To celebrate 100 years of Flight International, we want to discover the "100 Greatest" in aviation; by determining the top twenty civil aircraft, military aircraft, engine, people & moments. Here the best civil aircraft is put forward!
American Airlines chief Cyrus Smith, in a legendary phone call, persuaded Douglas to enlarge the DC-2 so that it would accommodate sleeper berths and, despite having dozens of DC-2s in its backlog, Douglas gambled on American’s conviction.
Just 32 years after bicycle mechanics were knocking together flying contraptions with sticks and string, the DC-3 was airborne and Douglas was on the verge of overturning the airline industry. The DC-3 was profitable enough as a passenger aircraft to break carriers’ reliance on air-mail subsidies. It had lie-flat beds and hot catering, and its range enabled development of transcontinental routes, catalysing a fundamental and lasting change in long-distance travel as people abandoned rail to journey by air.
The Second World War showed the adaptability – and ultimately the durability – of Douglas’ design, as the DC-3 was effortlessly press-ganged into army service. Alongside the 450 or so built specifically for commercial use, over 10,000 were constructed for the military, and airlines snapped up the surplus to drive the post-war resurgence of air transport. So impressive was this rugged, efficient, easy-to-maintain aircraft that even the Soviets built thousands under licence as the Lisunov Li-2.
Of course, the most extraordinary aspect of the DC-3 is that it’s still in revenue service. No-one knows quite how many remain and I suspect, even in 50 years’ time, there’ll still be people in bars who’ll tell you – no word of a lie – they've heard of a tiny airline, somewhere in the humid southern hemisphere, which is still flying a ‘Dak’.
Powerful, profitable and popular (did I mention pretty?), with a war record to boot. The only worthy successor to the DC-3, goes an old saying, is another DC-3. I’m inclined to agree. Are you?
Do you agree with this choice?Why not nominate your own favourite of the following categores in our "100 Greatest" area: