For every use found for the C-47, someone discovered there was usually a new nickname. Many were affectionate names, and a few were unglamorous ones. It accumulated more than two dozen nicknames rivaling someone on the FBI’s “Wanted List.”
Americans called it the “Gooney Bird,” “Doug,” “ Dumbo ,” “Old Fatso”. “Charlie 47,” “ Skytrain ,” “ Skytrooper ,” and “Tabby.” The British called it the “Dakota” and the “ Dak .” The RCAF called one squadron of Dakotas , “The Flying Elephants.” The Russians called it the “PS-84,” and the “Li-2.” The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) gave the Russian Li-2, the code name, “CAB.” The French Navy called it, “The Beast.” It even enjoyed the fleeting nickname, “Biscuit Bomber,” after dropping 5,000 cases of rations to General Patton’s troops in France .
Civilian pilots called it the “Three,” “Old Methuselah,” “The Placid Plodder, “The Dowager Dutchess ,” “The Flying Vagrant,” and the “Dizzy Three.” In Vietnam , it earned the sobriquets “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “Puff,” “Spooky,” and “The Dragon Ship.”
In October 1941, the U.S. government adopted the British practice of identifying airplanes with a name. The C-47 was the first airplane given a name by the Army “ Skytrain .” The intention was to mask the development information of a new type from getting into the enemy’s hands. Of course most war-time names for the C-47 were forgotten.
Most people remember and still call it the “Gooney Bird.” There are several versions of how it got that name. Some say the name came from the South Pacific where small atolls were the home of the wandering albatross, the giant seagull-like bird noted for its powers of flight, and sometimes unflattering but safe landings. Some GIs said the C-47 looked like the bird, with a heavy body and long wings, and mimicked the bird in its struggle to get off the rain-soaked dirt fields.
The Albatross, aerodynamically should not be able to get off the ground. People say the bird is so stupid, it doesn’t realize this and flies anyway.
Others say “Gooney Bird” comes from the definition of stupid, or goon. Pilots called the C-47 stupid, because they said it didn’t know it wasn’t supposed to be able to do the things it did.
Another source claims long before the C-47 lifted off the ground, the C-39s were nicknamed Gooney Birds by the Tenth Transport Command, at Patterson Field, in Dayton , Ohio.
©Copyright Henry M. Holden 1996 2013
For the complete story on the Douglas DC-3 see: “The Legacy of the DC-3″