Tunison Foundation, Inc.
Placid Lassie



This famous airplane has had many names. First, it was the Douglas DST and DC-3. To the U.S. Army Air Corps it was the C-47 Skytrain, C-53 Skytrooper and C-117 Skytrooper. To the U.S. Navy it was a R4D. To the British it was a Dakota. To many GI’s it was the Gooney Bird. In its 82 year history the DC-3 has been operated by military or civilian companies based in at least 99 countries.
    ...equipment that most senior officers came to regard as the most vital to our success in Africa and Europe were the bulldozer, the jeep, the 2-1/2 ton truck and the C-47 airplane. Curiously, none of these were designed for combat.


DC-1 & DC-2

Founded in 1921 by Donald Douglas in southern California, the Douglas Aircraft Company built military and civilian airplanes. The Douglas Commercial series of airplanes (aka “DC”) started with the prototype DC-1 built for TransWorld Airlines (TWA) based on a specification for an all-metal plane that could operate from high-altitude airports, fly on one engine, carry 14 passengers requiring two crew and one flight attendant. The prototype cost $307,000 to build with TWA paying $125,000 and Douglas $182,000. The DC-1’s first flight was 1 July 1933.

TWA liked the what they saw and ordered twenty DC-2s. These were an improved design and slightly longer than the DC-1. First flight of a DC-2 was in 1934. Production ran from 1934 to 1939. 198 DC-3s were built including 62 used by the US military. Eighteen airlines ordered and operated DC-2s.


During a long phone call Cyrus R Smith, CEO of American Airlines, convinced Donald Douglas, CEO of Douglas, to design a sleeper airplane. A firm commitment to purchase twenty airplanes sealed the deal. The original DC-3 was a larger and improved version of the DC-2 with 14 beds known as a Douglas Sleeper Transport or DST. First flight was December 17, 1935.

The DC-3 is considered to be the first airliner that could be flown profitably just with passengers. It made transcontinental and world-wide flights possible. East-bound, coast-to-coast flights were achievable in 15 hours with three refueling stops. West-bound flights took about 17.5 hours. The production of the civilian DST and DC-3 started in 1936. Seven DSTs were built before the first non-DST DC-3 was constructed. DSTs were built until 1941 and DC-3s until 1943. They were operated by thirteen airlines in the US (including AA, Eastern, Delta, PanAm, TWA and United) and ten airlines outside of the US as well as the US military. In total 609 civilian DC-3s were built. Of these at least 40 were DSTs and a further 151 (some DSTs) were impressed into the military.

The DC-3 story did not end in 1943. Production switched from a civilian to a military version of the same plane. Construction continued for the military until the end of the war. Production in the U.S. was increased from one to three factories: Santa Monica, CA, Long Beach, CA and Oklahoma City, OK. Military production included:
  • 10,174 for the US and allied militaries
  • 4,936 built in the USSR as the Li-2 Lisonov
  • 487 built in Japan as the L2D Type 0 Transport
C-47s carried cargo, they flew passengers, they dropped parachutists, they parachuted supplies, they towed gliders, they flew critical supplies over the “Hump” of the Himalayas into China. In every theatre of World War II, the C-47 transported men and materials. Though they were most commonly a C-47, they were also designated as C-41, C-48, C-40, C-50, C-51, C-52, C-53, C-68, C-84, C-117, C-129, CG-17, R4D (Navy), and CC-120 (Canadian Air Force). In the UK they were called a Dakota.

Second Life

At the end of the war, many remained in military service. The vast majority were surplus and sent to the Reconstruction Finance Company (aka RFC) to be sold off to the public. Almost every airline and cargo hauler bought C-47s cheap and converted them to DC-3 specification. They flew with the airlines until replaced in the 1960s by the jet age.

Meanwhile, the military continued to use C-47s. They were used during the Berlin Airlift to bring critical supplies to the city cut off from the rest of the world by the Soviets. The AC-47 Spooky was developed during the Vietnam war by mounting three General Electric 7.62 mm miniguns shooting out the left side of the fuselage via two windows and the cargo door to provide critical long term air support. Popularly they were called “Puff the Magic Dragon” due to firing 6000 rounds per minute with a tracer ever 6th round meant that you saw a line of fire from the plane to the ground and heard a roar instead of gunshots. No village or base fell when Puff was on station overhead.

Today cargo companies like Missionary Flight International fly DC-3s. Buffalo Airlines in northern Canada flies daily passenger service from Hay River to Yellowknife. Basler Turbo Conversions refurbishes DC-3s and sells them with turbo prop engines as a BT-67 for commercial and military service. Ten countries currently use BT-67 for military purposes, including the USAF. The Israeli Air Force still flies C-47s in military service today.

Many people have said that the only replacement for a DC-3 is...another DC-3. Others say that a DC-3 is only a pile of parts flying in loose formation. Meanwhile, Douglas Aircraft was bought by McDonnell which in turn was bought by Boeing. As for the DC-3, 81 years after its first flight, experts estimate that 100 to 200 DC-3s are still flying somewhere in the world. Placid Lassie is one of them.

Airborne Operations

During combat missions C-47s would fly in “Serials” of up to 50 planes which delivered a defined package of men and material to the target. Each plane had an assigned location in the formation and would get a “chalk number” written on the side to make loading simpler.

When dropping parachutists C-47 squadrons would fly in a “Vs of Vs“ formation. Each plane would fly in a three ship V formation. Each V would then fly in a nine-ship V.

An eighteen ship squadron would be two of these nine- ship Vs in trail. A tight formation was important to ensure that the troops landed as one unit in the drop zone. William P. Mitchell, a C-47 pilot with the 73rd Transport Carrier Squadron remembered,
    With paratroopers on board it was difficult to maintain a tight formation over a DZ (Drop zone). Airspeed had to be reduced to a maximum of 120 mph to minimize the windblast that the trooper jumped into. The airplane’s center of gravity went a little crazy as troopers jumped and the load shifted. Flight controls turned mushy because of the slow speed. You were flirting with a power-on stall. It was easy to fall into the propwash (turbulence) stirred up by the planes ahead.


Towing gliders the C-47s would fly in a column formation. Each tug would fly in a two ship formation with the #2 plane echeloned to the right. Then the next two tugs behind. The formation was two columns with 300 feet lateral separation between the columns. Near the landing zone the columns would separate to 2,000 feet between columns so that the glider landing patterns from the columns did not interfere.
    The CG-4A glider could carry men or a jeep or a small artillery piece, even a baby bulldozer. Fully loaded, it grossed more than 7000 pounds. On takeoff, the glider cleared the ground first, then the tow ship. It was all the C-47 could to maintain 110 mph with a loaded glider at the end of the nylon tow rope. Throttles remained at full-forward takeoff setting, or close to it, for duration of the flight. The airplane would shudder long, nose- high, hanging on the props.


Copyright 2018 Tunison Foundation, Inc. All Rights Reserved