In yet another testament to the venerable Douglas DC-3 (and its predecessor DC-2), this 1942 article in Flying Aces magazine highlights the extreme extent of battle damage some of these planes suffered and still managed to fly to a safe landing. Of course not all flight crews were so fortunate, but the robustness of the airframe and engines are rightly credited for their endurance and reliability. During and long past the rigors of World War II service years, the DC-3 built upon its reputation as a work horse. It is no wonder that the DC-3 (and its military designation of C-47) has for going on a century been the all-time favorite transport type airplane of many aviation enthusiasts - including yours truly. If I had a bucket list, which I really do not, at or near the top of the list would be to take a ride in a DC-3 or a C-47. In all the places I have lived in the last many decades, there has never been one at an airshow that was offering rides for hire. Time is running out...
They Really Can "Take It" - Douglas DC-2 and DC-3
DC-2's and DC-3's are used in more countries on more airline routes than any other plane in the world.
Even though the Douglas transports were designed for peaceful commercial purposes, they have certainly proved their worth in war service.
by Raymond Heron
The durability of Douglas airplanes is acknowledged and unsurpassed the world over. Last Spring, for instance, "Old 301," the first DC-2 built for airline service, was sold by TWA to the British government as a military transport. This was a remarkable guarantee of aircraft perfection, because "Old 301" was almost ten years old and had flown nearly 2,000,000 miles for TWA.
But "Old 301" lived a relatively easy life flying leisurely from one side of the United States to the other, following lighted airways, and landing on paved airports. Its record seems dull indeed alongside those being turned in daily in China since the Japanese invasion occurred.
The China National Aviation Corp. - Middle Kingdom Space Machine Family, the Chinese call it - flies the world's most dangerous route and has the world's most unusual operations policy. They say: "If the weather is sufficiently bad, we fly in the daytime. If the weather is good, we fly at night without lights."
The reason for this is simple. The pilots have to avoid Japanese bombers and fighters whose crews always relish a little target practice, for 200 miles of CNAC's 700-mile Hong Kong to Chunking route lies over Japanese occupied territory and virtually all the route is patrolled by Japanese airplanes.
But not always are the pilots able to escape bombers and fighters, even under their unique policy, and thereby hangs a tale which amazed the aviation world.
On a regularly scheduled passenger trip from Hong Kong to Chunking, one of the six Douglas airliners operated by CNAC was forced to land at Suifu because of an air raid in progress at Chunking. En route home from their bombing expedition, five Japanese bombers spotted the DC-3 on the ground at Suifu. Passengers and crew had retired to the comparative safety of a nearby shelter while the Japs dropped more than 200 bombs on the airport.
Bombs tore the right wing off a China National DC-3. But it was fitted with a DC-2 panel and eluded the invader.
When the raiders had departed, CNAC's Captain H. L. Woods emerged from the shelter to take stock of the damage done. He discovered that one bomb had passed through the right wing of the DC. The explosion tore off the wing just outside the point where it joined the center section. There were more than 50 holes in the fuselage, caused by flying shrapnel. The concussions had caused the plane to "jump" sideways six feet, but the gas tanks did not explode and there was no other serious damage that could be seen.
The DC-3 needed a new wing, but none was to be found in Hong Kong. Suifu is about 900 miles in the interior of China and the only surface means of transportation from Hong Kong is over the Burma Road, which meant a wait of several months. The enforced idleness of one plane for this length of time was a bitter blow to the Chinese, and there was always the risk that it might be completely destroyed by further raids.
Captain Woods and several hundred coolies dragged the battered plane off the field and hid it three miles down a road in a clump of bamboo. The Japanese bombers returned, just as had been feared. But during three days of flights by 57 bombers the DC-3 escaped further damage because the bamboo hideout completely fooled the attackers.
In answer to a wire, Hong Kong radioed Captain Woods: "Sending DC-2 spare wing. Try it."
The job of flying the DC-2 wing to Suifu was a major aviation task in itself. Finally, it was decided to bolt the wing to the belly of another DC-2. The best weight distribution was achieved with the butt end forward and the tip to the rear.
By removing two inspection covers of the center section and building special fittings, the butt was made secure. The tip was then fastened by another fitting coming through the floor of the rear compartment. The wing was guyed by cables both fore and aft and sideways. Plywood fairings were added on the butt and tip to streamline the wing as much as possible.
Captain Harold A. Sweet, of Salt Lake City, volunteered to fly the three-winged DC-2 from Hong Kong to Suifu, a distance of about 860 miles. Nobody knew for sure that the strange contraption would fly, but Captain Sweet was willing to take a chance. While his colleagues held their breath, he raced the DC-2 almost to the last yard of runway before the wheels left the ground. Slowly he climbed, flying in wide circles to keep out of the range of Japanese gunners, and little by little the plane gained altitude. One final circle of the field, and then Captain Sweet was off for Suifu.
With its short port wing, the "DC-2 1/2" flew 860 miles to escape the Japanese, who had aimed more than 200 bombs at it.
The flight was uneventful, as they say in war communiqués, and after reaching his destination Captain Sweet reported that the DC-2 flew normally except for a slight longitudinal instability and buffeting. His speed was 112 miles per hour and gas consumption 78 gallons per hour at 55 percent horse power.
Then came the task of installing the spare wing on the DC-2. To appreciate the technical difficulties encountered, the DC-2 and DC-3, while of the same type, are very different airplanes. The DC-2 is a 14-passenger plane with a maximum weight of 18,600 pounds and a wing span of 85 feet. The DC-3 is a 21-passenger machine with a maximum weight of 24,400 pounds and a wing span of 95 feet.
It is true that the base or butt of the two wings and the fittings are identical, but there the similarity ends. The DC-2 wing was designed to carry about 75 percent of the gross weight of the DC-3. Supposedly, then, it was impossible to fly the DC-3 with one DC-3 wing and one DC-2 wing - the shape, area, and taper of the two wings being entirely different. But the whole story of aviation's progress is one of conquest over insurmountable obstacles, and so Captain Sweet climbed into the "DC-2 1/2."
Sure it flew - and "with surprisingly little trouble," Captain Sweet reported after landing safely at Hong Kong. He said that the "DC-2 1/2" had a tendency to roll toward the DC-2 wing. But allowance was made for this with an aileron tab setting of 12 degrees, and with a slight difference in propeller r.p.m. the plane flew straight and level. And this with one wing five feet longer than the other!
But this was not the first time that Douglas airliners flew through war, twisted and torn and riddled with holes but functioning smoothly.
Stories told about the DC-2's in service with the Spanish republic during the Spanish civil war even top those from China. As a regular thing, the hard-pressed Loyalists loaded these 14-passenger airplanes with 30 or more passengers and then outran the night fighters of the Germans and Italians.
These stories were best told in a letter to Donald W. Douglas written by F. Batet, flight mechanic on one of the airplanes. He said:
"I want to begin by saying that throughout the thirty-two months of the war, our four Douglas DC-2 airplanes were never out of service, and during all this time they were never housed in any hangar and always operated from provisional fields either by the seashore or among the mountains. Furthermore, we used them at night as well as in the daytime, and all during the Spanish war we subjected them to trials which no other airplane would have withstood. They gave us courage never to fail.
"One occasion, a crew was pursued by a squadron of Fiat fighters on the Extremadura front and was able to outrun them, thanks to the greater speed of the Douglas.
"When we were transferred to Valencia, we accomplished, with the Douglases, 182 liaison flights between Valencia and Santander in a straight line which crossed 500 kms. (311 miles) of enemy territory. We did this without protection and without armament, and always much overloaded. During these operations we were pursued eight times and the Fiats never succeeded in overtaking us or even annoying us seriously.
"During the month of May, 1937, we effected a transfer of troops from Valencia to Tarragona. With gasoline for one hour and a half (132 gallons) we carried thirty-five men with rifles in each plane each trip. On one of these flights the pilot of one plane did not realize that the field at Tarragona had recently been bombed. After he was already on the ground, he found out too late that the plane was heading straight for a hole made by a 100 kg. (about 220 pounds) bomb. The left wheel dropped into the hole and the wing on that side was slammed down against the ground. After removing the airplane an inspection was made to ascertain the extent of the damage. It was found that the wing was bent upward at a point about four meters (13 feet 2 inches) from its connection with the fuselage. While this condition was being examined, there arrived news of enemy airplanes approaching the field. In this condition the airplane took-off and arrived at Valencia without incident. It was later ascertained that the upper surface of the left wing formed an angle of 17 degrees.
"On another occasion a box of ammunition exploded beside one of the DC-2's. It killed three men and destroyed the half of the fuselage between the entrance door and the tail. Repairs were made at one of the provisional fields right out in the open air. When the plane was tested it was found that it had not lost any of its excellent qualities.
"We began the war with four Douglas DC-2 airplanes, and with each one flown more than 2,000 hours during the conflict they have now been surrendered to Franco, old and with many scars but covered with glory and in good condition."
Airline operators have always known it. The wars have proved it. DC-2's and DC-3's really can "take it," even though they were never built to "dish it out!" The End