Standing in awe of the ultimate art deco aircraft

As far as I am concerned the quintessential art deco aircraft has to be the DC-3. Actually, it’s the quintessential passenger aircraft. Period.

DC-3 ZK-AWP owned by Air Charter NZ Ltd, at Napier airport, February 2015.
DC-3 ZK-AWP owned by Air Charter NZ Ltd, at Napier airport, February 2015.

The Douglas Commercial 3 – Dakota – was arguably the best of the first generation of stressed-skin duraluminum monoplanes in regular service, beating most of the competition and helping re-define air travel after its introduction in the mid-1930s. It symbolised modern flying to the world.

Later airliners flew faster, higher, further and carried more passengers. But they didn’t do anything materially different from the DC-3. You can imagine the romance of flight as it stood back then – a rare luxury when passengers were rich and when flight carried an exotic magic that it’s lost today in this age of routine jet travel for the masses. Back then it was something very special. And that’s inspiring.

As a kid I remember seeing some of the last National Airways Corporation DC-3’s flying into Napier. And if you’d like to read about some of the military Dakotas flown by the Royal New Zealand Air Force, the story’s in my book Kiwi Air Power, available from Amazon.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


7 thoughts on “Standing in awe of the ultimate art deco aircraft

  1. The DC-3 first flew in 1935 as the DST (Douglas Sleeper Transport). The prototype DC-1 flew a few years before that. Note only a little over 30 years had passed since the Wright Brothers first flight. Arguably the DC-3 represents the first maturity of the airplane as an efficient, economical mode of transportation.

    I had the privilege of actually flying one, from the right seat, for about a half-hour, duly inscribed in my logbook. I think I could’ve learned to fly that airplane, at least in VFR conditions, with 8-10 hours of dual.

    Yup. I LOVE the DC-3!

    1. An awesome experience! Yes, I agree, the DC3 represented the maturing of the aircraft. Passenger planes haven’t changed much conceptually since. They even have the same layout! I did hear somewhere that the DC3 was also so over-engineered as to have no known fatigue life. Not sure if that’s true but it wouldn’t surprise me.

      1. I heard that MIT had a DC-3 hooked up to strain gauges and some other sorts of monitors. That DC-3 allegedly had something like 100,000 hours on the airframe. The idea was to find out why the airplanes lasted for so long. Don’t know if that’s true or not, strictly hearsay, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were true. So, yeah, it wouldn’t surprise me either!

  2. Not to mention that to my mind, it was one of the two greatest implements of World War Two, the other being the 6×6 truck.

    As an aside, my son is taking flying lessons presently through our local community college from a Kiwi pilot.

    1. Kiwis turn up all over the place!🙂 There are 4.5 million of us actually in NZ but I’ve heard something like another 750,000 elsewhere in the world.

      I agree about the truck – it was THE key vehicle in every theatre of WWII, and without it, the Allied armies wouldn’t have been able to move. Or eat. The Chevvy ‘Deuce-and-three-quarters’ 6 x 6’s were ubiquitous in my district during WWII when Wellington was used as a major US assembly and supply base, ready for the Solomons campaign. A lot of them ended up surplus and were used for all sorts of purposes here after the war. My late mother-in-law used to ride in them as a teenager during WWII – they were used to pick up Wellingtonians to attend social events hosted by the US forces.

  3. Reminds me of the Indiana Jones Last Crusade plane flight montage, which, to my 10 year old land-locked self, was simply the most glamorous way to travel imaginable. Actually, it still ranks in my top ten (along with the movie) and I always try to capture a bit of that deco glam by dressing up and loading on the lipstick before every Air Canada takeoff. Thanks for the memory refresher!

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