DC-3 Reunion Anchors Reflective Airline Arc

By Scott Spangler on May 24th, 2010

75 Logo Reflection is an unintended consequence of a wide interest in aviation, and connecting past with present is the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh reunion of the iconic airplane that earns its keep still, even as it approaches its 75th birthday. Some call it the DC-3, others know it as the C-47 or R4D, and it is remanufactured for 21st century service as the BT-67 at Basler Turbo Conversions, across the airport from the AirVenture Grounds.

A mass arrival of this patriarch of aviation is planned for AirVenture’s opening day, Monday, July 25, and an organization—The Last Time—was formed to make it happen, safely and on time. More than 40 of these historic airplanes will gather the weekend before, July 24-26, and a handful of events have been planned at the rendezvous airfield in Rock Falls, Illinois. (The Whiteside County Airport, SQI, is on I-88, the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway, 143 nm south-southwest of OSH.)

NC-DC-3 My first flight was on a mallard-tailed North Central Airlines DC-3, which carried my mother and me, a mid-1950s toddler, to visit grandma in Battle Creek. Later, I spent uncounted hours reading the exploits of pilots who flew it in civilian and military service. Given its uninterrupted tenure and reliable service in even the most dire situations, the DC-3 embodies the ideals of what commercial aviation should be and it is this spirit with which I measure what commercial aviation has become.

And when I read stories like “As Attention Wanders, Rethinking the Autopilot” in the Chicago Tribune and “ Future airline pilots may be less experienced, less ethical, in short supply, NTSB told” in the New York Times, I think of a story Ernie Gann told me, in Hostage to Fortune, I think. He was a new copilot, wrestling with stormy weather through the controls. To simulate lightening, perhaps, his crusty old captain flashed matches to flames before his eyes. 

Ignoring these incendiary distractions Ernie concentrated on flying his beloved DC-3. Less than pleased to be so challenged, he was happy to be sitting in that seat, understanding what a privilege it was.  Oh, how far aviation has come, how much it has gained—and how much it has lost. Maybe aviation today needs to recapture some of the old spirit or, at least, to be reminded of it. A reunion of former civilian and military DC-3 crews and passengers is one of The Last Time’s Whiteside Airport activities. It will be interesting to hear their reflections on the arc of airline progress. –Scott Spangler

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