In their latest issue, Flying Magazine published an interesting article about the DC-3. It made me realize that sometimes we get so busy living life that time just passes by without our noticing. Such is the case with the DC-3. To a degree, this is explained in a video from the Smithsonian Channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9SDagZt5i4).
It is difficult to imagine that when the DC-3 flew for the first time, it was on the 32nd anniversary of the very first flight of the Wrights. That was December 17, 1935. By the time, aviation had grown from its infancy, into perhaps its teenage years, maybe into young adulthood.
The DC-3 was one of those airplanes that taught us a lot about the necessity of air travel and its importance for the world. It was the start of the shrinking world. At the turn of the century, just before the Wrights flew at Kitty Hawk, traveling across the nation was an arduous undertaking requiring weeks to accomplish. To go from San Diego to New York was not a comfortable experience at all. A traveler who took on the task didn’t do so in cars; there were very few and even fewer roads. No, rather than cars, the only method of transit was the train.
When the Wrights flew on the beach in North Carolina, many did not believe airplanes would have a viable use in anything other than sportsmanship for the rich. Very few had the foresight to understand the airplane would change the way humans lived on the planet. Yes, there were the dreamers among the first aviators, but many times, it seemed as though when the moment came the public started accepting what they said, there was a terrible setback.
This seemed to be the way through the first 20 or so years in the new century. Many believed aviation travel would never amount to much, but some aviators said we would conquer air to the point of flying the oceans. One interesting naysayer of the time was none other than Charles Stewart Rolls, co-founder of Rolls-Royce Ltd., the very company that now manufactures the jet engines making oceanic travel safe and fast. In 1908, Rolls was quoted as saying, “I do not think that a flight across the Atlantic will be made in our time, and in our time I include the youngest readers.”
Of course, we know that the flight of which Rolls spoke never happening within the lifetimes “of the youngest readers” of 1908 did in fact, happen on May 27, 1927 when Charles Lindbergh flew from New York to Paris. From 1908 to 1927 was only 19 years; another 19 years after the Lindbergh flight, we find ourselves not only routinely crossing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by air, but also on the verge of breaking the sound barrier.
Technology during these times advanced rapidly. Boeing aircraft, along with designs by McDonnell Douglas, Airbus, and others, were soon flying regular routes around the world at great speeds compared to the early days. Technology and airplane design were advancing very rapidly. It seemed as if here was a race on to develop the “next, best, greatest” thing in aviation from new navigation tools to airplanes themselves.
The airplanes kept getting bigger and faster, capable of flying anywhere in the world on rather short notice. The new advances amazed many, people in the industry as well as the public. Faster, farther, higher! It seemed as though there was no end to the possibilities of the future. Pilots and passengers alike wanted to fly in the latest and best new airliners. And for those who were not paying attention, time would pass by almost without notice.
New aircraft were developed each year, entering service and making life better for all air travelers. The old airplanes were retired and turned out to the desert for storage when they suddenly became no longer viable contenders on the market.
As the new airplanes roll out of the huge assembly buildings, and the desert storage facilities in The Mojave become more crowded with the old ones, the DC-3 continues to fly slowly along, doing her job at 160 knots, just the way she has done since 1935.
That would be the definition of a classic airplane.
©2016 J. Clark
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