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The DC-3 and Its Variants

Updated on January 7, 2018
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A USMC C-117, Randolph AFB, TX, May 1977A C-47 on static display, Lackland AFB, TX, 1977.McNeill Hall, named in honor of Sgt. Clarence L. "Boone" McNeill, who was killed in action Feb. 5, 1969 when a SAM shot down his EC-47.A Confederate Air Force C-47 at Andrews AFB, MD, May 1983.Two DC-3s at an Andrews AFB, MD, as part of Freedom Flight America, August 1995.  The airline named indicate their nostalgic purpose. A C-47 with "invasion stripes" during Freedom Flight America, Andrews AFB, MD, August 1995.A BT-67, Andrews AFB, MD, May 2000.Nose art on a BT-67.  The nose art shows the aircraft's purpose.  Andrews AFB, MD, May 2000.Hawkins & Powers Aviation, Inc.  logo on a BT-67, Andrews AFB, MD, May 2000.A DC-3 with American Airlines markings at Dulles IAP, September 2007.A DC-3 with American Airlines markings at Dulles IAP, September 2011.A C-47 in Vietnam Era markings.  Andrews AFB, May 2012."Spooky" nose art on a C-47, Andrews AFB, May 2012.  This nose art was used on AC-47s.A DC-3 in American Airlines markings, Dulles IAP, September 2013.A DC-3 in Pan American markings outside the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles, VA, on family Day, June 2014.A DC-3 in Pan American markings at Dulles iAP, September 2014.
A USMC C-117, Randolph AFB, TX, May 1977
A USMC C-117, Randolph AFB, TX, May 1977 | Source
A C-47 on static display, Lackland AFB, TX, 1977.
A C-47 on static display, Lackland AFB, TX, 1977. | Source
McNeill Hall, named in honor of Sgt. Clarence L. "Boone" McNeill, who was killed in action Feb. 5, 1969 when a SAM shot down his EC-47.
McNeill Hall, named in honor of Sgt. Clarence L. "Boone" McNeill, who was killed in action Feb. 5, 1969 when a SAM shot down his EC-47. | Source
A Confederate Air Force C-47 at Andrews AFB, MD, May 1983.
A Confederate Air Force C-47 at Andrews AFB, MD, May 1983. | Source
Two DC-3s at an Andrews AFB, MD, as part of Freedom Flight America, August 1995.  The airline named indicate their nostalgic purpose.
Two DC-3s at an Andrews AFB, MD, as part of Freedom Flight America, August 1995. The airline named indicate their nostalgic purpose. | Source
A C-47 with "invasion stripes" during Freedom Flight America, Andrews AFB, MD, August 1995.
A C-47 with "invasion stripes" during Freedom Flight America, Andrews AFB, MD, August 1995. | Source
A BT-67, Andrews AFB, MD, May 2000.
A BT-67, Andrews AFB, MD, May 2000. | Source
Nose art on a BT-67.  The nose art shows the aircraft's purpose.  Andrews AFB, MD, May 2000.
Nose art on a BT-67. The nose art shows the aircraft's purpose. Andrews AFB, MD, May 2000. | Source
Hawkins & Powers Aviation, Inc.  logo on a BT-67, Andrews AFB, MD, May 2000.
Hawkins & Powers Aviation, Inc. logo on a BT-67, Andrews AFB, MD, May 2000. | Source
A DC-3 with American Airlines markings at Dulles IAP, September 2007.
A DC-3 with American Airlines markings at Dulles IAP, September 2007. | Source
A DC-3 with American Airlines markings at Dulles IAP, September 2011.
A DC-3 with American Airlines markings at Dulles IAP, September 2011. | Source
A C-47 in Vietnam Era markings.  Andrews AFB, May 2012.
A C-47 in Vietnam Era markings. Andrews AFB, May 2012. | Source
"Spooky" nose art on a C-47, Andrews AFB, May 2012.  This nose art was used on AC-47s.
"Spooky" nose art on a C-47, Andrews AFB, May 2012. This nose art was used on AC-47s. | Source
A DC-3 in American Airlines markings, Dulles IAP, September 2013.
A DC-3 in American Airlines markings, Dulles IAP, September 2013. | Source
A DC-3 in Pan American markings outside the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles, VA, on family Day, June 2014.
A DC-3 in Pan American markings outside the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles, VA, on family Day, June 2014. | Source
A DC-3 in Pan American markings at Dulles iAP, September 2014.
A DC-3 in Pan American markings at Dulles iAP, September 2014. | Source

Background

The Douglas DC-3 first flew on December 22, 1935. It entered service in May, 1936. With over 11,000 built it was the most widely used transport in the history of aviation.[i] The Soviet Union built a DC-3 variant, the Lisunov Li-2. The military versions of the DC-3 were the C-47, the C-53, the C-117, and the Super DC-3. These DC-3 variants saw extensive military service during World War II.

The DC-3 was an immediate success. The DC-3 got Donald W. Douglas and his technical and production personnel the 1935 Collier Trophy. The DC-3 was the first aircraft to fly at a profit, without government subsidies[ii]. In 1938 95% of all U.S. commercial airline traffic was on DC-3s. Thirty foreign airlines were also using DC-3s in 1938. In 1939 DC-3s accounted for 90% of the world’s airline traffic. In 1969 U.S. airlines were still using 30 DC-3s.[iii]


[i] Commercial Transport Aircraft, Edited by Michael J.H. Taylor, © 1990 Tri-Service Pocketbook, Page 89.

[ii] Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum web site, https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/douglas-dc-3, last accessed, 1/2/18.

[iii] Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum web site, https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/douglas-dc-3, last accessed, 1/2/18.

Military Service

When World War II began in Europe many countries put their civilian DC-3s to use as military transports. The U.S. military ordered DC-3s that were modified for military purposed. The U.S. military designated them C-47s and C-53s. The C-53s were modified to accommodate paratroopers. The C-47s entered military service in 1941. The United States used it in all theaters.

A DC-3, G-AGBB, KLM/BOAC Flight 777 flew a from Lisbon to Bristol. It was attacked by Luftwaffe Bf 110 fighters on November 15, 1942 and April 19, 1943. On both occasions the crew managed to escape the attackers. On June 1, 1943 Ju 88s of V/KG40 attacked and shot down G-AGBB. All on-board perished. The 17 killed included actor Leslie Howard, journalist Kenneth Stonehouse, and Wilfred B Israel, an activist who helped thousands escape the Holocaust.[i]

In the opening phase of the D-Day invasion almost 1,000 USAAF C-47s and RAF Dakotas[ii] dropped paratroopers over Normandy.[iii] During Operation Market Garden[iv] 1,274 USAAF C-47s and 164 RAF Dakotas served as paratrooper transports and glider tugs. During the Battle of the Bulge C-47s flew critical supplies to the surrounded forces in Bastogne.[v] In March 1945 C-47s transported 15,000 troops, 700 vehicles, 100 artillery pieces, and other equipment across the Rhine River. This was for the final push against Nazi Germany.[vi]

Among the C-47’s accomplishments in the Pacific Theater was its resupply missions to China from bases in India. The Allied pilots called the section of the Himalayas they flew across the Hump. Over 80% of the supplies reaching China were flown across the Hump. C-47s delivered most of these supplies. In March 1944, transports, including C-47s, inserted special operations forces into Burma. After the war then General, later President, Dwight Eisenhower credited the C-47, the bazooka, the Jeep, and the atomic bomb with winning the war.[vii]

In the 1948 Arab-Israeli War both sides used C-47s as transports and bombers. The Royal Egyptian Air Force had 30 Dakotas. Ten of their Dakotas were modified to carry bombs. These modified Dakotas carried out bombing missions against Israeli targets. In a raid on Tel Aviv bombs hit the central bus station killing over 40 people and wounding over 100. These bombing raids were unopposed until June 3, 1948. On that Tel Aviv raid 2 Egyptian Air Force Dakotas with a Spitfire escort were intercepted by the only flyable Israeli Air Force fighter. The Israeli Avia S199, flown by Modi Alon, shot down both Dakotas. This gave the C-47 the dubious honor of being the first air-air kills of the Israeli Air Force.[viii] Some other C-47 incidents during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War:

  • June 10 - Israeli C-47s carried out a night raid against the Transjordan capital of Amman. Three C-47s dropped 4,500 pounds of bombs on the city.[ix]
  • July 13 - An Israeli Dakota had a mishap while on a night raid against Syrian positions. The bombing method was to slide the bombs out the cargo door. When the Dakota crew pushed the 7th bomb out the cargo door the bomb ripped off the door and damaged the tail assembly. The pilot managed to fly the Dakota to base and the Dakota was eventually repaired and returned to service.[x]
  • October 24 – An engine fire on an Israeli C-47 caused it to crash. All 4 crew members died in the crash.[xi]

C-47s began the Berlin Airlift in 1948. General Curtis E. LeMay brought many pilots out of retirement to fly C-47s to Berlin. On the first day the C-47s few 80 tons of supplies to Tempelhof Air Base in Berlin.[xii] By July, 1948 105 C-47s were flying Berlin Airlift missions. C-47s flew Berlin Airlift missions until September, 1948.[xiii]

C-47s served in the Korean War with the United States military and with other United Nations forces. In the initial phases of the conflict when Republic of Korea and U.S. forces were holding on to the Pusan Perimeter C-47s and C-54s kept these forces supplied. These aircraft would fly supplies into the perimeter then fly wounded out on the return flight. One C-47 pilot landed his loaded aircraft down on a 1,200’ gravel runway. On October 20th, 1950 the U.S. 187th Regimental Combat Team was parachuted behind enemy lines in the first parachute operation of the Korean War. C-47s participated in this operation. When Chinese forces surrounded the 1st Marine and 7th Infantry Divisions U.S. Marine C-47s resupplied both units. USAF C-119s and C-47s then joined in the resupply effort. During the Korean War some C-47s, designated SC-47s, were used in rescue operations.[xiv]

On October 29, 1956 16 Israeli Air Force C-47s dropped 395 paratroopers near the Mitla Pass. This was the opening phase of The Sinai Conflict. The C-47s made other significant contributions to the Israeli war effort in this conflict.[xv]

In the opening phases of The Six-Day War C-47s dispensed chaff along the Israeli/Egyptian frontier to confuse Egyptian radar. The Israeli Air Force achieved surprise and destroyed many Egyptian aircraft on the ground.[xvi] The Israeli Air Force used C-47s into the 1990s.[xvii]

The USAF used C-47s throughout the Vietnam Conflict. The USAF used some C-47s, designated EC-47s, for intelligence gathering. Some 95% of the B-52 attacks in Vietnam were based in part by information gathered by the 6994th Security Squadron which flew in EC-47s.[xviii] Seventeen members of the 6994th Security Squadron were killed in action.[xix]

The USAF converted over 50 C-47s to gunships and gave them the designation AC-47. The USAF sent 41 of these gunships to Southeast Asia. Enemy ground fire and accidents destroyed 17 of these aircraft. Two of these losses were from enemy attacks on their airfield. On May 4, 1968 enemy fire shot down 2 AC-47s. All six crew members on one AC-47 and 3 crew members on the other AC-47 died[xx]. On the night of February 24, 1969 an enemy mortar round struck an AC-47. The explosion severely damaged the aircraft and wounded the crew members in the cargo compartment. The explosion knocked an activated flare from the crewman holding it. The severely wounded loadmaster, Airman First Class John L. Levitow threw himself on the flare and hugged it as he dragged himself to the rear of the aircraft.[xxi] He threw it out the cargo door. An instant later the flare ignited. AiC Levitow was awarded the Medal of Honor. He was the first USAF enlisted airman awarded the Medal of Honor.[xxii]

When the USAF retired its C-47s in 1975, some 90 countries still had them in service. The U.S. Navy retired the last C-117, a C-47 variant, on July 12, 1976. The U.S. Marine Corps retired its last C-117, Bureau Number 50835, in June 1982.

[i] BBC, The Douglas DC-3: Still revolutionary in its 70s, by Jonathan Glancey, October 10, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20131009-dc3-still-flying-at-70, last accessed 1/5/2018.

[ii] Dakota was the RAF designation for the DC-3.

[iii] Air & Space Magazine, A History of WW2 in 25 Airplanes, C-47s on D-Day, https://www.airspacemag.com/military-aviation/invasion-180954073, last accessed 1/3/18.

[iv] A combined allied airborne and ground operation in the Netherlands. The Operation took place September 17-25, 1944.

[v] Air & Space Magazine, A History of WW2 in 25 Airplanes, C-47s on D-Day, https://www.airspacemag.com/military-aviation/invasion-180954073, last accessed 1/3/18.

[vi] Air & Space Magazine, A History of WW2 in 25 Airplanes, C-47s on D-Day, https://www.airspacemag.com/military-aviation/invasion-180954073, last accessed 1/3/18.

[vii] Air & Space Magazine, A History of WW2 in 25 Airplanes, C-47s on D-Day, https://www.airspacemag.com/military-aviation/invasion-180954073, last accessed 1/3/18.

[viii] Fighters Over Israel by Lon Nordeen © 1990.

[ix] Fighters Over Israel by Lon Nordeen © 1990.

[x] Fighters Over Israel by Lon Nordeen © 1990.

[xi] Fighters Over Israel by Lon Nordeen © 1990.

[xii] AF Pamphlet 50-34, Volume I, 1 April 1990.

[xiii] Aerial Warfare: An Illustrated History, Edited by Anthony Robinson, © Orbis Publishing Limited, 1982.

[xiv] Air War Over Korea, by Larry Davis, © 1982 Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc.

[xv] Fighters Over Israel by Lon Nordeen © 1990.

[xvi] Fighters Over Israel by Lon Nordeen © 1990.

[xvii] Fighters Over Israel by Lon Nordeen © 1990.

[xviii] 6994th Security Squadron, © 6994th Security Squadron, http://6994th.com/, last accessed 1/5/2018.

[xix] 6994th Security Squadron, © 6994th Security Squadron, http://6994th.com/, last accessed 1/5/2018.

[xx] Spooky AC-47D Gunships, © Donald Luke, http://ac47-gunships.com/home.htm last accessed 1/5/18.

[xxi] Air Mobility Command Museum, https://amcmuseum.org/history/airman-first-class-john-l-levitow, last accessed 1/6/18.

[xxii] Chief Master Sergeant Richard L. Etchberger and Airman First Class William H. Pitsenbarger were awarded the Medal of Honor for actions prior to Levitow’s but their Air Force Crosses were not upgraded to Medals of Honor until decades after the war.

DC-3s in the 21st Century

Basler Turbo Conversions remanufactured and modified the DC-3. Their version of the DC-3 is the Basler BT-67. Many DC-3s are in service and some are likely to be in service for many years to come.

  • Buffalo Airways flies DC-3s on a daily scheduled route between Yellowknife and Hay River.[i] Buffalo Airways has temporarily suspended scheduled passenger service.[ii]
  • Ken Borek Air, Ltd has the DC3T in its fleet and has a picture of one on its home page.[iii]
  • North Star Air has 5 BT-67s registered with Transport Canada.
  • A South African C-47 crashed on December 12, 2012 killing all 11 on-board.[iv]
  • DC-3s have been refurbished and designated BT-67s. The U.S. Forestry Service and 7 other civilian organizations fly the BT-67.[v]
  • The USAF is again using a version of the DC-3. Its 6th Special Operations Squadron has deployed BT-67s.[vi] The USAF is one of 10 countries that use the BT-67.
  • The United States, South Africa, Germany, and China use BT-67s for Arctic and Antarctic research.
  • The Columbian military has AC-47s in service.[vii] The Columbian National Police also uses BT-67s. A Columbian carrier also uses a DC-3 for regular scheduled flights.


[i] BBC, The Douglas DC-3: Still revolutionary in its 70s, by Jonathan Glancey, October 10, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20131009-dc3-still-flying-at-70, last accessed 1/5/2018.

[ii] Buffalo Airways, http://www.buffaloairways.com/index.php?page=passenger-service, last accessed 1/5/2018.

[iii] Kenn Borek Air, Ltd., Official Site, http://www.borekair.com/ , last accessed 1/6/2018.

[iv] Strategypage, The Only World War II Aircraft Still In Service, by James Dunnigan, December 23, 2012. https://www.strategypage.com/dls/articles/The-Only-World-War-II-Aircraft-Still-In-Service-12-23-2012.asp, last accessed 1/5/2018

[v] Strategypage, The Only World War II Aircraft Still In Service, by James Dunnigan, December 23, 2012. https://www.strategypage.com/dls/articles/The-Only-World-War-II-Aircraft-Still-In-Service-12-23-2012.asp, last accessed 1/5/2018

[vi] Air Force Fact Sheet, 6th Special Operations Squadron, http://www.afsoc.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/877958/6th-special-operations-squadron, last accessed 1/6/18.

[vii] Strategypage, The Only World War II Aircraft Still In Service, by James Dunnigan, December 23, 2012. https://www.strategypage.com/dls/articles/The-Only-World-War-II-Aircraft-Still-In-Service-12-23-2012.asp, last accessed 1/5/2018

C-47 Stats

 
C-47
Weight
26,000lbs
Speed
299mph
Range
2,125 miles
Cargo Capacity
7,500lbs
Troop Capacity
28
Casuatly liters
18
Maximum Troop Overload
74
Source: Arsenal of Democracy:-III, by Tom Gervasi, (c) 1984 by Tom Gervasi and Bob Adelman

Comments

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    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      10 months ago

      Yes, unfortunately even that wasn't enough. They needed more to keep the airborne troops supplied. The ground forces weren't able to move fast enough so the airborne troops soon hit into supply problems, among other things.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      10 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Robert

      The DC3 was one of the greatest planes to ever take to the skies.

      By the way, I was reading recently that the amount of planes used for 'Operation Market Garden' formed a corridor three miles wide, and ninety miles long, and they were pretty much all DC3s and Gliders!

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      10 months ago

      Yes, it is good your father had a friend who could understand his experiences. That is the advantage of organizations such as the VFW.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      10 months ago from Houston, Texas

      We were just glad that someone was there in the hospital room that understood what was upsetting him and could do something about it. My dad also knew him as a military man as well as a friend and trusted that what he was doing with his gestures in the air took care of it. This was obviously something that haunted him until his dying day.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      10 months ago

      I remember reading a book about D-Day and it mentioned some of the mishaps that befell some of the paratroopers. There was some of that in the movie The Longest Day. Thank you for sharing.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      10 months ago from Houston, Texas

      He never talked that much about it but when he was in the hospital he was seeing things (hallucinating) and was very upset. Fortunately a friend and military man understood what he was "seeing" and took care of it satisfying my dad. What my dad actually experienced when they were jumping out of an airplane was someone ahead of him that did not pull the right string..or unhook something properly..and he fell to his death. I am not explaining it properly...but it was something that needed to be done so that the parachute would open at the right time.

    • Robert Sacchi profile imageAUTHOR

      Robert Sacchi 

      10 months ago

      Thank you for reading and commenting. They may have made a movie, a comedy, about the program your father was in. The movie was about a bunch of men going into pilot training. The USAAF realized they didn't need so many pilots so they canceled the program and instead of being pilots and officers they were buck privates. Any tales to tell about your father in WWII?

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      10 months ago from Houston, Texas

      If my dad was alive he would love reading all about this airplane as well as the many others of which you write. He was a paratrooper during WWII. He was always fascinated with airplanes and would have loved becoming a pilot. He was actually in pilot training when that particular military program was ended and so he switched to becoming a paratrooper.

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