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The Douglas DC-3 is an American fixed-wing propeller-driven aircraft whose speed and range revolutionized air transport in the 1930s and 1940s. Its lasting impact on the airline industry and World War II makes it one of the most significant transport aircraft ever made.
The DC-3 was the culmination of a development effort that originated out of an inquiry from Transcontinental and Western Airlines (TWA) to Donald Douglas. TWA asked Douglas to design and build an aircraft that would enable TWA to compete with United. Douglas' resulting design, the 1933 DC-1, was promising, and led to the DC-2 in 1934. While the DC-2 was a success, there was still room for improvement.
The DC-3 was the result of a marathon phone call from American Airlines CEO Cyrus Smith to Donald Douglas, during which Smith persuaded a reluctant Douglas to design a sleeper aircraft based on the DC-2 to replace American's Curtiss Condor II biplanes. The new aircraft was engineered by a team led by chief engineer Arthur E. Raymond over the next two years, and the prototype DST (for Douglas Sleeper Transport) first flew on December 17, 1935 (the 32nd anniversary of the Wright Brothers' flight at Kitty Hawk). A version with 21 passenger seats instead of the sleeping berths of the DST was also designed and given the designation DC-3.
The amenities of the DC-3 and DST popularized air travel in the United States. With only three refuelling stops, eastbound transcontinental flights across the U.S. taking approximately 15 hours became possible. Westbound trips took 17 hours 30 minutes because of typical prevailing headwinds — still a significant improvement over the competing Boeing 247. During an earlier era, such a trip would entail short hops in slower and shorter range aircraft during the day, coupled with train travel overnight.
Production of DC-3s ceased in 1942, military versions were then produced until the end of the war in 1945. In 1949 a larger more powerful Super DC-3 was launched to positive reviews, but the market was flooded with second-hand C-47s and only three were ever sold.