Fifty years ago today, the DC-3 made its first test flight above Santa Monica. It wasn't a particularly significant occasion; the new plane had simply been commissioned by American Airlines to carry more passengers than the DC-2 so that the airline could make more money per flight.
But that was history in the making, it turns out, and the event is celebrated in a "Nova" documentary on public television tonight, "The Plane That Changed the World" (airing at 8 p.m. on Channels 28 and 15 and at 9 p.m. on Channel 50). It was written, produced and directed by Marty Ostrow.
Through a choice selection of old film clips and an assortment of new interviews, the program affectionately traces the plane's evolution and explains its prominent role in history. The twin-engine aircraft, built by the Douglas Aircraft Co., is credited with getting the then-struggling commercial aviation industry off the ground and later, in a modified version known as the C-47, with helping propel the Allies to victory in World War II.
Although small and old-fashioned compared to today's huge jetliners, the DC-3 was revolutionary in its day, carrying up to 21 passengers in relative safety and comfort and serving them, for the first time, hot meals.