Voices from the DC-3 a Delightful Surprise

By Scott Spangler on August 19th, 2011

DC-3H_HiResThroughout its life, now 75 years and counting, millions of words have been written about the iconic DC-3/C-47/R4D/Dakota. I’ve written some of them, and read most of them. So I cracked the cover on Together We Fly: Voices from the DC-3 with some trepidation. At best I expected to read stories I already knew told with new words, but the author, Julie Boatman Filucci, served up a delightful surprise: intriguing new stories about the people who designed, built, flew, maintained, and lived a better life—or just lived—because this airplane existed.

Voices subdivides more than 75 years of DC-3 history into 30 clear, concise, and evocative chapters that fill all but a handful of its 192 well illustrated pages. In the preface, which follows the forward by Jack Pelton, the retired Cessna CEO who started his career as a Douglas Aircraft engineer, Filucci explains that the book grew out of the December 2005 story she did for AOPA Pilot about the airplane’s 70th birthday. In response to it, “pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, engineers, soldiers, passengers, and spectators wanted to share their relationship with the airplane.” Do yourself a favor, don’t start reading until you take care of all your immediate responsibilities—work, making dinner, sleep, whatever.

Each chapter takes a segment of DC-3 history, starting with Donald Wills Douglas, and like a surprise birthday party, each chapter revealed an aspect of history I’d never heard of before. Douglas, for example, attended the US Naval Academy for two years before transferring to MIT, where he became one of its first aeronautical engineering students. Oh, and while at Annapolis, accompanied by his mother, he watched the brothers Wright fly their 1909 acceptance trials with the US Army.

From previous reading I knew that TWA ordered the DC-2, and that American took the next step. I didn’t know that American’s C.R. Smith gave Douglas the requirements for the DST, a DC-3 with sleeping berths, during a 2-hour phone call that cost American $335.50. And have you ever heard of a “flag stop”? Apparently in the 1930s airlines would land at some stops on their routes, like Wilkes-Barre, only if the station manager raised a flag, which said that there were passengers awaiting pickup.

Later Chapters get into the DC-3’s FAA airway certification work in Alaska (and that N-34, flying for the FAA in its 1950s colors, is one of two items on the National Historic Register that moves; the other one is the San Francisco cable car). I don’t want to spoil a good read, but other chapters get into flying cargo everywhere from the Caribbean to Canada’s Northwest Territories. Voices concludes with a chapter on The Last Time, the gathering of DC-3s (and the sole surviving flying DC-2) that celebrated the venerable bird’s 75th birthday in 2010.

Perhaps the most telling part of its history are the thumbnail histories of the DC-3s that participated in The Last Time. I can’t think of one of them that hasn’t flown in almost every corner of the world while wearing registration numbers that often do not start with N. It is the final nuance the book gives to the airplane’s record-setting life. –Scott Spangler

Related Posts:

One Response to “Voices from the DC-3 a Delightful Surprise”

  1. Can You Hear? Voices From The DC-3 « Aviation Queen Says:

    […] the book for my collection. Be sure and read this great review from our friends over at the Jetwhine blog — and if you’ve read the book, let me know what you think! […]

Subscribe without commenting