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Flying the DC3

Old 8th Jan 2009, 22:15
  #1 (permalink)  
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Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Lara, VIC.
Age: 63
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Flying the DC3

I love these old classic DC3's and flew in them as a boy.

As a PPL who only flys lighties I am fascinated to know what these AC are like to fly.

After reading the thread by Skyways about the work of Classic Wings I have started this thread to invite pilots to share their impressions and insights about what these old girls are like to fly.

Some of us who have never and probably will never get to fly one would love to know what its like. What peculiar characteristics they have and how hard was it to learn to fly them well.

I read an article on AVWEB by a pilot in the US who was trained and endorsed to fly the B17 bomber for a Warbirds flying group a few years ago and it was great reading.
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Old 8th Jan 2009, 23:01
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The DC3 is WONDERFUL to fly! I well remember, having just come straight off light twins, the high cockpit position and tremendous noise and clatter of my first take-off. Back then no-one thought to fit intercom, so the instructor had to shout over the noise. Full takeoff power MUST always be used!
At training weights, take-off is easy enough, as the tail comes up when it wants to. The only thing to watch is don't force it up too quickly or you get a nice gyroscopic swing happening. Lift off at 81 knots, accelerate to 90 knots and you are theoretically OK if an engine quits.
In flight, it's SLOW, but a delight to fly and can be flown very accurately despite the 200 lb flight attendant running up and down the cabin with tea and coffee. The ailerons are quite heavy, but elevator is light and easily trimmed. Everything seems to happen in slow motion, which makes it a great machine for primitive activities like NDB approaches.
Air-conditioning in flight is 100% reliable - open the side windows.
In rain, they all leak, so a large rubbish bag with a hole cut in the base to pull over your head is the best way to keep dry. At least the leaks stop once it ices up, but then the noise starts as the props chuck ice chunks off against the fuselage just behind your ears.
Wheeler landings at light weight are also easy enough - assuming little or no crosswind. Approach at about 85 knots until a landing is assured, over the fence at 75 knots, close the throttles and let it settle. As the mains touch 'pin' it on with a very light forward pressure on the stick. When the tail is ready to come down, relax the slight forward pressure and apply slight aft pressure to get it down onto the tailwheel. All the time working the rudders to keep it straight.
It's when it's heavy at aft c. of g. that it can bite. On takeoff the tail doesn't want to come up, so it takes a bit of a push while counter-acting the gyroscopic swing on the rudders. Landing at aft c.g. / high weight is less forgiving if any swing is allowed to develop, especially in a crosswind as the tail comes down. But anyone who has been taught to fly properly should master it soon enough so that landings are 'greasers' 9 times out of 10. On grass or mud, it can also be 3 pointed - as it had to in some remote strips - by crossing the fence at 70 knots. We applied a crosswind limit of 20 knots on hard surfaces and 10 knots for 3 pointers. We operated up to 28,000 lb gross weight, but I think the Aussie DCA of the time set the gross weight at around 26,000 lb.
Ah, the memories.......
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Old 9th Jan 2009, 00:20
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Thumbs up

Absolute joy to fly and operate

Jeeze I must be close to one of the few current DC3 Guys (and probably the youngest ) around with the loss of the WA one.

Not hard to fly if you have respect for every moving part of a radial engine and a bit of Tailwheel time.

Anticipation is the key in my experience, as the ailerons are a looonnnggg way out on the wing so she is not going to roll in a hurry. Huge rudder so engine failure are easy to handle... just remember not to load her up too much!

We operate ours at 26900lbs Max AUW and we operate 17kts X on a dry runway.

Here are a few pics of our NZ one.. We do scenic rides in fact, I'll be out flying her on Sunday if the weather stays okay.



Picasa Web Albums - Andrew - DC3
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Old 9th Jan 2009, 01:17
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The DC-3 is a terrific machine to fly however just when you think you have it mastered it decides to bite you in some form, its an aircraft that you really have to fly, we've operated one at EN for nearly 20 years and its still extremely popular with the corporate market. The key is lots of maintenance and don't ask it to do to much. Have a look at and you'll see a bit more about it, anytime you are out at EN pop in and I'm sure someone will give you a tour and let you know what its like to fly.
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Old 9th Jan 2009, 02:09
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Very Nice Photos 'Wombat'.

Did I have the pleasure of flying with you at Wanaka last Easter??
I am planning to be there again in 2010!!
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Old 9th Jan 2009, 02:24
  #6 (permalink)  
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: Under the wing, asleep.
Posts: 375 do i get a gig flying one? Have a spare left nut i'm willing to donate!!!
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Old 9th Jan 2009, 02:45
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Silly Old Git
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Save it Dave it will probably freeze off.Thats after your pants get soaking wet through the leaking windscreen
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Old 9th Jan 2009, 05:30
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Great photos, Wombat.
Youngest? Surely that's a relative term! Maybe 'least old' might be more appropriate ...
Still, I can't talk in that regard, that's for sure.

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Old 9th Jan 2009, 07:13
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Join Date: Nov 2007
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I have had the pleasure of flying in her I think in 2005 or thereabouts. I was on a cruise on the Pacific Sky around NZ at the time and one of the shore tours you could do was an hour or so flight around Auckland. Hardly a choice to make for me at the time, so I left my travelling companions to do other things and set forth. If memory serves me right the inside had been fitted out with 737 seats and it had the karkie colours shown with the big WB at the time. Fond memories and a great day out it was too.
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Old 9th Jan 2009, 07:21
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Has the Hardy's one at Darwin flown lately? I went for a spin in it as a passenger back in 2002 I think it was but haven't heard if its been kept airworthy since then.
Old 9th Jan 2009, 07:57
  #11 (permalink)  
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I assume they would be thirsty beasts. Those radial engines would have to use a lot of fuel. But don't they sound magic.
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Old 9th Jan 2009, 08:27
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Nice looking aeroplane Wombat
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Old 9th Jan 2009, 12:26
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The DC3 can bite. A full flap power on stall will almost certainly result in a savage (and I mean, savage) wing tip stall and wing drop. The RAAF Dakotas had rubber de-icing boots the full length of the wing leading edge. I had one split wide open like a zipper just as the landing gear lever was selected up. Student under instruction in left seat thought we had lost an engine on that side and reached up to feather No 2. Managed to stop him in time. The loss of lift was serious bad news requiring around three-quarters of full wheel deflection to fly around the circuit and land. Ran out of aileron during the float but touched down in time.

Flat tyre on touch down on another occasion at Townsville. Gently swung off the runway with full opposite rudder and brake.

Landing Essendon 35 in gusty crosswind northerly. Geriatric captain as PNF then reached down as soon as wheels kissed runway and engaged autopilot "to help stop rudder from thrashing in strong wind" he says. Damned near lost control as the leg force needed to operate rudder with autopilot engaged is beyond a joke. Landing gear warning horn sounded as gear took the sideways strain as self tried to hold centre line with little success.

RAAF CFS instructor in strife at East Sale. Feathered one engine for practice at cruise. Pulled the firewall shutoff valve as part of drill. Bad thing to do as it turned out. Did a few turns and after re-setting the fire wall shut off valve he unfeathered prop. After engine warmed up at zero thrust or whatever, he throttled back the other engine and decided to practice a single engine go-around at altitude around 2000 ft. He applied METO power on just warmed up engine and a few seconds later the prop flew off the engine and sawed its way up the fuselage and cut the fire bottle in half situated immediately behind the copilot's seat.

Copilot understandably not impressed but had a splended viw of the outside world through gaping crack in fuselage. Prop fell into a field. The prop sliced through various hydraulic lines and other wires and tubes cutting info to temps and pressures gauges of live engine. Mayday declared and aircraft landed safely sans brakes etc. Reason why prop broke off was because re-setting fire wall shut off valve does not fully reset the oil shut off line and so the engine was steadily starved of oil. OK at warm up revs but disaster at high power causing engine to seize up and throw the prop. Memo for pilots: Do not pull firewall shut off valve if practicing feathering....

As I said earlier, nice aircraft the DC3 but it can bite sometimes...

One more. Just remembered. Windscreen wipers hydraulically operated using knob in cockpit near windscreen. Bad leak under pressure squirted hot hydraulic fluid over pilot very close to eyes. Another one but not me. RAAF School of Air Navigation East Sale was the venue for this one. The main landing gear hydraulic lines required I think 650 PSI with gear down. Two gauges on right side of cockpit - one with main system hydraulic pressure and the next gauge to it was landing gear down line pressure. On the ground the landing gear lever was set to neutral and the safety latch was locked in down. To retract the gear you had to first unlatch the small safety lever which was on the floor then you selected the real big lever to up for retraction. Once gear up and locked the main landing gear lever was set to neutral which is half way between up and down like a 737 gear lever

Often the landing gear hydraulic down line would show an excess of pressure up near 900 psi and to relieve the pressure back to 650 psi, the technique required the copilot to select the landing gear lever to down and then back to neutral. This was SOP on the ground. The captain at East Sale was conducting a high power run up on one engine.

He noticed the creeping up high pressure on the landing gear hydraulic gauge and said to his copilot "dump the pressure." Unfortunately in the spur of the moment the copilot raised the landing gear lever (safety catch was undone) to dump the pressure (the technique used when airborne not on the deck) and the gear retracted. The high revving prop hit the deck and cartwheeled over the tarmac scattering some airmen. No one hurt.

Last edited by A37575; 9th Jan 2009 at 12:51.
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Old 9th Jan 2009, 12:58
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Join Date: Apr 2002
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I dunno I get the guernsey of youngest current Dak pilot at 25??

The DC-3 is magic, pure and simple. I've always loved old aeroplanes, and while my version of getting to fly one isn't perhaps the traditional path, (!) its been worth every minute.

She was my first airliner, and aside from 4 hours in a CAP10, my first tailwheel aeroplane...

Taxiing can be an experience...the tailwheel lock is the greatest invention ever! I took a little bit of getting used to the idea, pull the lock out, start the turn, drop the lock handle back in (with that bang as the spring drives it home under the pedestal) and manage the turn so in theory as you straighten out, the lock drops back into the wheel and you're in the middle of the taxiway or runway...that's the theory!

I had very little experience at endorsement time, and our training Captain was absolutely brilliant - both Dad and I agree there couldn't be a better guy to have trained us. After mucking taxiing up for the second day in a row, Keith kicked Dad out and we then proceeded to spend the best part of an hour taxiing around on the grass at Wigram, where I was not to touch the brakes, but taxi using only the tailwheel lock and power...brakes were a luxury and besides "use them too much and the flighty will spill the pre-takeoff champagne..." It worked but!

Starting her up is a finely orchestrated thing and a thing of beauty when you get it right! Any turbine driver watching a start from inside usually looks on in a state of shock! No boost pumps on CWS, so using the wobble pump is the order of the day. Two fingers of the right hand to the starter and booster, one finger on the left hand to the primer. Magneto master is already on as part of the prestart. Turn the engine on the starter while counting 9 blades, left hand flicking the primer (well, for the left engine...the right engine is a bit more moody and needs the primer held on a bit more...each side has its own personality!). Turn on the mags after 9 blades with the left hand, while the second finger on the right hand selects the booster...back to the primer and by then a cylinder or two should hopefully be starting to the dance with the primer, trying to find the balance of too much or too the mixture into auto-rich and watch the tacho like a hawk to make sure you don't go above 1000RPM before the oil temperature is above 40 degrees...check the gauges, everything works...and then do it all again!

There is nothing more satisfying than both engines starting nicely, first go...its always a little embarassing if there wasn't quite enough primer and it runs down to a stop...trying to catch it on the primer can lead to a nice bang as it backfires and that's what you do your best to try and avoid...!

Someone sitting in the jumpseat on a flight made the comment afterwards that both of us during the takeoff roll sport massive grins right about the time the tail comes up - and its true. The noise is like nothing else you've heard, all 48 inches of manifold pressure blasting away. She sits up on the mains and its right about then that you feel her start to twitch through the yoke...she's done this before and is ready to do it again - she just loves to fly. Its about then that you get the idiotic grin.

I never realised that a machine could have such an individual personality, but the DC-3 is a prime example of that. It feels almost inappropriate to refer to a DC-3 as "it" - its generally always "her" and you find yourself talking to her as you fly.

And my favorite thing? I sit and watch out of the window and that wing and engine, prop whirling away, and the reflection of the nose in the prop dome and think of how many countless pilots have sat in that same seat, and stared out at that same sight. She's been flying just short of 60,000 hours - imagine where she's been, what she's done, who and what she's carried? Some of the conversation's she's heard, what she's done to scare people...the list goes on. It's just awesome to be flying a piece of living history, and to be able to contribute to that history.

I could ramble for a while about it...!
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Old 9th Jan 2009, 18:42
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Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Auckland
Posts: 138
Yep I did most of the scenic flying at Wanaka last year... Even got my landings right at that place.... (there is something about it )

Sure they can bite, but what tailwheel wont if you push it...

I have been lucky to do a Harvard rating recently and it's the perfect combination between the Citabria and the DC3... an aerobatic Radial!

Thanks for the photo comments, and I'm glad I'm not the youngest although I must be the youngest Capt in NZ at least....!

Life is a funny thing off pilots cse if I got posted to DC3's my world would have been over ... now I have paid for the privilege!... and I love it

BTW I have recently been lucky to fly the only Miles Messenger flying in NZ and here are a few pictures of an air to air from the other day. (Pictures were taken by Gavin Conroy)

Picasa Web Albums - Andrew - Messenger
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Old 9th Jan 2009, 19:06
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Thread Starter
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Location: Lara, VIC.
Age: 63
Posts: 168
Smile Keep it coming!

Thanks to all contributors. This thread has made marvelous reading so far. I hope other pilots will share their memories and insights re this iconic aircraft.

I hope we continue to see these lovely old ladies fly. The skills required to fly them well must bring a deep feeling of satisfaction and enjoyment to pilots.

Skyways, thanks for your contribution. From your other thread I can sense your deep satisfaction at being a part of aviation history today. Your reflection about the obstacles you faced are a sad reflection on the inept nature of aviation regulation and control.

Keep the contributions coming.
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Old 9th Jan 2009, 19:16
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Age: 63
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Mile Messenger.

Wombat. Those air to air pics are great. What a lovely aircraft. Are those markings RNZAF? Looks like an air force trainer with those high vis stripes.

Gypsy major engine I assume. Strange set up with flaps extending behind the level of the ailerons. Is it aerobatic? What does it cruise at?

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Old 9th Jan 2009, 22:33
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To add to A375's accounts of things that go wrong.

On one approach into a very short strip, as the F/O selected full flap it went asymmetric, with one side blowing full up as the other ran full down. The roll was interesting to say the least. Lucky I subscribe to the school of basic test flying that says when something goes wrong with an action, reverse the action if you have nothing to lose by doing so. In this case the F/O acted on my 'flaps up' call with alacrity and we got it level in time for a go-around to a flapless landing. The cause was a sheared actuater rod from the hydraulic cylinder to the flap linkage.
On another occasion the pipe that fed one of the hydraulic gauges on the F/O's sidewall burst and sprayed a fine mist of hot hydraulic fluid all over the cockpit. We got the gear down just as it ran out of fluid and landed in a very red, sticky mess. White uniform shirts were a total write-off.
As for the youngest DC3 pilot, I am sure that some military jocks would beat my record, but at the time I was an F/O at 21 and went left seat at 24. Flew it on and off with various companies over a 20 year period - interspersed with other types along the way. But everywhere I went, it seemed they had a couple of old WW 2 Daks that no one else in the company wanted to fly because of the whiz-bang turbo-props. Given the choice, I always opted for the Dak as I knew its time was running out. The turbo props would always be there for later.
Sad to see that some civil aviation authorities are legislating it out of existence. IMHO, even though it does not meet modern certification standards, it's nowhere near as unsafe as say, a Piper Chieftain or any similar light twin which is still legal to carry fare-paying passengers. At least it has firewall shutoffs and fire bottles etc and even a non-de-iced one will tolerate a light dusting of ice on the wings.
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Old 10th Jan 2009, 00:17
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Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Brisbane
Posts: 374
Flyin' the Dak

Forty gallons per hour each engine ... Watching the refueller’s counter scream past the thousand litres is scary these days, specially when the fuel is say $2.40 per liter at some out of the way place.
I did my endorsement in New Guinea forty years ago.
2hrs.05 the first day. 25 minutes day and 1.00 night the next day and then I was put with the company’s most hopeless dangerous captain for my first revenue flight… no training … just off and at ‘em. Still didn’t have my uniform either.

The first thing you notice after climbing up the “integral steps” is the hill you have to climb followed closely by “the DC-3 smell”.
Stick ya head in a Tiger Moth cockpit and you smell the same one every pilot has smelt in every Tiger… same with DC-3s, 4s, Chipmunks… they have their own individual smell.
The old girl’s is a combination of hydraulic oil, fuel, paint primer, radios and whatall.
If she’s a passenger job you climb up the hill to the cockpit with your nav bag held uncomfortably out in front of you as your legs tend to brush against the arm rests. If she’s a freighter you clunk up the scarred ply wood floor. The pax windows are SO low. All you can see is wings and grass.

As you go through the cockpit door you’re still about eight feet from the pilot seats, because you have the hallway of cargo bins, topped by radio rack on the right and a conglomeration of wonderful “junk’ storage on the left. Things like maintenance release book, manual, fire extinguisher and things that have nowhere else to go.
You pass the tiny cargo door alcove on the left that is at floor level . There’s a knotted white cotton escape rope coiled above it and boy, you hurt yourself as you struggle over the lip attempting to go hand over hand down it with some sort of dignity ( I never managed it without skinned knuckles, burnt hands and jolted knees of ankles… why would I bother…. Only way out when the belly’s full of bloody big agitated bulls that are using their horns with gusto to try and get out of the temporary enclosures)

Across from that cargo door there’s the hydraulic tank and plumbing by your shoulder on the right just before you struggle into the cockpit.

For a great big plane, the cockpit is cramped … perhaps ten inches wider than a Cessna 172 cockpit.
If you’re a romantic you look at those leather covered, chipped paint seats and spare a thought for the hundreds of thousands of the “crusty old and bold” and sprogs like yourself who’ve settled their bums in them before you.
Sink into the co-pilot’s seat… fumble for the seat lock and find a position that’s comfy… she only slides for and aft less than a foot, unlike a jet seat that goes for miles up, down and sideways as well.
You note the whopping big hydraulic gauges beside you and reckon there must be half a pint of oil in each of ‘em… “why are they so BIG?”

Lots of nobs … a dirty great cluster of pretty ones on the throttle pedestal ... Black throttles, white pitch, red mixture, black or blue carby heat… there’s hydraulic windscreen wiper nobs, and ones for locking the tiny

side windscreen window… “When would you ever open THAT? Gunna have a one fifty knot gale blasting ya mug if ya opened that window”. (Did once or twice to blow the overpowering stink of dozens of sweaty, trussed up, petrified pigs, down the back and on another occasion two bales of dried fish that Indo army blokes were using as a seat on an hour’s flight up to their mountain base. They regarded it as food, WE wouldn’t have used it as fertilizer unless we wanted to upset an enemy. Needed to wear the sunglasses to stop the tears blinding us those flights.
Look out the windows… “Shit! We’re so high up”.
Last time I sat in the left hand seat of CWS to take some photos, I looked down onto a Beech 18 parked beside us. It looked tiny, yet as I’d walked around it a while before I’d thought, “You’re a pretty big aeroplane”.
At that same time I settled in that seat I got itchy eyes thinking, “My old man sat in this chair almost fifty six years ago to the day” he’d been doin’ a quick test flight after she’d come out of maintenance. He’s dead now …poor bugger. There’s four of us who’ve sat in that very seat, all with the same sir name (share a couple of ancestors) … two sets of father and son endorsed on 3’s.
Endorsement flights for my first airline were passed on by word of mouth to the flying community and all the pilots and a number of engineers would head for the aero club, pull chairs out onto the eastern side of the club house in the shade and settle down with their green or brown bottles of cheer and await the fun.
The aero club was not far from the end of the runway.
An old lady would come waddling out along the taxiway and sit for a while at the holding point.
Finally she’d line up and away she’d go heading for Bootless Bay pretty normally.
Downwind would be uneventful, final …nearly so, but late final things would get excitin’ as sprog got tenser and started over correcting.
Sprog was overwhelmed with the size of the brute and was fearful of drivin’ her in, so tentatively started rounding out at about a hundred feet.
All sorts of aerobatics started then. Crowd loved it.
Often she’d fall graciously to the ground and the tailwheel would come crashing down. Plenty of speed still, she’d sail up into the air and get a good push and bam down again only to bounce way up again and again.
Luckily, the trainee didn’t know about the audience and didn’t have another trainee observing. He was feeling that he was there by false pretences and wasn’t much of a pilot at that time… he certainly didn’t need someone else sitting in judgement with the same ideas rolling around in his head too.
When I did that endorsement, there were five of us who joined the company as DC-3 first officers in a month.
The aeroclub’s profits were memorable that month.
There’s lots of places for water to get in as mentioned before. And it all drips on you.
Even if you never touched the emergency hatch in the cockpit roof and let the tropical sun weld the rubber seal to the frame water still got in. Small aforementioned storm window managed to allow some to get through and make it’s way along the bottom slide channelling to drip into the dash and your knees.
Back in the olden days when radios were the size of a beer carton, they lived in the radio rack behind the F.O. (Great place to stick ya cold hands in on a long flight) now these beaut little transistorised ones live in the dash and that dripping water alarms pilots who spend time with absorbent paper trying to avoid usin’ 7600 … IF the transponder doesn’t get swamped.
We had large “contact” covered WAC charts in the ship’s bag. They covered all of PNG and were used as raincoats and rugs over our knees… don’t think there were garbage bags then.
I always thanked my lucky stars I was in the tropics… spared a thought for the poor buggers down in Victoria and Tassie in the middle of the night sufferin’ from soaked daks.
Oh there’s much more , but who’ll read it?

Once upon a time a giant all metal airliner appeared.
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Old 10th Jan 2009, 01:12
  #20 (permalink)  
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Bai, mi go long hap na kisim sampla samting.
Posts: 2,858
I would spend a large amount of money, time and effort to be endorsed in the Dak, for no other reason than to have that grand old lady in my log book and to have flown her. there aircraft we all want to fly when we were kids, and the Dak was one of mine. I have been fortunate enough to manage to fly all the aircraft on my wish list except the Dak, and it seems if I don't hurry I may miss out. It will be a sad day when this grand old lady doesn't grace our skys any longer.
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