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About Early Passenger Aircraft

Updated on September 5, 2014
Douglas DC-3
Douglas DC-3 | Source

Sitting in the Bomb Bay

The modern airliner is descended from a long line of distinguished ancestors, eight of which are presented on this page, in the colors of the airlines that flew them (the dates denote the year that the planes were first put into service). The first airliners, which began flying in 1919, were not surprisingly modified bombers. While few planes before World War I had been capable of carrying more than two persons along with the pilot, the War produced bombers with a potential passenger capacity of up to half a dozen. The passengers sat either in converted bomb bays or in open cockpits that once held machine guns. When commercial passenger aircraft began to appear in late 1919, they resembled the closed-cabin type of modified bomber.

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Farman F.60 Goliath

Conceived as a bomber, France's twin-engined Goliath carried a dozen passengers in its cabin, white the pilot sat in an open-air cockpit underneath the upper wing.

From sticks and string

These rudimentary airliners were of the so called stick-and-string construction—wooden, wire-braced biplanes covered with fabric. That basic form, powered by anywhere from one to four engines, endured through most of the 1920s. Although the carrying capacity of airliners doubled in that period, their range increased only slightly and cruising speed remained about 100 miles per hour.

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Fokker F.VII

With a range of 700 miles, the single-engined, high-winged Fokker F.VII and it"s trimotor successors captured the European market for long-distance transport planes.

Metal Skin

Metal replaced wood in the frameworks of airliners in the late 1920s. But the real breakthrough in design came in 1933, with the introduction by American builders of the light alloy, cantilever monoplane that culminated in the DC-3. With stressed metal skin, smooth engine cowlings, wing flaps, variable pitch propellers and retractable landing gear, these planes set a pattern that would endure for 25 years. Airliners would gradually become bigger and faster, but until the arrival of the sweptwing jet, they would remain in their basic features remarkably like the DC-3.

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Tin Goose - Ford Trimotor

Henry Fords all-metal Tin Goose was famed for its toughness and its ability to land with big loads in extremely small fields. It was used for nearly a decade by every major airline in the United States.

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Sikorsky S-38

The first of the great amphibious planes, the fragile-looking but rugged S-38 had excellent climbing power and a unique wing-and-tail structure that was attached to the fuselage by connecting struts.

Handley Page biplane

Slow and majestic, the big Handley Page biplane set new standards of safety and comfort, including the first sound-insulating passenger compartments.

Handley Page H.P.42 Hanno

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British European Airways at Manchester
British European Airways at Manchester | Source

Junkers Ju 52

With its angled lines, the Ju 52/3m was the last example of "tin box" aerodynamic design. Virtually indestructible, it was the workhorse of the Luftwaffe in World War II.

Boeing 247

With their stressed-skin fuselages and retractable landing gear, the planes of Boeing's revolutionary 247 series were the first of the modem airliners.

For the first time passengers could fly across the US without changing aircraft or stopping overnight.


Yes, that says 85 hrs

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Have you flown in a DC-3?

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Douglas DC-3

The DC-3, the most widely used passenger aircraft of its era, incorporated the snub-nosed prow and swept-back wings that would characterize most airliners for decades to come. Its wing flaps reduced landing speed to a safe and comfortable 64 mph.

Still many flying today - DC-3

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The DC-3 The Plane That Changed The World

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    • David Paul Wagner profile image

      David Paul Wagner 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      A wonderful hub. I enjoyed watching "The DC-3: The Plane That Changed The World". One of the great aviators of the 1920s was the Australian, Charles Kingsford Smith. In 1928 he, together with another great Australian aviator Charles Ulm and two American crewmen, Harry Lyon and Jim Warner, flew a Fokker F.VII/3m monoplane (known as the "Southern Cross") from Oakland, California to Brisbane, Australia. The crossing took 83 hours, 38 minutes of flying time. It was the first trans-Pacific flight. My father loved recounting his memories of being part of a large crowd in June 1928 welcoming the "Southern Cross" and its crew at Sydney's Mascot Aerodrome after their successful flight across the Pacific.

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