World War II Aircraft: Douglas C-47 Skytrain

August 31, 2018

As the threat of war in the Pacific loomed, the Douglas Aircraft Company took a look at its DC-3 fixed-wing propeller-driven civilian craft and saw the opportunity for a military version of the plane. The DC-3 first flew in 1935, but it would be another six years before the military version, known as the Douglas C-47, took flight.

On December 23, 1941, as the United States found itself at war in the Pacific and in Europe, the manufacturer flew the first Douglas C-47. Shortly before the transport plane took flight, production on another model—the C-53 Skytrooper—began, but it lacked some essentials that the C-47 offered. The C-53 was missing a cargo door and hoist attachment and had a thinner floor than the C-47 and in the end fewer than 400 of the C-53s were built.

Douglas C-47 drops supplies to US troops on Burma

Douglas C-47 drops supplies to US troops on Burma

As the War in the Pacific required a constant ferrying of troops between islands, the C-47 became a vital part of the Allied campaign. The Imperial Japanese Army was known for traveling light, which made it quicker than US troops. With the support of the Douglas C-

47, however, the Allied forces could overcome that disadvantage.

Conflicts that the Douglas C-47 was instrumental in included the Battle of Guadalcanal and as in the thick jungles of New Guinea and Burma. The European Theater also saw extensive use of the C-47, notably at the Battle of Bastogne when the Skytrain airlifted supplies to American troops. Thanks to the efforts of the US Army Air Forces, the battle ended in an American victory.


The Douglas C-47 After World War II

Douglas C-47s at Tempelhof Airport, Berlin Airlift 1948

Douglas C-47s at Tempelhof Airport, Berlin Airlift 1948

Owing to the aircraft's outstanding performance during the Second World War, the Douglas C-47 remained in service for years after. From 1946 up until 1967, the Skytrain was part of the United States Air Force’s Strategic Air Command while the 6th Special Operations Squadron flew them until 2008.

The Douglas C-47 Skytrain was used extensively during the Berlin Airlift in 1948.

During the Vietnam War, the United States Air Force utilized several variations of the C-47. Especially effective at the time were the models used for advanced electronic warfare, EC-47N, EC-47P, and EC-47Q.

In the 1940s, Douglas C-47 aircraft that weren’t retained for military use were converted into civilian aircraft, although the so-called Super D-3 wasn't especially popular with the commercial airlines.

The Douglas C-47 Skytrain by the Numbers

A total of 10,174 Douglas C-47s were built spanning more than 40 different variations. In the UK, the Royal Air Force had its own fleet under the “Dakota” name and developed eight variations.

In addition to the United States and the United Kingdom, the C-47 in one or more of its variations was utilized by the air forces of dozens of other nations.

The Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor has a Douglas C-47 Skytrain on display in Hangar 79.

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