Simanaitis Says

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IN AN aircraft transporting passengers and cargo, the pilot’s environment became an office, no longer just a cockpit. This fourth in a series of Pilot’s View looks at two aerial transports, the Ford Tri-Motor originating in 1926, the Douglas DC-3 in 1935. (See for another in the Pilot’s View series.)

Such is the longevity of the DC-3 that a local airline still used them when I lived in the Caribbean during the 1970s. And I’ve also flown in a variant of the Tri-Motor in 2003. (For the Tri-Motor’s latter-day sibling, the Bushmaster 2000, see Come to think of it, thanks to Microsoft Flight Simulator, I’ve piloted virtual versions of these two aircraft as well.


In the Cockpit: Flying the World’s Great Aircraft, introduction by Jeffrey Quill OBE, AFC, edited by Anthony Robinson, Orbis Publishing, 1979. The book is listed at both and Click here for a direct Amazon link: In the cockpit: Flying the world’s great aircraft

The Ford Tri-Motor and Douglas DC-3 are two of 52 aircraft described in the book In the Cockpit. Others range from the 1908 Antoinette through the 1966 Lockheed SR-51. Each aircraft gets several pages of historical perspective and photos, at least one showing the pilot’s environment.


This Ford 5-AT-B Tri-Motor, built in 1929, was flown by American Airlines in the early 1930s. In 1962, American reacquired the craft and took it on a nationwide tour. It now resides in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. Image from In the Cockpit.

The Ford Tri-Motor was designed by Bill Stout, who sold Stout Metal Airplane Company to Henry Ford in 1925. The aircraft enhanced Ford’s reputation for practical designs of high-quality engineering. It was known for its ruggedness, with basic maintenance possible at small airports that were part of early transcontinental travel. See


Above left, the Tri-Motor flight deck as seen from the passenger compartment. Image from In the Cockpit. At right, updated avionics in the latter-day Stout Bushmaster 2000. Below, the flight-sim pilot’s view.]


The Douglas DC-3 resulted from a series of business deals in the early 1930s. United Airlines had a lock on the first 60 Boeing 247 aircraft, so Transcontinental and Western Airlines (the origin of TWA) asked Douglas to design a competitive aircraft. The result was the DC series, as in “Douglas Commercial.”

The 1933 DC-1 was ok; the 1934 DC-2 was better. And then American Airlines got involved persuading Douglas to redesign the DC-2 with sleeping berths. The prototype DST, Douglas Sleeper Transport, first flew on December 17, 1935 (the thirty-second anniversary of the Wright Bros. Kitty Hawk flight). Swapping the sleeping berths for conventional seating resulted in the 21-passenger DC-3.


The military variant of the DC-3, the C-47, became one of the stalwarts of the 1948-1949 Berlin Airlift. See

Total DC-3 production including all variations was 16,079, with 10,048 of them military C-47s and C-53s. C-47s were important aircraft in the 1948-1949 Berlin Airlift, when air power was used to break the Soviet blockade.


Above, a well-used flight deck of a DC-3. Below, a key to its instrumentation and controls. Images from In the Cockpit.


More than 400 DC-3 were still in commercial use around the world in 1998. A tail-dragger in an evolving era of tricycle-gear aircraft, the craft is memorable for the steep climb through its raked-floor cabin.


The flight-simmer view of piloting a Douglas DC-3.

As In the Cockpit observes, “The DC-3 groaned, it protested, it rattled, it leaked oil, it ran hot…. It took us and ten thousand crews around the globe to where we had to go and brought us home again, honest, faithful and magnificent machine that it was.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014

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This entry was posted on August 6, 2014 by in Vintage Aero and tagged , , .
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