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The Dakota

The Douglas DC3 ( also known as the C47 in freight form ) and popularly known in England as the 'Dakota' was a pre war design that is still in commercial use today.  It was very advanced aerodynamically, yet simple, rugged and above all reliable and very strong for use on bad landing strips. Even after the War it was state of the art, made possible by the introduction of high output, reliable engines. The aircraft was so adaptable that several have been re-engined with turbo-prop units and fly commercially today and it causes some concern to commercial aircrew to be passed and outclimbed by an aircraft that ferried paratroopers across the Channel on D-Day!   Conventional piston engined 'twin wasp' DC3's are still hard at work on relief and transport duties in many countries as well as oil pollution dispersal work in the UK.

'Morning' - a painting for the memorial project by Becky Turner.

The design combined semi-retractable main wheels ( the bottom part of the tyres did not retract into the wings but didn't seriously affect the drag as they were smooth).  This improved fuel consumption and speed, and the modern all metal construction, at a time when some modern aircraft were still wooden, gave a spacious fuselage, wide floor and good payload. With an all metal skin, modern instruments and flight controls, it was one of the first passenger aircraft to have a safe performance with one engine shut down , partly due to the power to weight ratio and also because the designer had the engines tucked in as close as possible to the centre line to reduce problems with single engine flight. The plane could even take off unladen on one engine. There was a good power to weight ratio which gave excellent take off and climb out from small airfields and a useful load carrying ability.  The DC3 was essentially the first modern airliner and freighter.

There were many post war accidents involving the type  and a look at the records show that there was an incident  every few days somewhere in the World, a minor airfield shunt, a forced landing, and sometimes a crash.  As a hugely popular workhorse which opened up aviation to the public, this does not mean that the design was in any way unsafe -  in fact  many would argue that the DC3 is the most successful aircraft of all time and even today has few rivals. There were just a lot more of them, available as war surplus and thus cheap, and they were often worked to the limit in terms of performance, loading and conditions. The number of accidents must be put down to generally lower standards in the aviation industry at the time, use by marginal operators with poor or non existent service facilities, inexperienced crews, bad landing grounds, operation in atrocious weather conditions,  and statistically, the large number of hours flown by the type. Emphatically, the DC3 was not unsafe.

As airlines slowly became more regulated after the War the losses began to drop, but the air transport business was still something of a free for all and even major airlines such as BEA lost planes to collisions and navigational errors.   It was not until a rigid and prescriptive Air Traffic Control scheme was introduced and airlines were required to follow standard procedures and  pre arranged flight plans that things began to improve.

The iconic outline of the Dakota in shadow photographed from the aircraft as it crosses the coastline.