A Very Great Plane: The Douglas DC-3

I just heard one of my favorite sounds in the world – a prop plane flying nearby. That sound tends to bring my mind back to the early days of aviation, and this time was no different.

Over the last few weeks I’ve become mildly obsessed with the Douglas DC-3… would you believe that there are still thousands of those planes flying? December 17, 1935 – that was when the first one took to the skies. Sometimes I actually forget that planes were around that long ago, but they certainly were. The DC-3 was the “cream of the crop” in the aviation industry during those years and is credited today with having revolutionized air travel in a number of ways.

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A Breitling Douglas DC-3, Photo Courtesy: Breitling

Before the DC-3 came around, there were two other planes that had a strong foothold in the market: the Boeing Model 247 and the “Tin Goose” Ford Trimotor.

The Trimotor first flew in June 1926, powered by (you guessed it) three engines – Pratt and Whitney Wasps. Transcontinental Air Transport (which would later become TWA) pioneered coast-to-coast service with the Trimotor. The plane was strong and sturdy, but unfortunately didn’t have what it took to stand up to the two competitors that would enter the market several years later – the 247 and the DC-1.

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A Ford Trimotor, Photo Courtesy: Golden Wings Flying Museum

The Boeing Model 247 is considered to be the first modern airliner and had its inaugural flight in February 1933. It was the first plane that was capable of flying on only one of its two engines – also Pratt and Whitney Wasps. But just months later, the DC-1 was developed at the request of TWA. And even though the DC-1 itself wasn’t perfect, it paved the way to the eventual DC-3, which was as close to perfect as an airplane could be back then.

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A United Air Lines Boeing Model 247, Photo Courtesy: Boeing

The DC-1 evolved into the larger, faster and more luxurious DC-2 and then nixed beds for upright seats to become the DC-3. Powered by two Wright Cyclone engines, the DC-3 was strong, fast, and comfortable. It had capacity to carry two crew members and 21-32 passengers. Back then, flying really was a luxurious experience, namely because it was just that – a luxury. The DC-3 also pioneered inflight movies.

Of course some of today’s airlines still offer that touch of glamour, but with the rise in low-cost carriers and even the legacy carriers offering stripped down “basic economy” fares, it’s not as common. Flying today is, for most, a means to get from point A to point B. Why else do you see people rapt with magazines or computers, and not with the fact that they’re FLYING? I mean… HELLO – you are six miles in the sky, soaring amongst the clouds in a 100,000-pound METAL TUBE. WHY AREN’T YOU STARING OUT THE WINDOW IN SHEER AMAZEMENT?

OK – I think I’ve made my point. I love flying, and I don’t take it for granted. I need to be in a window seat so I can constantly look out at the sky we’re in and the ground below, because I am amazed that we as humans were able to pioneer this concept. We figured out how to DEFY gravity. It’s remarkable! But the message I really want to convey to all of you is that the planes we fly on today were in some way, shape or form derived from the sturdy workhorse Douglas DC-3. It’s a legend. Why else do you think some 2,000 of the planes still fly? I can only hope that someday I’ll have a chance to fly in one of those time capsules myself.

Living in the Age of Airplanes

NAT GEOIs it any wonder that people from all walks of life are fascinated with airplanes? Think about it… these massive hunks of metal fire up their engines and FLY… I mean, how can you not look up at the sky each time you hear one soaring overhead?

But planes have done more than just defy gravity, they’ve changed the world by connecting us to people and places in a way that simply wouldn’t have been possible in the days before their existence.

And that, my friends, is why I love the movie “Living in the Age of Airplanes.”

The 47-minute National Geographic documentary was filmed in 18 countries on all seven continents. Released in 2015, I actually planned a trip to Florida around seeing this flick on the big screen at the Orlando Science Center. Call me a sap, but I was tearing up within the first two minutes.

I watched the movie again recently, and was reminded of the real reason I love these humble beasts. I say humble because not all airplanes are built to “show off” and please us aesthetically, in fact, most of them aren’t built for that purpose at all… their beauty is just an added bonus. They’re really here to serve as workhorses that get us to and from the places we need to be. So, let’s all pause, take a step back and give a collective “thanks” to our flying friends.

If you love planes, you’ll love this movie. And if you hate planes? This movie will make you love them. Admit it – you take air travel for granted. You don’t need to feel ashamed though… most of us take flight for granted. But this movie is a work of art that will inspire you to look at aviation in a different light and will leave you with a newfound appreciation of how miraculous flight truly is.

I recently interviewed the CEO of Cape Air, Dan Wolf, and he said something that really struck me… “You can build a mile of runway and go anywhere, you can build a mile of road and go a mile.” This movie really drives home that point, so if you haven’t seen it… please check it out and let me know what you think!

To blue skies and tailwinds…

 

I’m leaving on a small plane…

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See that plane up there? It’s one of 12 Cessna 208B Grand Caravans that make up Air Choice One’s fleet. And you know what else? I’m flying on one… THIS FRIDAY.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing the airline’s CEO for an Airways Magazine story (more to come on that at a later date), and having never flown on a small plane myself, I completely lucked out… as they were willing to send me on a there-and-back jaunt from Minneapolis to Mason City.

You guys… I’m stoked. The only problem is, I’m kind of… well, nervous.

You see… most of you know that I have an unhealthy incredibly large obsession with airplanes – it doesn’t matter if I’m on the ground looking at one or flying at 30,000 feet, I love the HECK out of those magical metal beasts.

But what a lot of you might NOT realize is that only within the last year or so did my INTENSE FEAR OF FLYING dissipate. Back in my television news days (2010-2014), WSMV in Nashville flew me out to interview for a position, and wouldn’t you know it, some intense turbulence rocked our 737 so hard that we suddenly dropped and nearly hit the ground.

That obviously was an exaggeration, but you guys… all of us on board SCREAMED. And that in and of itself was enough to instill an incredible fear of flying in my little head that plagued me for years to come.

Once I really started following my dream of aviation journalism/photography, though, that fear waned. I actually would rather be in the air flying through heavy chop than doing much of anything else.

So… having never flown on a small plane before, I don’t know WHAT to expect. Help me out guys! I’ve heard horror stories of people getting sick due to “feeling” every. little. movement. I’ve watched every episode of every season of May Day Air Crash Investigation… and lo-and-behold, a LOT of the planes that crash are… you guessed it: LITTLE PLANES.

Honestly though… I am really, really excited. I know I’ll be in excellent hands (Air Choice One has a perfect track record) and I know that it will be a lot of fun. Not a lot of people get to take a “just because” flight, so I consider myself very lucky.

So… stay tuned for a full report Friday evening, if I make it back. Dun dun DUN.

 

Flying to Pass the Time

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Time really does fly… but come this weekend, you’d think I was flying just to pass the time. Something big, something HUGE, something SO exciting is happening. BUT.. I’m keeping my lips sealed for now. I’ll just tell you this – two days, four states, five flights. That’s all you get for now. You’ll hear more from me Monday or Tuesday.

ANYWAYS… those who know me well, know I stress out pretty easily. But oddly enough, since I’ve started to really hone in on my aviation journalism and photography, I’ve gotten a heck of a lot busier AND a heck of a lot happier. Who’d have thought there’d be a positive correlation between the two? Not me. Not in a million years.

June brought a lot of changes in my life… I hit the big 3-0, we moved from Minneapolis to St. Paul and I lost my dear, sweet stepmom. With that being said, my apologies for being MIA in the blogging world, but I’m sure you can understand why I was.

However, my love of planes helped keep me sane and grounded throughout that time. And, over the last month I’ve hit a couple milestones that were quite exciting for me:

1. On my birthday, June 16, I hit one THOUSAND Instagram followers on @thegreatplanes (currently, I’m creeping up on 1,300 – it’s a good feeling).

2. I’ve had my third and fourth stories published on Airways Magazine’s website, both of which feature several of my own photos (and even one of my husband’s):

Where Planes Go, They Follow: The Rise of Plane Spotting and How Airports Are Embracing Their Biggest Fans

Fight For The Skies: The Air Traffic Control Debate

3. My Instagram friends, @jfkspotting, hit 7,000 followers and in doing so, named my page the ninth best of all those followers. Thanks guys!

4. I found that there is a bus that takes me directly from my new apartment to my favorite spotting location at MSP – the gold parking ramp. I was asked to leave by airport police, which I calmly and apologetically did. BUT, after a few days I didn’t feel quite right about it. I reached out to a contact of mine at the airport who in turn spoke with the police chief who confirmed I CAN be up there. The chief passed the message along to his officers and now I go three to four times a week. Now THAT’S a “great planes” win!

Thank you all for the love and support. To think that six months ago I went out on a whim and just thought I’d “take a shot” at pursuing something that I love… and seeing where I am now – it’s pretty incredible. The things I’m learning, the people I’m meeting, the stories I’m writing and the places I’m going… I’m very thankful and cannot wait to see where this love takes me in the years to come.