By Henry M. Holden
The first flight of the Douglas DC-3/Dakota was on December 17, 1935, and December 17, 2010 marked the 75th anniversary of this flying legend. Born between the Great Depression and World War II, the Douglas DC-3 became the core of the American airline system. It became known as “The Plane that Changed the World,” because in1939, it was able to make a profit without the government mail subsidy, and 90 percent of the airlines in the U.S. were using DC-3 equipment. After World War II, military version of the DC-3, the C-47 was reconfigured to an airliner and used extensively by most of the world’s airlines.
There are an estimated 400 still registered in the United States, and perhaps 75 that are airworthy. One of those is the highest time DC-3 in the world, N18121.The World’s High Time Douglas DC-3 was flying for Provincetown Boston Airlines when she created the world record. (PBA)
More than 10,632 airframes were built in more than 53 variants with 10,291, or 96.79 percent of them coming off the line as variants of the C-47, and N18121 is one of those military airframes. It has flown the equivalent of 52 times to the Moon. Another way to look at it is it has been flying for over 3,805 days, the equivalent of 10 ½ years. years.
N18121 c/n 1997 is a DC-3-201, and formerly Eastern Airlines ship “341” is not the oldest but it does have more time in the air than any other DC-3, 91,400.2 hours. It was delivered 25 October 1937. On 8 June 1942, it went to the war Department, and became C-49G USAAF 42-56630. Eastern Airlines got the aircraft back on 24 June 1944, and continued to fly the aircraft until it was sold to Trans-Texas Airways, Inc.(TTA) , on 31 October 1968. TTA operated a fleet of 24 DC-3s. TTA sold c/n 1997 to Naples Airlines dba as Provincetown Boston Airlines (PBA), in 1974, and by 1976, it had logged 81,200 hours. In December 1978, it had accumulated 82,873 hours, and had flown the equivalent of 12,438,735 miles. It was one of 12 DC-3s PBA operated. On 27August 1981, N136PB broke the high-time record held by a museum piece, North Central Airlines N21728 of 84,875 hours.
N136PB as Eastern Air Express around 1988. (From the David Campbell collection via C. Grady Cates)
N136PB had racked up 84,876 hours on its flight from Hyannis to Boston, with 18 passengers. PBA went out of business in 1988, and N136PB briefly flew for Eastern Air Express before residing in a hangar until 1993, when Neil Rose and Bob Irvine, from Vancouver, Washington, bought the ship and flew it home to restore to its original Eastern Airlines livery. Over the next 19 years the ship went through a series of owners, and today Blue Skies LLC own and operate the ship. It had a second coming out party at the 2010 AirVenture show, in Oshkosh, WI.
How long will N18121 and the others continue to fly? Who expected the type to fly for 75 years? “Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine what the next half-century would bring,” Arthur Raymond, chief engineer of the DC-3 said to this author in 1988, “Ten thousand DC-3s? Are you crazy?” So we can justifiably say not in our wildest dreams can we imagine what the next half century will bring for the beloved Dakota!
©Copyright Henry M. Holden 2013
For the complete story on the Douglas DC-3 see “Legacy of the DC-3”
See the PBA Power Point here Provincetown Boston Airlines PP
Interior of the PBA DC-3 (Henry M. Holden)