A gleaming example of one of the most famous and significant aircraft of the 20th century: The Douglas DC-3 of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum

Share
Categories
Media
The first Douglas DC-3 airliner delivered to Trans-Canada Air Lines, Montreal (Dorval) Airport, Dorval, Québec, circa 1945-48. CASM, negative number 25515

Hail, my reading friend. Eager as always to bring you news of the wonderful world of aviation, yours truly would like to remind you that, in September 1945, Trans-Canada Air Lines (TCA), today’s Air Canada Incorporated, received its very first example of one of the most famous airliners of the 20th century, the Douglas DC-3. This outstandingly significant aircraft of national importance is presently on display at the awesome Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario.

And yes, TCA was mentioned many times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since August 2017.

As you painfully know by now, I like to provide some context to facilitate the comprehension of the stories provided in our blog / bulletin / thingee. Besides, why use 3 words when 33 will do? (Hello, EP!)

Let us therefore begin our journey down memory lane in 1945, as the Second World War came to a close. How was the Canadian aircraft industry doing back then?

As you can imagine, the results and consequences of the budget cuts and retrenchment of the federal government were quick to come. In 1944, the aircraft industry ranked 4th among the most important industries in Canada. In 1947 and 1948, it was 58th. Some aircraft manufacturers threw in the towel. Noorduyn Aviation Limited of Cartierville, Québec, for example, abandoned production of aircraft perhaps before the end of 1945. A minor aircraft manufacturer, Ottawa Car & Aircraft Company Limited of Ottawa, saw its assets liquidated in 1947. Fairchild Aircraft Limited of Longueuil, Québec, on the other hand, closed its doors in 1948. Inactive for some time, Boeing Aircraft of Canada Limited of Vancouver, British Columbia, officially disappeared around 1953.

Aircraft manufacturers who held on had to show imagination. Canadair Limited of Cartierville, for example, became one of the 4 North American firms, the only one in Canada in fact, chosen by the major American aircraft manufacturer Douglas Aircraft Company Incorporated to convert a good part of the thousands of now superfluous Douglas C-47 Skytrain / C-53 Skytrooper / Dakota military transport aircraft into DC-3 airliners. Given the pressing needs of airlines around the world, this conversion work proved to be very lucrative. The Québec aircraft manufacturer delivered approximately 225 DC-3s to 11 airlines from 8 countries in America and Europe between 1945 and 1947.

Would you believe that a Canadair executive by the name of Benjamin William Franklin bought tonnes (tons) of DC-3 components at various Douglas Aircraft facilities, for 4.5 cents a kilogramme (10 cents a pound), in order to facilitate this conversion work? Canadair was still selling DC-3 spare parts in the early to mid-1950s, if not later.

And yes, Canadair was mentioned many times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since November 2017, but back to our story.

The story of Canada Aviation and Space Museum’s DC-3 actually began in 1941-42. It was one of the aircraft of this type ordered by the Militaire Luchtvaart van het Koninklijk Nederlandsch Indisch Leger (ML-KNIL), the air corps of the royal army of the Dutch East Indies, today’s Indonesia, then under Dutch control. Given the setbacks suffered by the United States during the weeks and months which followed the Japanese attacks of December 1941, the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) all but confiscated a number of DC-3s ordered by several American airlines – and by the ML-KNIL. These troop-carrying aircraft were designated Douglas C-49s.

The museum’s aircraft (Let’s call it that for convenience if you don’t mind.) was delivered in December 1942 and served until 1945, in North America. It went to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, an agency responsible for, among other things, the disposal of superfluous military equipment, in April 1945. Canadair bought the aircraft for peanuts. Registered in May, it was turned into an airliner during the spring and summer.

TCA took possession of the aircraft, its very first DC-3 as we both know now, during a ceremony held at the Canadair factory in September 1945. The crown corporation’s president, Herbert James Symington, a gentleman mentioned in an April 2019 issue of our you know what, was there, of course. Clarence Decatur Howe, the supremely influential Minister of Reconstruction and Supplies and a strong defender of TCA mentioned in several / many issues of our you still know what since May 2018, was also on hand, as was Edward Vernon “Eddie” Rickenbacker, the president of an important American air carrier, Eastern Air Lines Incorporated.

TCA received additional DC-3s during the weeks and months which followed. It apparently operated about 30 DC-3s over the years, by the way.

May I digress for a moment? There are times when I can’t help myself. Rare times.

Thank you.

In 1935, a well-known American artist and pilot who had served in the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force (RAF) during the First World War launched a daily comic strip. This vice-president of sales at General Motors Corporation, a giant of the American automobile industry mentioned several times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since March 2018, Clayton Knight, apparently wrote the texts with Rickenbacker, a famous fighter pilot with the United States Army Signal Corps / United States Army Air Service during this conflict. They located the adventures of Ace Drummond, an aviator inspired by Rickenbacker himself, all over the world.

Building on the popularity of Rickenbacker, a Captain Eddie Rickenbacker’s Junior Pilots Club was born. Meanwhile, Ace Drummond proved so successful that a film studio launched an eponymous movie serial with 13 or 15 episodes in 1936.

A French language version of the comic strip, L’As des As, appeared in weekend editions, on Saturday then Sunday, of a Montreal daily, La Patrie, between March 1935 and July 1939.

Ace Drummond ceased to appear in 1940.

Knight and Rickenbacker also collaborated on a documentary-style comic strip, The Hall of Fame of the Air, a project dear to the heart of the artist. Brief biographies of known and lesser-known aviatrixes and aviators appeared between 1935 and 1940. A French language version of this comic strip also existed. La Patrie offered Le panthéon de l’air to its readers between March 1935 and July 1939, but back to our story.

Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company of Canada Limited, a subsidiary of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, a giant in the American automobile industry, acquired the museum’s DC-3 in October 1948.

As you undoubtedly know, Goodyear Tire and Rubber was mentioned in November 2017 and June 2019 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company of Canada, on the other hand, was only mentioned in the latter issue of this comically, sorry, cosmically renowned publication.

Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company of Canada was still operating the museum’s aircraft when the latter took part in a photo shoot in Toronto, Ontario, in 1982, for Propliner, a now defunct British quarterly magazine dedicated to, you guessed it, propeller driven airliners. Aware that the aircraft was getting long in the tooth, a well-known Canadian aviation author and publisher, Larry Milberry, may, I repeat may, have suggested to its long time pilot, Don Murray, that the firm need not sell it for peanuts. Nay, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company of Canada could donate it to the National Aeronautical Collection / National Aviation Museum, today’s Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in exchange for a juicy tax receipt.

Murray liked the idea. He talked to his employer, which also liked the idea. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company of Canada contacted the National Aeronautical Collection / National Aviation Museum, which liked the idea as well. Mind you, the firm may actually have contacted a sister / brother institution of this amazing museum, the National Museum of Science and Technology, in Ottawa, but I digress.

In December 1983, Murray flew the DC-3, with a few passengers on board, from Toronto to Rockcliffe Airport, in Ottawa.

Were there important people among the passengers, you ask, my reading friend? Are you kidding? One only needs to mention Robert William “Bob” Bradford, director general of the National Museum of Science and Technology and future director general of the National Aviation Museum, and Kenneth Meredith “Ken” Molson, retired founding curator of that same museum. A gentleman of gentlemen and one of the best Canadian aviation artists of all times, Bradford was mentioned in February 2018, March 2019 and May 2020 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee. Molson, another fine gentleman, on the other hand, was mentioned in July 2018, August 2019 and February 2020 issues of that same publication – which goes to show how interconnected our world was and is.

Would you like to read a few additional lines of text before returning to your daily routine, my reading friend? And yes, this was indeed a rhetorical question.

One of the DC-3s converted by Canadair, a Dakota operated by the RAF during the Second World War, was acquired in December 1948 by Algoma Steel Company of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, one of the largest steel producing firms in Canada. “Victoria,” as it was called, was sold in 1964 and went to the United States where it was used by more than one operator. At some point, the DC-3 was sold to the Fuerza Aérea Guatemalteca. As of 2020, this badly deteriorated aircraft was stored in the open air at the Museo del Ejército de Guatemala, in Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala.

Another DC-3 converted by Canadair, a Dakota also operated by the RAF during the Second World War, seemingly spent some months in the United States in 1946-47 before returning to Canada. Please note that this particular story had a tragic ending.

Canadair luxuriously modified the DC-3 for use by the largest department store chain in Canada, a firm mentioned in January 2019, June 2020 and August 2020 issues of our you know what. T. Eaton Company Limited operated the DC-3 between July 1946 and October 1963, when it sold the aircraft to Hudson’s Bay Company, a firm long associated with Canada whose head office was still located in London, United Kingdom, at the time. The latter sold the aircraft to Ilford Riverton Airways Limited, today’s Air Manitoba Limited, in 1975. Exported to the United States around 1979-80, the DC-3 was impounded in November 1980, for drug smuggling. It crashed, or was shot down, in March 1984, near the Costa Rica / Nicaragua border while carrying weapons destined for the American-supported Nicaraguan counterrevolutionary forces, colloquially known as contras, which were trying to overthrow the government of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional. The entire crew died in the crash – or was executed shortly thereafter. Oddly enough, the DC-3 may, I repeat may, have carried a fake Canadian registration at the time.

At least one other DC-3 converted by Canadair and used by TCA had quite an interesting if very peaceful career. Built in 1944 as a Skytrain, this aircraft became a Dakota destined for the RAF but was transferred within days to the Royal Canadian Air Force. Oddly enough, it was withdrawn from use in November 1944, after only 4 or so months of active service. Canadair bought the Dakota for peanuts after the end of the Second World War. After some time spent with TCA, around 1945-47, I think, this machine was seemingly exported. Back in Canada in 1957, the DC-3 flew with the Department of Transport / Ministry of Transport / Transport Canada until 1985.

After some time spent with a British Columbia charter operator, it was acquired by Odyssey DC-3 Society of Richmond, British Columbia. Seemingly christened “Odyssey 86 / Spirit of Vancouver,” the DC-3 flew around the world between June and August 1986 to publicise the 1986 World Exposition on Transportation and Communication, or Expo 86, held in Vancouver, British Columbia. The crew of the aircraft stopped in more than 20 countries along the way. As of 2020, the DC-3 was / is one of the aircraft owned by a colourful and self-made American aviation insurance industry millionaire, Lance Toland.

Carpe diem, my reading friend, carpe diem!

Author(s)
Profile picture for user rfortier
Rénald Fortier