C-47 Design and Operational History

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "Douglas C-47 Skytrain", which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

Design and development

The C-47 differed from the civilian DC-3 in numerous modifications, including being fitted with a cargo door, hoist attachment, and strengthened floor, along with a shortened tail cone for glider-towing shackles, and an astrodome in the cabin roof.

The specialized C-53 Skytrooper troop transport started production in October 1941 at Douglas Aircraft’s Santa Monica, California plant. It lacked the cargo door, hoist attachment and reinforced floor of the C-47. Only a total of 380 aircraft were produced in all because the C-47 was found to be more versatile.

During World War II, the armed forces of many countries used the C-47 and modified DC-3s for the transport of troops, cargo, and wounded. The U.S. Naval designation was R4D. More than 10,000 aircraft were produced in Long Beach and Santa Monica, California and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Between March 1943 and August 1945 the Oklahoma City plant produced 5,354 C-47s.

Operational history

World War II

U.S. Army Pathfinders and USAAF flight crew prior to D-Day, June 1944, in front of a C-47 Skytrain at RAF North Witham

The C-47 was vital to the success of many Allied campaigns, in particular those at Guadalcanal and in the jungles of New Guinea and Burma, where the C-47 (and its naval version, the R4D) made it possible for Allied troops to counter the mobility of the light-travelling Japanese army. Additionally, C-47s were used to airlift supplies to the embattled American forces during the Battle of Bastogne. Possibly its most influential role in military aviation, however, was flying “The Hump” from India into China. The expertise gained flying “The Hump” was later be used in the Berlin Airlift, in which the C-47 played a major role, until the aircraft were replaced by Douglas C-54 Skymasters.

In Europe, the C-47 and a specialised paratroop variant, the C-53 Skytrooper, were used in vast numbers in the later stages of the war, particularly to tow gliders and drop paratroops. During the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, C-47s dropped 4,381 Allied paratroops. More than 50,000 paratroops were dropped by C-47s during the first few days of the invasion of Normandy, France, in June 1944. In the Pacific War, with careful use of the island landing strips of the Pacific Ocean, C-47s were even used for ferrying soldiers serving in the Pacific theater back to the United States.

C-47s unloading at Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Airlift

About 2,000 C-47s (received under lend-lease) in British and Commonwealth service took the name “Dakota”, possibly inspired by the acronym “DACoTA” for Douglas Aircraft Company Transport Aircraft.The C-47 also earned the informal nickname “gooney bird” in the European theatre of operations. Other sources attribute this name to the first aircraft, a USMC R2D—the military version of the DC-2—being the first aircraft to land on Midway Island, previously home to the long-winged albatross known as the gooney bird, which was native to Midway.

Postwar era

The United States Air Force’s Strategic Air Command had Skytrains in service from 1946 through 1967. The US Air Force’s 6th Special Operations Squadron was flying the C-47 until 2008.

With all of the aircraft and pilots having been part of the Indian Air Force prior to independence, both the Indian Air Force and Pakistan Air Force used C-47s to transport supplies to their soldiers fighting in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1947.

After World War II, thousands of surplus C-47s were converted to civil airline use, some remaining in operation into the 21st Century, as well as being used as private aircraft.

Vietnam War

Several C-47 variations were used in the Vietnam War by the United States Air Force, including three advanced electronic warfare variations, which sometimes were called “electric gooneys” designated EC-47N, EC-47P, or EC-47Q depending on the engine used. Air International, Miami International Airport was a USAF military depot used to convert the commercial DC-3s/C-47s into military use. They came in as commercial aircraft purchased from third world airlines and were completely stripped, rebuilt, and reconditioned. Long range fuel tanks were installed with upgraded avionics and gun mounts. They left as first rate military aircraft headed for combat in Vietnam in a variety of missions. EC-47s were also operated by the Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian Air Forces. A gunship variation, using three 7.62 mm miniguns, designated AC-47 “Spooky”, often nicknamed “Puff the magic dragon”, also was deployed.

 

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