • Wingspan: 95 ft 2 in (29.0 m)
  • Height: 16 ft 11 in (5.16 m)
  • Wing area: 987 ft² (91.7 m²)
  • Empty weight: 16,865 lb (7,650 kg)
  • Gross weight: 25,199 lb (11,430 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Wright R-1820 “Cyclone” 9-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine, 1,100 hp (820 kW) each
  • Powerplant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney R-1830-S1C3G “Twin Wasp” 14-cylinder air-cooled two-row radial piston engine, 1,200 hp (890 kW) each
  • Propellers: 3-bladed Hamilton Standard 23E50 series


  • Maximum speed: 200 kn; 370 km/h (230 mph) at 8,500 ft (2,590 m)
  • Cruise speed: 180 kn; 333 km/h (207 mph)
  • Service ceiling: 23,200 ft (7,100 m)
  • Rate of climb: 1,130 ft/min (5.7 m/s)
  • Wing loading: 25.5 lb/ft² (125 kg/m²)
  • Power/mass: 0.0952 hp/lb (156.5 W/kg)


  1. Photos: John Shupek, Copyright © 2000, 2003, 2007 Skytamer Images. All Rights Reserved
  2. Wikipedia, Douglas DC-3

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