Douglas DC-3 and Military Variants

One of the great airplanes in history, the DC-3 revolutionized first civilian air travel and then military airlift capabilities.  First flown December 17, 1935, intentionally selected for marketing purposes as the anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ 1903 flights at Kitty Hawk, the DC-3 was built in over 11,000 copies by Douglas and was license-built in the Soviet Union to the extent of a further 5,000 aircraft.  A further 487 were license-built before World War II by Showa-Nakajima as the L2D.

DC-3s were used by military services to transport both cargo and passengers.  Technically, the U.S. Army designated DC-3s set up for cargo as C-47 Skytrains and ones equipped for passengers as C-53 Skytroopers.  In practice, the aircraft was easily convertible between uses, so the designations were almost meaningless.  The U.S. Navy designated the aircraft the R4D, and the Commonwealth services called it the Dakota, after a sub-tribe of the Sioux that gave its name to the states of North and South Dakota.  The aircraft was also nicknamed the Gooney Bird, after a colloquial name for the albatross family of sea birds.  As a passenger aircraft, the C-53 was the primary allied aircraft used to deploy paratroopers, as well as towing assault gliders.  It played a key role in the Normandy invasion of June 1944 as well as all other major Allied amphibious landings.

Although the DC-3 had changed civil air transport prior to World War II by providing unprecedented performance and passenger comfort, prewar DC-3s were made in relatively small numbers.  The massive production effort for World War II dwarfed these initial civil deliveries, and after the war, military DC-3s flooded the civilian market as they were converted to passenger planes.  By this time, newer and larger airliners were available to take over the prestige routes of the major carriers, but DC-3s provided cheap, excellent equipment for second-line air carriers around the world.  In 2014, DC-3s are still working in environments where newer aircraft cannot match their rugged simplicity.  A company called Basler Turbo Conversions of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, continues to restore and convert DC-3s to turboprop power so that the airplanes can continue to work into the 21st century.

Many DC-3 and C-47 aircraft are displayed in museums around the world and operated as exhibition aircraft.  At many airshows, re-enactments of World War II paratroop drops from C-47 or C-53 aircraft can still be seen.  In 2010, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the type’s first flight, a total of 57 DC-3s were assembled for an event in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

DC-3 NC21728

Displayed at the Henry Ford Museum, this DC-3 served with Eastern, North Central and Northwest Airlines.  Retired in 1975, this is a “high time” aircraft, with over 80,000 hours in flight at the time of its retirement.  That computes to over 12 million miles flown, and an estimated 100,000 miles just taxiing.  Most of the airplanes with that many hours in their log books seem to be DC-3s. 

DC-3 N139D

Sadly decaying at the airport in Schellville, California, is this early and quite historic DC-3.  Built as the “DST” (Douglas Sleeper Transport) version with sleeping berths for overnight flight, this plane was first used by American Airways as NC21752, named the “Memphis,” after its delivery in 1939.  During World War II it was impressed as a C-49E, serial 42-43620, then returned to American.  It later was owned by the Ohio State University and in the 1970s was still serving as a commercial airliner with Nevada Airlines, now registered N110SU.  Now registered N139D, it has been grounded at Schellville for many years and it would now be a tremendous project to get it flying again. 

DC-3 N28AA

First delivered to Braniff Airways in 1939, DC-3 serial 2239, then registered N25666, was operated by Braniff until 1953 and by various other airlines until the 1980s.  At the end of its career, registered N139PB, it flew with the famous Provincetown-Boston Airlines, later absorbed into Eastern airlines, one of the last operators of DC-3s in commercial service in the developed world.  It was restored in the 1990s and today, based near Atlanta, Georgia, the beautiful machine is with a company that offers experience flights and pilot instruction in DC-3s.  Visit its web site here.

DC-3 N734H

This 1941 DC-3 flies with a Michigan owner. 

DC-3 N1XP “Duggy”

This smiling yellow DC-3 was built in 1942 and, according to its web site, served in Australia during World War II.  It then was used by the Canadian Department of Transportation until 1995, registered C-FDOT.  Its current owner, a North Dakota group dedicated to promoting aviation to children, refinished it in this yellow paint scheme in 2005.

DC-3 N43XX

Registered to a company in Washington state, this 1943 DC-3 appears also to be registered N353MM. 

DC-3 N62CC

A California owner maintains this DC-3.


The Canadian Warplane Heritage DC-3 is a prewar civilian DC-3 that served with Eastern Airlines from 1939 and whose long career made it one of the highest-time DC-3s flying when obtained in the 1980s by the CWH.  The aircraft is painted as KN456, a Dakota in the colors of 435 and 436 Squadrons of the Royal Canadian Air Force operating in Burma during World War II. 

C-47A 42-24064

Assigned serial 42-24064, this C-47 served in Europe during World War II, then with small airlines.  Today it is restored in exceptionally well-executed wartime colors, registered N74589, and based in Connecticut.

C-47A 42-23668

The Yanks Air Museum‘s 1943 C-47A served in the U.S.A.A.F. and USAF until 1974, then worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as N7252N.  Yanks acquired the aircraft in 2000 and registered it N60480. 

C-47A 42-23835 “General Delivery”

The Experimental Aircraft Association maintains C-47A 42-23835, serial 9697, as a static exhibit.

C-47A 42-93096

The National World War II Museum‘s C-47 is one of its most impressive exhibits.  This machine carried troops of the 82nd Airborne to Normandy on D-Day, the 101st Airborne into Holland for Operation Market Garden, and participated in other key European Theater paratroop operations.  After the war it was part of the Berlin Airlift.  Reportedly acquired by the museum on eBay, it is now displayed over the ticket counter on entry into the museum.

C-47A 42-100931 “Flagship Orange County”

One of the Lyon Air Museum’s two C-47s is painted as a prewar DC-3 in American Airlines colors, dubbed “Flagship Orange County.”  After World War II, this plane served as a corporate transport registered N56U, then went to Canada as CF-JUV, then returned to the U.S. in the 1990s as N1944M.  Though not the right model, it is nicely restored, inside and out, to resemble an early American DC-3.

C-47A 43-15395 “Mr. C It’s Tuesday”

The Cavanaugh Flight Museum‘s C-47 N33VW served in the Philippines during World War II.  It then went to Australia as VH-BHC, then Britain as G-ALFO.  Returning to the U.S. in 1958, it has been previously registered N94529, N300A, N300E, N12RB, N890P, N3BA and N20DH.  It is painted as C-47 43-20401 in full D-Day invasion markings.  The plane shows evidence of a number of postwar modifications, including enlarged passenger windows, a pointy nose and squared wing tips. 

C-47B 43-16369

Registered N2805J, this C-47B is operated by the American Flight Museum of Topeka, Kansas.  Its actual service history is unknown.  It is restored as a replica of an AC-47 gunship in the markings of the plane in which John Levitow earned a Medal of Honor on February 24, 1969, when he hurled a lit flare outside that would have destroyed the aircraft despite having just received over 40 shrapnel wounds from an enemy shell that had hit the aircraft and wounded everyone inside. 

C-47 43-30652

Maintained and flown by the 1941 Historic Aircraft Group in Geneseo, New York, this C-47 is registered N345AB and known by the its call-sign, “Whiskey 7”.  This is a combat veteran aircraft that served with the 12th Air Force in the Mediterranean in 1943 and the 316th Troop Carrier Group, 9th Air Force, in Britain in 1944.  It dropped paratroopers of the famed 82nd Airborne Division on D-Day, June 6, 1944, over Ste. Mere Eglise, Normandy.  In 2014 it was flown to Europe to participate in 70th anniversary commemorations of the Normandy invasion. 

C-47 43-48098

The Strategic Air & Space Museum maintains its DC-3, like so many others, in D-Day invasion markings.  In 1993 when shown here, the plane was coded D8-Z, one of the most common paint schemes for preserved DC-3s, after the aircraft that led the 439th Group on D-Day.  It still wears these general colors but has since been repainted with other codes.  This aircraft actually was manufactured after D-Day and served out the war in the United States.  It remained with the USAF until 1969 when it was transferred directly to the museum. 

C-47 43-48608

This 1943 C-47 is with a California organization called Gooney Bird Group Inc.  In 2014 it appeared in an attractive new paint scheme albeit with improperly proportioned national insignia. 

C-47 43-49507

This C-47 is displayed in the National Museum of the USAF.  The distinction of this aircraft is that it was the last C-47 in regular USAF service, flown to the museum for display in 1975.  This is a bit disappointing, considering that there are a number of C-47s in existence with World War II combat histories and the NMUSAF no doubt has access to several of them.  The museum also made an interesting choice as to the colors and markings for the plane.  It elected serial 43-15213, an aircraft of the 91st Troop Carrier Squadron, 439th Group, which was used after the Normandy invasion to recover the ordinarily expendable Waco CG-4 gliders from their landing grounds.  The recovery operation used a “snatch” technique in which the glider’s tow rope was attached to a cable suspended off the ground, and the C-47 flew low and yanked the glider away.

C-47B 43-49819

Maintained in rather battered static condition by the 1941 Historic Aircraft Group at Geneseo New York, is this C-47 registered N54602.  Its past includes service in the Moroccan air force and the British civil registration G-AMJX. 

C-47D 44-76582 “‘Kilroy’ Is Here”

Restored in the markings of a paratrooper jump plane from the Normandy invasion, Combat Air Museum‘s C-47D was actually delivered as a navigational trainer in March 1945.  After the war it served the USAF as a VIP transport and then was used by other government agencies.  Acquired by the museum in 1980, it is painted in the markings of the 92nd Troop Carrier Squadron, 439th Troop Carrier Group of the IX Troop Carrier Command.  For a time after restoration, it was flown with the registration N710Z, but is now retired.  The Kilroy character and looking-over-the-wall motif was a common theme in American graffiti in the 1940s, particularly among servicemen; nobody knows its exact origin.  The more customary form of the expression is in the past tense, “Kilroy was here.” 

C-47B 44-76423 “What’s Up Doc”

Emblazoned with the image and salutation of Warner Brothers’ Bugs Bunny, Palm Springs Air Museum‘s C-47B is one of the active aircraft in that collection.

C-47B 44-76716 “Yankee Doodle Dandy”

The Yankee Air Museum in Michigan maintains N8704.  This aircraft was delivered in 1945 and served stateside with the USAF into the 1960s.  It was transferred to the U.S. Department of Health and registered N8704 before being acquired by the museum in 1982.  Dressed in its old postwar USAF markings, this is a well-traveled C-47 that performs at many airshows in the eastern United States.  The name, “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” is not original to the aircraft.  “Yankee Doodle Dandy” was the title of a popular 1942 James Cagney musical film that chronicled, with some embellishment, the life of Broadway performer and producer George Cohan.  The musical’s title song has become a popular standard from the era. 

C-47B 44-76791 “Willa Dean”

The second C-47 at the Lyon Air Museum is this 1944 model, nicely restored in D-Day colors.  Between its military history and its restoration as a warbird, it appears to have been something of a world traveler, at various times wearing French registrations F-RAMO, F-RASK, F-UIHD, F-RAJB and 4X-FND.  On return to the U.S. it was given registration N791HH which it wears today. 

C-53D N45366 “D-Day Doll”

Commemorative Air Force C-53 “D-Day Doll” is nicely restored in full invasion markings with the serial 42-68830, although the name and nose art are fanciful. 

Lisunov Li-2 “101”

Imitation may be the sincerest compliment, and the DC-3 was paid this as well as most other types of compliment.  The Soviet Union entered legally into license production of the DC-3 prior to World War II, ultimately completing approximately 5,000 examples.  These were used by the Soviet air force and state airline Aeroflot and exported to over a dozen Soviet allies.  Some are still in service in North Korea, and one has been restored to airworthy condition for exhibition flying in Hungary.  This is one of 41 that went to China, preserved (minus engines) at the Beijing Air & Space Museum

Modeling Notes (with links to targeted eBay searches):  In 1/72, Airfix’s 2014 release of the DC-3/C-47/Dakota is the most up-to-date; look for kit numbers A08014, A08015 or A09008 (as of this writing) to make sure you get the new issue and not their older one.  Modelers found the Italeri kit acceptable before that one came out.  In 1/48, look no farther than the classic Monogram/Revell kit.  In 1/144, Roden’s kit has the most accurate shape, although some modelers feel that the old Minicraft kit had more restrained surface detail.  The Big Bird pre-built model from Japan and many metal die-casts provide other options in this scale.


Back to Douglas