View Full Version : 18 hour sectors on DC7Cs

25th Jul 2012, 17:57
I've just read that Pan Am operated an 18 hour non stop service between San Francisco and London in the fifties using DC7Cs, presumably only eastbound owing to the prevailing winds. This would appear to be within the endurance of the aircraft according to an old planespotters book that I have and amazing to think that the duration of the flight is similar to EWR - SIN.

Can anyone remember what the flights were like? Quite a test of endurance I would imagine. Did they carry augmented crew (indeed, was the concept even thought of in those days)?

On another matter, can anyone tell me what the maintenance schedules were like for that generation of aircraft. How long could engines such as the Wright Turbo Compound go between overhaul? I know that Pan Am had a maintenance base at Heathrow but was this because hanger attention was required before a return transatlantic trip or to sevice change of gauge aircraft used on the round the world service? Modern long haul aircraft can achieve a utilisation of 5,000 hr / year these days. What sort of utilisation could a 50s four engine propeller liner acheive?

Spooky 2
25th Jul 2012, 19:08
Certainly would had an augmented crew. Probably two F/E's, three or possibly four pilots with one or more picking up the Navigation duties as a Second Officer.

I suspect one of the limiting factors to the DC7C along with the 1649A Connie was oil consumption? I have no schedules to refer to but if they had eastbound flights I would have to imagine there were westbound as well, possibly with a tech stop in Churchill.

27th Jul 2012, 13:03
The DC-7C was, I understand, designed by Douglas for the specific remit of being able to cross the Atlantic, non-stop, going east to west-the "Holy Grail" of air transport in the 1950s. They achieved this through, firstly, a very clever time- and money-saving piece of design. More fuel capacity was needed, so Douglas spliced five foot long extra sections of wing into the wing roots, thereby providing a lot more fuel tankage and incidentally giving the aircraft more lift, to cope with the increased weight from the extra fuel and extra passengers-see below.

This had the added benefit of taking the engines further outboard from the cabin, making for less engine noise, which was a particularly important consideration for very long flights, of the type described by Peter47. They also stretched the fuselage by 42 inches, to increase passenger load.

More powerful engines and four-bladed propellors were added, as well as a taller, more squared off tail fin (than those on the DC-6, DC-7 and DC-7B), the latter to cope with the extra power. Douglas also placed saddle tanks on top of each engine, to give yet more fuel capacity.

The end result was a very beautiful (in my opinion), streamlined and distinctive airliner, representing the peak of piston-engined airliner design, along with Lockheed's Starliner.

Douglas's clever time- and money-saving design also allowed them to get the DC-7C into service more than a year ahead of the Starliner. Lockheed, for its ultimate piston-engined airliner, went for the much more expensive and time-consuming option of designing an entirely new laminar flow wing, presumably to give the extra fuel tankage, tho I've never quite understood why they went to the (extra?) trouble of making it a laminar flow wing-can anyone explain that? The result was that the DC-7C achieved far more sales than the Starliner (121 as against 43).

I have also read that, on night flights, long purple exhaust flames were visible, coming out of the engines, across the wings and saddle tanks, full of highly flammable Avgas! Perfectly safe, but I think some passengers would have needed some reassurance from the crew.

It was such a shame that, because of the advent of and tremendous impact of the entry into service of the 707 and DC-8 in the late fifties, the DC-7C and Starliner had such a short reign at the top, from 1956 to 1960.

A magnificent aircraft and I was privileged enough to see one or two in the air and on the ground in the early 1970s, tho its glory days were long over by then. Then, after a thirty year gap, bar a couple of wrecks at Stansted in c1980, I saw (because I went out of my way to get to see them) quite a no of DC-7Cs, from 2002 to 2005: two at Cordoba, Spain, one of which was subsequently (and very sadly) scrapped, but the other is now, I understand, on display, in pretty decent condition, in Cordoba town centre. These were fully converted fire bombers, acquired by their final owner, Basaer, who, I understand, went bust in 1999, from T and G Aviation in the States.

Then two on Gran Canaria, both ex-Spantax, one of which has subsequently been scrapped. The other still survives, but is in pretty poor condition. Then one used by Geneva airport as a fire trainer-again subsequently scrapped. Then one at Fairbanks, last used by Brooks Fuel there-don't know what will happen to it following their shutting down last year.

Apart from that, there is one at the Musee de l'air at Le Bourget, not, apparently, in very good condition and very difficult to get to see, because it is in their "Reserve stock." And one at Goodyear, Arizona, apparently in pretty good condition and owned by "Pyramid Oil," tho I have heard that the actual owners are a religious cult who plan to escape the end of the world, when that comes, by flying off in the aircraft! But where would they fly to? Whatever their reasons however, they have kept the aircraft in pretty decent condition over the years, so all credit to them for that.

I do hope one can be formally preserved, indoors (the one in Cordoba is outdoors) some time soon, before it's too late.

And here is a link to all my photos of the aircraft referred to above: Douglas DC-7Cs - a set on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/sets/72157630774109538/)

27th Jul 2012, 15:42
The DC-7C was, I understand, designed by Douglas for the specific remit of being able to cross the Atlantic, non-stop, going east to west-the "Holy Grail" of air transport in the 1950s.

The clue's in the name:


27th Jul 2012, 19:01
The Pan American timetable didn't seem to admit to a fuel stop while the TWA one mentioned a fuel stop may be necessary on their L-1649 flights.
Looking through Google various articles indicate that both carriers used Frobisher Bay.

28th Jul 2012, 09:54
"The clue's in the name."

Yep, the DC-7C was truly the master of the "Seven Seas," as Douglas very cleverly picked up on in their publicity for the aircraft.

28th Jul 2012, 10:50
I have also read that, on night flights, long purple exhaust flames were visible, coming out of the engines, across the wings and saddle tanks, full of highly flammable Avgas! Perfectly safe, but I think some passengers would have needed some reassurance from the crew.

Here's Chesley Sullenberger & Jeff Skiles checking out in a 7B (http://marcbrecy.perso.neuf.fr/DC7.html) rather than a 7C, but the flaming exhausts are spectacularly demonstrated.

28th Jul 2012, 11:28
Thanks for that. Just watched the video (in full screen and it was very high quality). Superb film and those exhaust flames!

Spooky 2
28th Jul 2012, 12:17
I doubt that many airlines used the Radio Operator by the time the 7C was in service but I'm ready to be corrected. Perhaps an operator (think BOAC, SABENA and perhaps Air France), that was working the African sectors heavily, but probably not Pan Am.

28th Jul 2012, 13:33
I had a walkaround the DC7 in Goodyear last year and unfortunatley it looked like it had not recieved any attention for several years.
Staff at the airport told the story of the two brothers that are planning to jump aboard and zoom off into the sunset when the end of the world arrives, although both the brother's are now in thier eighties.

Spooky 2
28th Jul 2012, 18:22
One more item. The DC7 and DC6 Nav staion was just aft of the F/O, facing forward with a drop down desk. This would have blocked the starboard side loading door. The crew bunks typically ran perpendicular to the fuselage and remaind inside the cockpit against the cabin to cockpit bulkhead which in turn mandated the entry to the cockpit be offset to the startboard side.

29th Jul 2012, 05:47
A rather good movie clip of a BOAC DC 7 landing, courtesy of youtube.

BOAC DC-7 G-AOID (Ca. 1950's) - YouTube

All that hand luggage!!

29th Jul 2012, 15:46
Crewmeal: great video-thanks for posting the link and I think some of the uploader's other videos will warrant watching in due course-Airboyd.

17th Aug 2012, 13:26
And I've just uploaded to my DC-7Cs set on Flickr, scans of some of the pages of an original 1956/7 BOAC brochure produced for the introduction of the aircraft by them:

Douglas DC-7Cs - a set on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/sets/72157630774109538/)

17th Aug 2012, 19:38
The deliveryflight of DC-7C, LN-MOE "Reidar Viking", took place November 15-16, 1956, non-stop from Los Angeles to Stockholm - about 8800 km in 21 hrs 41 min.

Source: Scanair Magazine (http://viking256.se/scanair/html/fpl/dc7.htm)

17th Aug 2012, 22:57
The three operators across the Arctic between Europe and the West Coast with propeller aircraft were Pan Am and SAS, with DC7Cs, and TWA, with Lockheed L-1649 Starliners. The key years were 1958-59, after which jets started to come in. These were so much faster that a jet routing via say New York was quicker than a prop service flying direct. The 1950s services did not have the frequency of their current equivalents, just a few flights a week.

In their 1958 timetable Pan Am had four flights a week, all routed differently, one each apparently nonstop London to LA, San Francisco and Seattle, and one Paris to LA. There were various continuations to San Francisco, which seems to have been the operating base. Departure from London at 2130 got to LA at 1055 the next morning, 21.5 hours flying.

TWA had a lesser operation with their Starliners, two Polar flights a week to San Francisco, and thence down to LA, one from London and one from Paris. The London one left just before midnight and got to San Francisco at 1305, 21 hours flying, with "a fuel stop may be necessary".

SAS actually have the biggest service, with daily DC7C flights in summer 1959 from Copenhagen departing at 2205, with an "optional" landing at Winnipeg, getting to LA at 1150. The return left LA just before midnight and flew through TWO nights, if the optional Winnipeg stop wasn't made, getting to Copenhagen at 0515 on the third morning. This daily operation would require a minimum of three aircraft. One of the DC7Cs appears to have been configured with economy seats only, and operated two flights a week. SAS was also operating the ultimate Polar flight for those days, also with DC7Cs three times a week, the pioneer Copenhagen to Anchorage flight, and on to Tokyo. This presented some significant navigational challenges for those days which SAS were the first to crack, including the Spring and Autumn periods of long Polar twilight, sun below the horizon but still some twilight so stars not visible, so no astral navigation possible. Invention of special adapted sextants overcame this.

SAS in 1959 also had a once-weekly DC6B service to Los Angeles, which additionally stopped in Sondre Stromfjord, Greenland, and took an extra five hours to LA, so the big final generation aircraft didn't have a complete monopoly.

Pan Am and TWA don't say where they might stop on the way, and Frobisher Bay (nowadays Iqaluit) would be a good emergency point, but I really would expect them to use Winnipeg when necessary instead. hauling fuel all the way up to Frobisher would be a real nuisance, the tanker ships can only get there in the summer, and this would surely be reflected in the price.

22nd Aug 2012, 12:38
I interviewed a retired PanAm pilot about twenty years ago and he told me that he used to fly a DC-7 non-stop from Dakar to New York with an alternate of Chicago!

Tim Zukas
22nd Aug 2012, 22:16
When PA and TW were about to start their polar flights in 1957 the Aviation Week article said a Frobisher stop would be usual for Pan Am-- both ways, far as we can tell. IIRC Airport Activity Stats shows 100+ PA DC7C departures from Frobisher during 1958.

But TWA apparently did manage even a few westward nonstops.

29th Aug 2012, 15:38
The A/C G-AOID was written off at Istanbul on a Far East trooping flight operated by Caledonian Airways. It hit the lip landing on R/W 06 and ground looped. After evacuation the last man on board was a steward called Lionel Hedy but unfortunately the bar money went up in flames! Lionel died in the Recoat Britannia crash at Boston.

29th Aug 2012, 18:10
As WHBM pointed out the Timetable Images site have vastly expanded their online complete timetable feature....plenty of Pan Am examples....I couldn't find a Dakar to NY direct service but the NY-Azores -Lisbon-Dakar -Leopoldville-Jo'burg route is featured as is the use of Ascension Island back in 1947 (Constellations, maybe?)http://www.timetableimages.com/ttimages/pa/pa47/pa47-07.jpg

Tim Zukas
31st Aug 2012, 17:22
If you look at the rest of that 1947 timetable I think you'll find PA didn't fly to Ascension, despite the map. Don't think they ever did; maybe Panair do Brasil never did either?

Didn't find a Dakar-Idlewild nonstop DC-7C in the few 1957-59 Guides I checked; I'll check 1960 but doubt it's there either.

Edit: PA 1960 timetables do show a weekly DC-7C nonstop each way DKR-IDL.

31st Aug 2012, 18:09
The 1950 map shows the Johannesburg route via Ascension as 'authorized but not operated'....so maybe they never did fly it commercially