Douglas DC-3 / C-47 Dakota

The Douglas Dakota is without doubt one of the most famous and most successful designs of aircraft in history. It was originally known as the Douglas Sleeper Transport and has been known as DC-3 (civilian versions) C-47 Skytrain, AC-47 Gunship, C-53, R4D, C-117 and Dakota (in UK and Commonwealth service). An amazing 70 years after the design's first flight on 17th December 1935 the aircraft is still in service throughout the world. It is a design which has truly changed history. The forerunner of the DC-3 flew in 1933 (as the DC-1) and a small number of orders for these forerunners were placed (the DC-2). This was to change in 1941. With the likelihood of the United States joining the Second World War increasing orders were placed for the C-47 Skytrain also known as model DC-3A-360 and the C-53 (R4D-4) Skytrooper.

Douglas DC-3 of KLM
Douglas DC-3 of KLM

Known as the Gooney bird the C-47 could transport 10,000 lbs of cargo or 27 passengers while the C-53 lacked the cargo door and could carry 28 paratroopers on permanent seats. Under the lend lease program large scale deliveries were made to the UK with nearly 2,000 being delivered by the end of the war, with another 600 bought after the war and 650 leased. Many of these were diverted around the world to Commonwealth air forces, which ensured many saw action in the post war colonial uprisings and wars of independence.

In the US deliveries started from Santa Monica in October 1941, while licensed production started in the USSR for military use. In all over 10,000 were produced in the US. The C-47 was a very advanced design for its time, a low winged cantilever monoplane with an all-metal stressed skin with fabric covered control services. Its smooth classic lines still don't look out of place 70 years later. Variants included a floatplane, a glider tug, and even a ski equipped version, which visited both north and south poles after the war, and the famous Gunship known as 'Puff the Magic Dragon', which saw service in Vietnam. The type became a standard military transport throughout the world, for example in Europe only the Austrian, Irish and Swiss air forces didn't acquire the type. In the early 1990s it was estimated that the C-47 was in service in at least a third of the world's air forces with a likely 400 in service in 49 countries, an amazing achievement. Although no longer seeing frontline service the fact that spares are still cheap and plentiful means it can be hard to replace for many poor countries.

Front view of Douglas C-47
Front view of Douglas C-47

As well as sterling wartime service in such operations as D-Day and Operation Market Garden, the Vietnam War saw an armed version see combat service. The AC-47D gunship known as Puff the Magic Dragon (after a popular children's song) or Spooky was produced for the USAF's 4th Air Commando squadron during the 1960s and was armed with three 7.62mm miniguns and 54,000 rounds of ammunition. The guns were angled so to fire at the same spot out of the door and 2 side windows as the gunship circled. The design lead to heavier gunships such as the AC-119 and AC-130 Spectre and between 1984-85 five were delivered to El Salvador for use in its own counter insurgency operations.

Max Speed; 370kph (230mph)
Max Ceiling; 24,000ft
Max Range; 1,600 miles
Payload; 28 troops or 10,000lbs cargo

C-47 Skytrain
C-47: First specifically produced military version
C-47A: Most numerous version, 24-volt electrical system
C-47B: High altitude version
XC-47C: Amphibian with Edo Model 78 floats
C-47D: C-47Bs with the high level supercharger removed
C-47E: Aircraft modernised by Pan Am
YC-47F: The Super DC-3 while being tested by the USAF
C-47H: Navy R4D-5 after 1962
C-47J: Navy R4D-6 after 1962
C-47K: Navy R4D-7 after 1962
C-47M: Vietnam era aircraft with special electronic equipment
EC-47N: Electronic reconnaissance version of C-47A
EC-47P: Electronic reconnaissance version of C-47D
EC-47Q: Powered by R-2000-4

Douglas Dakotas of SAAF Shuttle Service (2 of 2)
Douglas Dakotas of SAAF Shuttle Service (2 of 2)

Other Military Versions
C-41A: One VIP/ Staff transport aircraft
C-53 Skytrooper
XCG-17 Glider
R4D-1 to -7: Naval versions of C-47
R4D-8: Naval Super DC-3

Impressed Aircraft
C-48: Pratt & Whitney powered
C-49: Wright Cyclone powered
C-50: Wright Cyclone powered
C-51: Wright Cyclone powered
C-52: Pratt & Whitney powered
C-68: Pratt & Whitney powered
C-84: Wright Cyclone powered

Britain and Commonwealth
Dakota I
Dakota II
Dakota III
Dakota IV

Foreign Production
L2D "Tabby" (Japan)
Lisunov Li-2/ PS-84

C-47/R4D Skytrain Units of the ETO and MTO, David Isby. The C-47 was used in every major Allied attack from Operation Torch to the crossing of the Rhine, and played a crucial part in the final Allied victory in Europe. This book focuses on those major offensives, from the often flawed planning to the courageous implementation. For many of the crews involved these huge aerial attacks were their first combat mission and the plans required almost impossible levels of precision, but despite this most of these attacks ended in success. Here we discover why. [see more]
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C-47/R4D Skytrain Units of the Pacific and CBI, David Isby. Although the war in the Pacific is often seen as predominantly a naval war, very few of the Allied offensives would have been possible without the C-47/R4D (known as the Dakota in RAF service). Isby packs a great deal into this book, looking at the role the C-47 played in every part of the war against Japan, from the frozen Aleutians to the jungles of Burma. Often operating in areas within range of Japanese fighters, the Air Force's C-47s and Navy's R4Ds flew supplies into forward bases, dropped paratroopers and flew troops directly into newly captured or built airfields and flew casualties away from the front line. [see more]
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How to cite this article: Pointon-Dugdale, T. (23 March 2006), Douglas DC-3 / C-47 Dakota,

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