By Henry M. Holden
The DC-3 is unique. No other flying machine has been an active part of the international commercial aviation scene for so many years. It has cruised every sky known to humans, been so ubiquitous, admired, cherished, glamorized and has sparked so many tributes that one may think that it is long gone from the scene, and only its memory remains alive. Who would have thought back on December 17th, 1935, that in 1996, we would still see it flying, and still earning a living? Certainly not Arthur Raymond, the chief engineer on the DC-3.
On December 17th, 1995, exactly 60 years since the DC-3 first left the ground, I had the honor of riding with Mr. Raymond on the 60th anniversary commemorative flight of the Douglas DC-3. The Flight, which was sponsored by Air Cruise America, originated out of Long Beach, California. at 12:30 pm.
Mr. Raymond, now 97 years old, told me he had been waiting for this day for weeks. “For the last two weeks,” he said, “1 could not sleep at night. I thought this day would never come.” I noticed tears welling up in his eyes as he spoke. He went on to relate that no one at the Douglas plant expected the DC-3 to last 60 years. In fact, back then, there was no such thing as a product life expectancy. “Of course, none of us had crystal balls or could predict the future,” he said. “We crossed our fingers and hoped that we could sell 100.”
At approximately 1:15 p.m., I listened to our pilot request a transition vector through LAX air traffic. For a moment I wondered where we were going on this historic flight. We received clearance to 4,500 feet, and departed our northerly heading with a gentle right turn. Within minutes we were passing over the Santa Monica Airport. Just below us loomed the birthplace of the DC-3. When Mr. Raymond was told where we were, he looked out the wide picture window, and down to the strip of white concrete below. One can only wonder what he was thinking. He remained silent, peering down at the now heavily populated city of Santa Monica. Tears were in his eyes, He remained silent until we assumed a new heading south, and he watched as Santa Monica drifted out of sight. Author Thomas Wolfe once said. “You can’t go back,” but we did, if only for a few minutes, and it was special for everyone on hoard. But I am sure it was very special for Arthur Raymond.
Reprinted DC-3/Dakota Historical Society Winter 1995-1996
Post Script: Mr. Arthur Raymond passed away on Monday March 22, 1999, two days short of his 100 birthday. Obituary here.