First flown in 1935, the Douglas DC-3 became the most successful airliner in the formative years of air transportation, and was the first to fly profitably without government subsidy. More than 18,000 DC-3s, both civil and military versions, U.S. and foreign built, were produced. Many are still flying. This airplane flew more than 56,700 hours with Eastern Air Lines.
Gift of Eastern Air Lines
Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum
"This baby was designed to fly on one engine"
The day I joined the U.S. Navy was also the occasion of my very first flight on a commercial airliner. The venerable DC-3 chartered to take us from Cincinnati to Chicago for induction had seen some air miles, but was nonetheless warm and comfortable on that cold November afternoon. The captain cranked her up as soon as we were all seated, and she shook a little and shuddered from the effort. But I was long and avid reader of aviation fiction and expected such vibrations much more than my fellow recruits, who nervously looked about as if expecting a wing to fall off or worse. Once airborne, the engines smoothed out. Chicago and Navy bound, we relaxed and talked among ourselves, relieved to be in the air. My seat was a window seat with a view of the port engine. It hummed reassuringly with power as we winged into the dusk. Suddenly, without warning, a loud BANG came from the engine to my left, jarring me awake. A second explosion, and now everyone on the plane was wide awake and fearful, me most of all, because less than a minute later that engine went silent. The propeller still turned, but the reassuring hum was gone, replaced by a dull whooshing sound. The other engine continued to hum strongly, as the captain announced "a momentary bit of trouble" and "nothing to be concerned about, this baby was designed to fly on one engine." Sure enough, we continued on undaunted for another 30 minutes or so before banking a turn, nosing down, and coming in for an effortless landing at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. On touchdown, we let out a mighty cheer such as only a plane full of future sailors could voice. We taxied to a prearranged spot where gray Navy buses awaited our arrival. At that moment in time, I was very happy to be on solid ground once again. As we deplaned, the captain stood by the exit to bid us each farewell and good luck. I spoke to him in passing, commenting, "Wow," the most expressive word in my vocabulary when I was 17. The captain was tall and lean just like in the books I'd read, with his hat slightly pushed back. He winked at me as I commented and answered, "You know, I've been meaning to fix that motor." It was 5 degrees above zero that Chicago night, but the self-assurance that pilot shared with us was all the warmth I needed to face the cold hard days of boot camp before me. I saluted him and stepped down onto the tarmac.