The Iconic DC-3

By Mike Davenport, EAA 89102

Those of you who are students of aviation history know that there are
few if any airplanes that have served so many markets and influenced so many
people as the venerable Douglas DC-3. Tens of thousands of words have been
written on its history as an airliner and a military transport, mounted on
wheels, skis, and even floats. It has hauled passengers, freight, and livestock
from one end of the world to the other.

As a business traveler, I flew a lot — on many different
aircraft from the Boeing 707 all the way to the 777. On Douglas airplanes it
was DC-8s, -9s, and -10s; Lockheed’s 1011; a variety of Airbuses; and even one
or two on a Viscount and a Vanguard. Four trans-Atlantic flights were on a
Canadair CL-44 Yukon, and there were many more domestic flights on smaller
airliners and airlines than I can remember ranging from Dash 8s to Beavers and
Otters. Back in the day, pre-9/11, I even got to ride up front in 737s and a DC-10
with friends, and I remember those flights with fondness.

One trip was particularly memorable; it was on a DC-3.

In the 1970s I had a business opportunity in Vanderhoof in central British
Columbia and wasn’t looking forward to the 12-hour drive when someone suggested
flying there. I said, “Don’t be ridiculous, no one flies there — it’s in the
middle of nowhere.” However, the idea did have merit so after checking with my
travel agent, I found that sure enough there was a weekly flight there and
back. A small regional airline flew a schedule out of Vancouver to Prince
Rupert via Vanderhoof using a vintage DC-3.

Pan American Airways’ example of a DC-3 in flight.

It departed from the south terminal at Vancouver International direct to
Vanderhoof. I called my client, confirmed an appointment, arranged for ground
transportation, and I was set.

The aircraft was parked just outside the terminal building, and when the
flight was called, we wandered out onto the ramp, climbed up the steps, and made
our way awkwardly uphill into our assigned seats. No security checks, just the
co-pilot to herd us in the right direction.

As we boarded, the opposite engine was started amidst a cloud of smoke
and noises peculiar to all Pratt &Whitney engines. Once seated and the door
closed, the other engine was started and we taxied out to Runway 08, and with a
maximum of noise and a minimum of fuss, we departed turning toward the north
shore mountains. The entire flight was conducted at around 10,000 feet (no
pressurization), and the view was spectacular all the way to Vanderhoof.
Visibility was clear and a million with snowcapped mountains in all quadrants
as far as the eye could see. Wine was served — in plastic cups — but smoking
was discouraged.

The door to the cockpit was open allowing us to see all that was going
on, but we were unable to hear anything due to engine and wind noises. All this
just added to the ambiance of the flight.

When we landed, I was the only one getting off, and I casually mentioned
to the co-pilot manning the door that I’d see him later that day. He appeared
startled and said, “It’s a good thing you said that as we weren’t planning a
stop here on the way home.”

At the end of a successful business day (I got the order) I was dropped
off back at the airfield. Somehow it seems more appropriate to call it an
airfield rather than an airport. It was quiet — no terminal, no traffic, a
gravel parking lot, and a single car that looked more abandoned than parked. There
wasn’t even a port-a-potty, and there was apparently no one but me on the
field. There was a crow in a nearby tree, but even it didn’t have anything to
say. Then I heard a round engine stutter into life, and a moment later a Beaver
on floats came out from behind a hangar. It looked odd, the engine running
while sitting on a trailer behind a pickup truck. Together they headed to the
runway, and as the truck accelerated the Beaver added power and sure enough, it
lifted off the trailer, cleared the truck, and took off for the river.
Apparently, this was an everyday event in the north but was unique to a

Once the Beaver was gone and the truck and trailer returned to the
hangar, not much else was going on. The quiet was all encompassing. The wind
was minimal, and the windsock leaned against its pole with nothing much to do.
Off in the distance I thought I could hear a plane, and then, just over the
trees off the end of the gravel runway appeared my flight. It was as though a
time warp had appeared, and out of it flew this ancient plane into today. As it
touched down on the gravel with a puff of dust, I heard the engines throttle
back, and it continued to taxi toward me. It was surreal — as though it was
1938, a time before I was born, watching this anachronism taxi onto the ramp to
pick me up. No tower, no radios, no fences, and no security, a window into the
past and what it must have been like back in the day.

The flight back to Vancouver was as visually striking as it was
uneventful, and then the door opened once again to the modern world of the

CF-PWH on static display at Langley Regional Airport in British Columbia

Years later, I briefly owned a share in a DC-3 that a small group of
Langley pilots had purchased from a defunct museum originally located in
Cloverdale, British Columbia. Within a week we had donated it to the Langley-based
Canadian Museum of Flight. This airplane, CF-PWH had been found derelict in the
1980s at the Terrace Airport where it had been shoved back into the trees and
stripped of all usable parts including both wings and engines by its last
operator, Trans-Provincial Airlines. A set of wings had been obtained from
another derelict located at the Bellingham International Airport in Washington,
and the aircraft has been cosmetically restored for static display. Today it
can been seen just off the end of Runway 01 at the Langley Regional Airport.

Many others are still working daily. Buffalo Airways in Yellowknife, Northwest
Territories, has several. Basler Flight Service in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, has
built a strong business in restoring and modifying DC-3s for sale worldwide. A
significant number of lovingly restored examples are flown by museums around
the world. In Ontario, check out the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Mount
Hope. Another is on static display in Ottawa at the Canadian Aviation and Space
Museum. One that can often be seen here on the West Coast in PAA colours is at
John Session’s Historic Flight Museum located at Paine Field in Everett,
Washington. There, for a nominal fee, you can enjoy a flight and a moment of

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