The Douglas C-47 Skytrain 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 in civilian versions.
On June 6, 2019 – was the D-day anniversary. On this day 75 years ago, took place an invasion of France by allied forces as part of the process of ending the second world war in Europe. It was codenamed Operation Neptune, and it aimed to push Nazi Germany out of the occupied country.
A large number of soldiers landed by sea, on five beaches in northern France. Just after midnight on June 6, aerial bombardment of enemy positions on the Normandy coast began. That night, more than 5,300 tonnes of bombs were dropped. Special operations troops were parachuted into the country to attack bridges and secure vital infrastructure targets before the landings. They also sent information about German positions back by pigeon. These elite soldiers were transported by Douglas C-47 Skytrains and C-53 Skytroopers. The lead plane of this main force was a C-47A bearing the name “That’s All, Brother.” Seventy-five years later, on Wednesday, the same C-47A flew over Normandy, an unique memorial to those who took part in one of the most important moments of WWII.
The Douglas C-47 Skytrain or Dakota is a military transport aircraft developed during 1940s. The Douglas Skytrain 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 in civilian versions. 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 C-47 differed from the civilian DC-3 in numerous modifications, including being fitted with a cargo door, hoist attachment, and strengthened floor, along with a shortened tail cone for glider-towing shackles, and an astrodome in the cabin roof.
During World War II, the armed forces of many countries used the C-47 and modified DC-3s for the transport of troops, cargo, and wounded. The U.S. Naval designation was R4D. More than 10,000 aircraft were produced in Long Beach and Santa Monica, California and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Between March 1943 and August 1945, the Oklahoma City plant produced 5,354 C-47s.
The specialized C-53 Skytrooper troop transport started production in October 1941 at Douglas Aircraft’s Santa Monica plant. It lacked the cargo door, hoist attachment, and reinforced floor of the C-47. Only 380 aircraft were produced in all because the C-47 was found to be more versatile.
The C-47 has a basic appearance, a twin-engined low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear, tubular fuselage, and single vertical tail surface. The pilot and co-pilot sat at the extreme front of the fuselage with an observation blister directly behind the cockpit. Entry-exit doors were situated at the forward and aft sides of the fuselage for loading troops and exiting paratroopers. In service, the design was noted for its ability to withstand extreme amounts of damage and still keep its flying qualities about her.
Powered by two 1,200-horsepower Pratt & Whitney radial engines, the C-47 had a wingspan of 29 metres, a length of 19.6 metres, and a crew of three, included pilot, copilot, and loadmaster or navigator. It had a cruise speed of 250km per hour and a range of 2,600km.
Some C-47 were VIP transports, and a few had sleeping accommodations, but the vast majority were fitted with metal bench seats for 28 fully armed troops. The normal payload was 2,300kg, but the C-47 could carry as much as 2,700kg or even 3,200kg in an emergency. The spacious rear-fuselage cargo doors could accommodate jeeps, light trucks, or anything else of equivalent bulk and weight, and they could be opened and closed in flight to drop troops or cargo by parachute. This latter capability and its spacious cabin made the C-47 far and away the best paratroop delivery aircraft of the war. Finally, the C-47 could tow two CG-4 Waco assault gliders or one of the larger British Horsa gliders. As an aerial ambulance, the C-47 could carry 18 stretcher cases and a medical crew of three.
The C-47 was vital to the success of many Allied campaigns, in particular those at Guadalcanal and in the jungles of New Guinea and Burma, where the C-47 made it possible for Allied troops to counter the mobility of the light-travelling Japanese Army. Additionally, C-47s were used to airlift supplies to the embattled American forces during the Battle of Bastogne. Possibly its most influential role in military aviation, however, was flying “The Hump” from India into China. The expertise gained flying “The Hump” was later be used in the Berlin Airlift, in which the C-47 played a major role, until the aircraft were replaced by Douglas C-54 Skymasters.
In Europe, the C-47 and a specialized paratroop variant, the C-53 Skytrooper, were used in vast numbers in the later stages of the war, particularly to tow gliders and drop paratroops. During the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, C-47s dropped 4,381 Allied paratroops. More than 50,000 paratroops were dropped by C-47s during the first few days of the D-Day campaign also known as the invasion of Normandy, France, in June 1944. In the Pacific War, with careful use of the island landing strips of the Pacific Ocean, C-47s were even used for ferrying soldiers serving in the Pacific theater back to the United States.
The C-47 was delivered in large numbers to U.S. allies under lend-lease. It was built under license in the Soviet Union, where it was designated the Lisunov Li-2 and remained the backbone of internal air transport well into the 1960s.
After World War II thousands of surplus C-47s were converted to civil airline use. Other C-47s remained in active military service and played a critical role not only in the Berlin Airlift, but also in the Korean and Vietnam wars. In Vietnam, the C-47 served as a transport plane, but it also flew a variety of other missions, including ground attack as gunships, reconnaissance, and psychological warfare. Many hundreds remain in civil service today.