Almost Indestructible

By Henry M.. Holden

Almost 75 years after the DC-3/C-47 was first built, its his­tory is a long way from being completed. Stories continue to surface about the almost indestructible Gooney Bird aka C-47, Dakota, or DAK. Years after its opera­tional life was theoretically over, the Gooney Bird continued to see military operational service in some parts of the world. South Africa was no exception.

Over the years, incidents involv­ing C-47/Dakotas have proven be­yond a doubt its indestructibility and survivability.

The following story goes back to1986 and Operation Alpha Centauri, a military operation by the South Af­rican Defense Force during the South African Border War and Angolan Civil War, but because of security regula­tions, the story was classified for years.

DC3, C47, Dakota, R4D, Gooney Bird, DAK, DST, C-53, C-117, C-49, Douglas dc-3 specs, Super dc-3, Dc3 performance, Dc3 rangeIn 1986 Capt. Colin Green was fly­ing a South African air force Dakota in the operational area and had an expe­rience that contributes to the legend of the DC-3.

Green had just transported some troops from an outlying airfield to the main base, and the aircraft had taken off on its return journey.

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Halfway back to the base, the aircraft and crew had settled in level flight with the autopilot engaged. The constant drone of the Pratt and Whitney engines was suddenly shattered by an ear-crushing explosion. An enemy sur­face-to-air (SAM) 7 missile had hit the tail. The explosion destroyed nearly all the rudder and 80 percent of the eleva­tor control surfaces.

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Green lost control of the aircraft but regained control by reducing power and airspeed. The controls were sluggish, and large elevator movements were neces­sary to stop the aircraft from porpoising.

After Green transmitted a Mayday, a helicopter was dispatched to try and assist the crippled aircraft. The pilot of the chopper gave a physical assess­ment of the damage and some much-needed encouragement, but there was little else he could do.          

Af 1

Dakota, Li-2, Super DC-3 DST, Douglas Aircraft, dc3 dakota

The loadmaster surveyed the dam­age to the aircraft and reported that most of the back section had been blown off, and pieces were continuing to separate from the aircraft.

Green’s control was degrading, and he decided to descend in case he had to land quickly. Green was a little appre­hensive about landing due to the loss of control surfaces, but the landing turned out to be straight in and nearly normal.

When Green inspected the dam­age the aircraft had sustained, his con­clusion was that they were lucky to make it back. The old Dakota stood with her nose proudly in the air, but her tail feathers were all torn,” Green said. “We realized that only a 50-year-­old Gooney Bird could have brought us back after the damage we sustained!’

Reprinted with permission Warbirds Magazine July 2010

Copyright Henry M. Holden 2010, 2013

For the complete story on the Douglas DC-3 see “Legacy of the DC-3″

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One thought on “Almost Indestructible

  1. Henry M. Holden Post author

    You might try FLYING THE DC-3 – A Private Pilot’s Experience or Mohawk’s Gaslight service

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