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2000 (USA)  »

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Versatile Work Horse.
19 August 2013 | by See all my reviews

The Douglas DC-3, built in the 30s as a commercial airliner, became the Army's C-47 and served in all theaters of World War II. We see it carry paratroops, evacuate wounded, drop supplies, tow gliders, and move heavier equipment like anti-tank guns. It soldiered on during the Korean war, even after many of its functions had been usurped by more specialized aircraft. The things were still used as overhead gun ships during the Vietnam War.

There was nothing exceptional about the airplane, either in appearance, design, or performance. It wasn't particularly fast, it didn't look elegant, it wasn't used in combat. But it did a lot of things and it did them reasonably well. Eisenhower named it as one of the three most vital pieces of equipment in the war.

The documentary meanders a bit, but the meanders turn out to be interesting side trips in themselves. Most of us have seen newsreel footage of DC-3s dropping supplies by parachute. But the supplies aren't supposed to land gently, as a human being, but with a quick slam. Here we get to see those packages being filled with supplies and insulation made of what looks like excelsior.

A good bit of time is spent on the use of gliders during the war which, with rare exceptions, were failures. And "failures" is an understatement. It's nice to see the glider pilots get the recognition they deserve. They were almost as thoroughly trained as the pilots of motorized aircraft and moreover had to hit the ground running and act as infantry. Not mentioned in the film is the controversy over whether or not glider pilots should be allowed to wear a pair of wings on their uniforms. It was finally allowed, except that a large "G" was centered between the wings.

Aside from its all-around usefulness, the DC-3 is probably best remembered today as a "forgiving" airplane. A pilot could make all sorts of mistakes while flying them and still recover. One crew, flying over Greenland, was startled when the airplane began to shudder violently, bounce around, and make a deafening noise, in mid flight. It slowly came to a complete stop. The crew found they'd made an unintended belly landing on a glacier.

I was a passenger on an Air Force DC-3 from Edwards Air Force Base to Rome, New York. The passenger seats were no more than webbing hanging from the interior of the fuselage. Crossing the Rocky Mountains, we were required to share an oxygen mask with our seat mate. I was quite pleased because sitting next to me was an extraordinarily beautiful young woman in the Navy. The only way to fly.

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