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Paying Attention

December 17, 1985

On Dec. 17, 1935, the first DC-3, destined to revolutionize commercial aviation, took off from what was then Clover Field in Santa Monica. No one witnessed the takeoff, so the story goes. No one photographed it. But memory often produces stronger reactions than reality, so today Santa Monica Airport hosts ceremonies, speeches, a band, three DC-3s, stewardesses, a parade and, yes, photographers, to observe the 50th anniversary of the famed, sturdy and even beloved old workhorse.

In wartime the DC-3 and its converted cousin, the C-47, flew supplies over The Hump and dropped paratroopers for D-Day. It helped with the Berlin Airlift. In Vietnam, with machine guns firing through its ports, it was known as Puff the Magic Dragon.

This Douglas Aircraft product made its mark at home, too. The DC-3 enabled airlines to carry more passengers and thus operate at a profit for the first time. It was a basic, sturdy plane that lasted--and lasted, and lasted--in part because it was built by people who had not discovered planned obsolescence.

What lasts even longer than the planes is the tales that people tell. Anybody who has flown in a DC-3 remembers the sharp pitch of the aisle when the plane was on the ground, the closeness of the quarters by modern standards, and the apparent flapping of the wings. Anybody who has flown one says that everything about it--taking off, flying, landing--was "a piece of cake." And so today, unlike that December day 50 years ago, attention will be paid.

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