Warplanes: The C-47 Is Still At War


February 23, 2009: Colombia recently lost one of its AC-47 gunships, apparently to mechanical malfunction. The aircraft carried a five man crew to handle the sensors and weapons. Over the last five years, Colombia paid about $20 million to convert five World War II era C-47 (DC-3) transports to gunships (armed with night vision sensors and a three barrel .50 caliber machine-gun, and some bombs). Such gunships first appeared, using World War II era C-47 transports, in the 1960s over Vietnam. The troops called the gunships, which liked to operate at night, "Spooky."

The DC 3 (or C-47 or "Dakota" in military usage) continues to fly in commercial service into the 21st century. Several hundred DC 3s are still flying worldwide, mostly owned by small domestic carriers in the U.S. and by some Third World air transport companies. A state of the art aircraft in the mid-1930s (during which only 500 were built), over 35,000 DC 3's were produced for use during World War II. The DC-3 was, in fact, the most widely manufactured aircraft of the war.

When allied paratroopers jumped, it was usually from a DC 3 (which could carry 28 troops, but over sixty people were squeezed in during emergencies). With a maximum range of 3,400 kilometers and a top speed of 296 kilometers per hour, the DC 3 was the common cargo carrier (up to 3.5 tons) and general purpose "flying truck." It still is.


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