Douglas C-47 Dakota at 80

On December 23, 80 years ago as the Second World War raged on, Douglas successfully flew the military variant of its DC-3 for the first time.

Developed from the civilian Douglas DC-3, the C-47 Skytrain – known as the Dakota in the Royal Air Force and Commonwealth services – became one of the world’s best-known aircraft types following its widespread use in the Second World War.

The twin-piston transport aircraft saw service with the Allies in every theatre of the war, notably in Burma, during the D-Day landings and the airborne assault on Arnhem in 1944.

The first DC-3 was ordered by American Airlines and flew in 1935. But with the outbreak of war, these aircraft were diverted to Allied Air Forces, followed by more than 10,000 military variants created before production ended in 1946.

The first flight of the C-47 occurred on December 23, 1941.

The RAF operated the type from 1942 when the first of more than 1,900 arrived in India. The majority had been retired or sold by 1950, but the last to leave the service did so in 1970.

When production of its civilian counterpart ended in 1942, only 607 aircraft had been produced.

The British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) took delivery of its first Dakota in 1943 and the last of around 60 aircraft by 1946. During the war, the type was operated by both the RAF and BOAC.

After the war, the airline sold the fleet and 14 found their way to newly founded British European Airways (BEA). One of the piston-powered types acted as a testbed for the Rolls-Royce Dark turboprop engine which found its way onto the Vickers Viscount, the world’s first turboprop aircraft.

An estimate in 2017 suggested that more than 300 DC-3s or military derivatives were still flying to this day.