Air Travel in Australia: Douglas DC-3



The Douglas DC-3 is a fixed-wing, propeller-driven aircraft whose speed and range revolutionized air transport in the 1930s and 1940s. During World War II, many civilian DC-3s were drafted for the war effort and nearly 10,000 military versions of the DC-3 were built, under the designations C-47, C-53, R4D and Dakota. Peak production of the type was reached in 1944 with 4853 being delivered. The armed forces of many countries including Australia used the DC-3 and its military variants for the transport of troops, cargo and wounded. Because of its lasting impact on the airline industry and World War II, it is generally regarded as one of the most significant transport aircraft ever made.

The purpose designed military versions were the C-53 "Skytrooper" Troop Transport and the C-47 "Skytrain" Cargo Transport. The C-47 had large cargo doors, strengthened metal floor and tie down points, Pratt and Whitney twin row 1830 engines, stronger landing gear and a glider towing cleat, and first flew in January 1942, with an eventual 9,500 being built. C-47 s were also known as Dakota's and served in every allied air force, including the RAAF, which operated 124 lend-lease Dakota's under its A65-xxx number series and recently retired its last examples after 60 years of service.

Many C-47's were converted back to DC-3 passenger airliners following world war two, with former USAAF and RAAF aircraft entering Australian domestic airline service with ANA and TAA, after a refit of seats and passenger doors. Over 200 different civil registrations were carried by DC-3 aircraft serving with more than 40 operators in Australia post war, with 41 being operated by Ansett-ANA, over 30 flying with TAA, and 5 serving with Qantas.



Australia's first DC-3 arrived in September 1937 for service with Australian National Airways, and was joined by a further three by the end of 1938. By December 1941 when the USA entered the war, 500 DC-3's had been built and a further 369 were on order. The USAAF took control of 10% of operational airline aircraft, and requisitioned new airline aircraft direct from the production line, with those aircraft being designated C-48, C-49, C-50, C-52 dependant on the source and engine configuration.


TAA Douglas DC-3 VH-AES, now preserved and displayed at The Civil Aviation Historical Society & Airways Museum, Essendon Airport, Melbourne, Victoria.

TAA's first two aircraft, acquired in mid-June 1946, were both Douglas DC-3s (the shell of the TAA's first DC-3 is on display in the Queensland town of Kuranda). A dozen more DC-3s would be added over the next few months, all ex-RAAF aircraft originally bought by the Australian Government under lend-lease. ANA operated DC-3's in the 1930s but these were requisitioned by the government during the war. After the war, ANA purchased new Douglas DC-4s and Douglas DC-6Bs. Ansett operated around the big two (TAA and ANA), maintaining budget fare interstate operations with DC-3s and later Convair CV-340s.

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