C-47/DC-3 Info & Specs

A Brief History…

No one could really argue that within the annuals of aviation history, this aircraft and its many derivatives were unequivocally, the most successful twin-engined propliners ever to be produced. However, it was not the initial DC-3 variant that brought this particular aircraft to prominence being as only 607 of this model were built. Indeed, many other airliners have been produced in far greater numbers. In actual fact, it was the C-47 version that gave this type its well deserved reputation, having been the prime mover of both paratroopers and cargo for the Allied Forces during WWII. More than 15,000 eventually rolled off of the Douglas production lines and by the time the war had ended, thousands of these aircraft had suddenly become excess to requirements. Thus from 1946 onwards, many were sold off as military surplus at bargain basement prices which in turn enabled a good number of fledgling airlines to get off of the ground.

It was in fact ten years earlier that the DC-3 story began, this airliner eventually coming about as part of an earlier requirement from former U.S. airline TWA. In 1933, this airline had looked into purchasing the Boeing 247 for its fleet, however at the time, this aircraft manufacturer had committed itself to a large order that had already been placed by United and as such TWA returned to Douglas and as a result, the DC-1 was born. Trials with this single aircraft ran for roughly 6 months and an order was then placed for 20 upgraded models which came to be known as the DC-2, the first of these aircraft going into service with TWA in May 1934. However, it would be another rival American Airlines which would ultimately push for the DC-3, this coming about as part of a request by this airline to produced a sleeper, which finally emerged as the DST and the rest is as they say ‘history’…

By the early 1950s, large numbers of DC-3s and C-47s that had been converted to DC-3 specs were flying passengers across much of the globe, while still more were put to work as cargo freighters. At this time and despite still having a large and thriving aircraft industry, the British aircraft manufacturers were still unable to offer anything that could compete with this reliable, rugged and well liked aircraft and as a result of this, many of them found their way into the hands of both large and small British airlines alike. In fact, it was B.E.A. who ended up procuring the largest number of U.K. registered machines for its Pionair passenger and Leopard freight services with 70 of the type being operated in total, although some of these aircraft would be leased in from other companies including sister airline B.O.A.C. So liked was the type that B.E.A. even went as far as converting two such aircraft to Rolls Royce Dart power but the problem of pressurisation still remained at altitude and as such they were restricted solely to cargo flights.

While a multitude of DC-3s and C-47 have frequented SEN from the time that it was reopened to civil aviation, it wasn’t until March 1950 that this type became a full-time resident with the founding of Southend based airline Crewsair. This aircraft would also go on to give birth to what would become two of Britain’s largest post-war independents in the form of B.K.S. and Dan-Air which began C-47/DC-3 operations at the airport in February 1952 and May 1953 respectively. However, it wasn’t until the early 1960s that the DC-3 began to be based at SEN in any significant numbers. With the disposal of the B.E.A. fleet, Channel Airways were given the chance to snap up a total of 9 of these well maintained aircraft (including one of the former Dart powered aircraft) at very reasonable prices and by May 1962, the airline had 8 aircraft in its fleet (one had been lost in a fatal accident during this month).

Needless to say, Channel would not be the last SEN airline to operate this type and from the 1960s through to the 1980s, several airlines and aviation related companies with C-47s/DC-3s including Eastern Airways, Harvest Air, Macedonian Aviation and B.U.A. had either based their aircraft at Southend or were using the airport as a hub. Numerous regular visitors such as Air Atlantique, Air Ulster, Autair, Skyways and South West Aviation, not to mention several foreign airlines and air forces would also make their presence felt too. It goes without saying that being such a popular aircraft, the C-47/DC-3 has survived well and even to this very day numerous aircraft remain as the backbone of airlines in developing countries, while in the West many are kept airworthy by aviation enthusiasts and aviation societies alike.


Douglas DC-3 Main Variants


Main passenger variant with 21 seat cabin


As above but with Pratt & Whitney engines


Produced for TWA – Wright Cyclone engines – Sleeper variant although the cabin was smaller than the DST and had fewer upper windows


Civil designation for all converted, former ex-military C-47 aircraft


Pratt & Whitney engines – Civil version of C-117s that were uncompleted on the production line


Lengthened (39in) DC-3 with squared-off wing tips and a taller, larger tail – Larger engines provided 25-35% more power


The original sleeper variant fitted out with 16 cots – The cabin could also be converted to accommodate 24 passengers – DST-A also produced with Pratt & Whitney engines – Easily identified by the inclusion of an upper row of windows along the length of the cabin


Douglas C-47/C-53 Main Variants

(Only those variants that were converted into civilian freighters are listed below)

C-47/Dakota I

Earliest 4 crew variant that could accommodate 27 paratroopers or 18 stretchers and 3 medics

C-47A/Dakota III

Upgraded model with 24v electrical system

C-47B/Dakota IV

As above but with two stage supercharged R1830-90 engines


As above but with no or in some cases single stage superchargers


Cabin modified to take up to 28 troops or 24 stretchers

C-53/Dakota II

Paratrooper version with non-strengthened cargo floor and no rear cargo door


Douglas DC-3/C-47 Conversions and Licence Builds

Basler BT-67

Pratt & Whitney 1,280shp turboprop conversion with stronger lengthened fuselage and modern avionics (58 built)

BSAS C-47TP Turbo Dakota

Pratt & Whitney 1,424shp turboprop conversion with upgraded avionics for South African Air Force (c.38 built)

Conroy Turbo Three & Super Turbo Three

Rolls Royce Dart 1,670shp turboprop conversions (1 of each built)

Conroy Tri-Turbo Three

Pratt & Whitney 1,174 shp turboprop conversion with three engines (one in the nose) and ski option (2 built)

Dart Dakota

Rolls Royce Dart conversions carried out by B.E.A. – Aircraft later used as freighters – Radials later restored (2 built)

Lisunov Li-2

Licence built in Russia (4,937 built)

Nakajima/Showa L2D

Licence built in Japan (487 built)


Douglas DC-3A Specifications

Number Built


(All Variants)


Medium Range Airliner/Cargo Aircraft


64ft 8in (19.7m)


95ft 2in (29m)


Up to 32 passengers

Cruise Speed

170kt – 195mph (315km/h)






2 x 1,100hp 9-Cyl Wright Cyclone R-1820 Radials


2 x 1,200hp 14-Cyl Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp Radials