Happy First Flight of the DC-3

Today marks the first fight of the Douglas DC-3. This is one of the most iconic aircraft made during the 1930’s and saw major service during WWII as it was converted to fulfill many other roles under the designations of C-47 and C-53. The DC-3 was always the commercial version made for Airlines like TWA but later grew to many others. While it’s first flight was in 1935, it has been flying around the world under multiple owners, governments, and airlines, to the present day. The history of this one aircraft can not be summed up in a single post. It extends just too far.

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The Douglas DC-3

This week I thought I would talk about one of the most well used aircraft in the last seventy years. The Douglas DC-3, or C-47 Skytrain as it was designated by the US Military and known as the Dakota in the UK, has been in service since its first flight in 1935. It has been used as a cargo plane, troop transport, jump platform for airborne infantry, a civilian airliner and in more recent years as an aircraft for smugglers. The DC-3 has had many names, none more affectionate then the Gooney Bird. During WWII the marines in the Pacific noticed lots of Gooney Birds on the islands. When a Gooney Bird would take off it would run along the ground, flapping it’s long wings trying to get its fat body in the air. When the C-47’s were loaded the tail wheel would bounce on the ground, like the birds, and so the name stuck. The Gooney Bird.

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Whatever name that it went by, it was a mainstay for the army; however, this plane didn’t start with the army. In 1933 TWA asked Donald Douglas, Douglas Commercial or DC, to design an aircraft to compete against United Airlines Boeing 247. It started with the DC-1 in 1933 and then the DC-2 in 1934, however American Airlines wanted a replacement to the Curtiss Condor II and asked Douglas to create a bigger DC-2 with sleeping berths. The new aircraft designated the DST, Douglas Sleeper Transport, first flew December 1935. The prototype was fitted with 21 seats and became the DC-3. Originally powered by its two Wright R-1820 Cyclone 9s engines, later models including most military versions were equipped with Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engines, The DC-3 was able to travel eastbound across the country in 15hrs, westbound 17 1/2 hours, with three refueling stops. This was a huge improvement in airline travel compared to previous aircraft.

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In all 16,079 DC-3 variants were built. In this total are 4,937 built by the Soviet Union, known as the Lisunov Li-2, and 487 built by Japan, known as the L2D Type 0 transport. American Airlines had the first inaugural flight in 1936 and almost overnight it became the most popular way to travel. Over 400 DC-3’s were ordered by various airlines which rapidly replaced the favored method of travel by trains. These airlines, American, TWA, Eastern and United, along with the DC-3 paved the way for commercial travel as we know it today. But it didn’t stop in the US. The DC-3 was so popular that planes starting flying all over the globe, including one of the longest routes at the time, Amsterdam to Sydney.

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During WWII over 10,000 DC-3’s were built for the army and were licensed to several allied countries. The C-47 was the standard cargo plane with a larger two door entry system and lifting arm. The C-53 is the paratrooper model with bench seating on either side of the plane and a single, detachable rear door. Because of the ruggedness of the aircraft design and the ease of maintenance, thousands of these planes were still flying after the war and the demand for such planes has remained in existence to this day. This particular example belongs to a couple of brothers down in Mesa, AZ home of the CAF Airbase. It’s painted in a desert camouflage as would have been seen if the plane was flying out of North Africa.

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Speaking of flying, since this is a multiengine plane it has, like most multiengine planes do, a pilot and copilot seat. Flying the Texas Flying Legends Museums, C-53 Skytrooper, is Casey Odegaard and with him Mark Murphy. Having had the chance to fly and talk with Casey about the C-53, I can honestly say that it is a comfortable plane to fly in and according to Casey a rather simple multiengine plane to fly. As with most warbirds, one of the greatest challenges is being able to see when taxiing, especially with a wingspan of 95ft. Despite any such challenges, the DC-3 still remains as one of the most reliable aircraft ever built. A common saying has been engrained with the aircraft, “the only replacement for the DC-3 is another DC-3.” While not many DC-3’s still fly for the airlines, many are seen at airshows. Another of the most common warbirds to frequent the airshow circuit, the C-47 is often used as a platform for sky jumpers and like most airshows where the air is hot and the sun is bright, its great wings provide shade for the masses.

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After the fame the aircraft brought to the airlines, it made an even greater impact on historical events as it took part in several famous WWII battles. Two of the most noteworthy were of course the Invasion of Normandy and Operation Market Garden. Both of these operations have become so well known in todays generation in part because of series like Band of Brothers. The C-53, army designation, supplied the transport of paratroopers that dropped behind enemy lines in both operations. At one time the sky was filled with hundreds of these planes and thousands of men were jumping out of them.

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Prior to the invasion of Normandy, every aircraft that was going to take place over the French coastline, was painted with black and white stripes so that ground personnel would be able to distinguish between enemy aircraft and friendlies. However due to the secrecy of the mission planes were not painted until the night before the invasion. In a handful of hours, every ground crew, pilot and officer grabbed brushes and mops to paint on the stripes to every aircraft. These included not just C-47’s but P-51 Mustangs and P-47 Thunderbolts, to name just a few.

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At EAA Airventure, Oshkosh in 2013, the Texas Flying Legends took their freshly painted C-53 and with the help of over a dozen reenactors, painted the invasion stripes on the wings and the fuselage. In under thirty minutes they were able to paint, “The Duchess of Dakota” (above), with all the markings needed. While at a distance the stripes look perfect, close up they show the crookedness of the brushes, the dirt, bugs, and bristles of the brushes. In all it was pretty amazing to behold and to think about how many other planes that same treatment had to be applied to. The end result was a sky filled with aircraft like this C-47, “Whats Up Doc” from Palm Springs Museum (right), being seen below from guys on the ground.

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The Gooney Bird has remained a fan favorite of the aviation community ever since it’s conception. It can be seen across the country at various museums and remains an attraction to all.

Images captured with Nikon D3, D4, 14-24 f/2.8 AF-S, 24-70 AF-s f/2.8, 70-300 VR, 200-400 VR II

Using the Sun as the Background

If there is one thing that I have learned shooting airplanes is that the sun while able to create some of the most beautiful light, can also be one of the best backgrounds. Everyone has seen an image with a starburst in it. It was a very popular trend for a while, then it died away and no it was come back. That little pop of light peaking through some corner of the image usually behind some object. Well between the shots of the light hitting the subjects and the starbursts, come the backlit subjects in which the sun is just a glow. With the power of programs like Adobe Camera Raw, being able to photograph a subject that is silhouetted against the sun, can easily have the shadows brought up to see all the details. These three images, all shot with the D4 and 24-70 AF-S, are great examples of backlit subjects with the fuselages brought out with just one slider. Easy finishing technique to make a big impact.

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In Honor of the 70th Anniversary of DDay

Seventy years ago today, one of the greatest and deadliest military feats of WWII occurred which shaped the rest of the war as we knew it. Over four hundred thousand men took part of the Normandy invasion as part of Operation Overlord. This was the first major offensive that the United States took part in for the liberation of Europe. It was a massive endeavor that required months of training, planning and victories in order to pull off. The biggest was having air superiority over Europe. At the time of the landings the Allies had complete air superiority over the skies to the point where no German fighters appeared over the skies during the invasion. It took years to accomplish this feat and many lives were lost in the process.

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The dropping of allied airborne infantry was a major part of the invasion as thousands of men were dropped into occupied territory over miles of landscape. The skies were filled with C-53’s as the chutes opened below. The invasion led the way for every major offensive in the European theatre. Many brave men died in this offensive and many more went on to fight from France to Germany.

The front doesn’t have it all

The one thing that I see all the time is that photographers only look at the front of the aircraft as they walk around and never go around the whole plane. I never understood why this is because quite often the best background is actually when you’re looking at the tail. The day we were at Fantasy of Flight for Precon we had great skies everywhere we looked. The way the plane was parked we had the brown hangers in the background. Well I don’t like the brown hangers and with those great skies I had to do something about it. By getting low and using the wings as cover most of the hangers disappeared and with a little help in post, the plane now looks like it’s on a English base.

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One of the reasons the tail looks so good is because it gives the allusion that the plane is going out somewhere. The last thing anyone sees of a plane as it goes off is the tail. This brings to life the mystery of the mission, where the plane has been, where is it going? All questions that make you scratch your head. The more mystery you bring to your images the more time someone spends looking at them trying to figure them out.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, AF-S 24-70 f/2.8, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

A New Museum, New Stories!

This past weekend I was up in Missoula looking for a plane that i thought would be in the neighborhood. The B-25J “Maid in the Shade” that stopped Bozeman is still on tour up in the north and made a stop in Helena last week and starting this previous Monday in Missoula. Well being one day early i missed getting a chance to see those guys again but found time to spend at a museum i didn’t know about. The Museum of Mountain Flying located at the Missoula International Airport has some pretty darn cool history too it.

Missoula is known for many things one of which is having the Smoke Jumping Academy which plays a huge role in forest fires throughout the country. The Museum there is partly dedicated to the academy and has a wide collection of planes and history about forest fire management. One of the really cool planes they have is a DC-3 “Mann Gulch” which was used for dropping smoke jumpers into hot spots. It was named after a 1949 jump into a hotspot where 15 men were dropped into Mann Gulch and 12 were killed. Sadly the plane is not flying yet but it is a great piece to the collection of Fire Fighting aircraft. Also is a TBM, part of Johnson’s Flying Circus, also on the way to being air worthy.

I didn’t get a good shot of either aircraft, so in case you were wondering this is a shot of 4 DC-3’s from Oshkosh 2011.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Belated D-Day

I realize this is a bit belated but it’s amazing the things you remember and the things you don’t. Although I am getting better about important historical dates, there are times when ones escape my little brain. In this case, yesterday was the 68th anniversary of D-Day, the US Allied invasion of Normandy. For some it was the long anticipated day after months of training. For all it was a day that changed thousands of lives. A lot of the brave boys that went that day, jumped out of planes like this one. This is a C-53 Skytrain a modified C-47 for more cargo space and easier access. Hard to imagine jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. We honor their bravery.

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In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 200-400 VRI, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Clouds Make a Difference

Since this past Sunday we have had nothing but grey skies. Normally that’s not bad a thing because it is usually followed with lots of snow. Some days that was true others not so much. However, snow or not, grey skies get can get old real fast. Although nothing forced me to get out the camera, I did get me thinking.

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Not the most radical of ideas but the necessity of clouds is instrumental. Take for instance working with any plane in a blue sky, without the clouds it’s just boring as sin. Both of these planes, the top a Tigermoth and the bottom a C-53 Skytrain, have a much more interesting story due to the clouds around them. What that story is depends on how far your imagination goes.

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In the Camera Bag
Nikon D3, 200-400 AF-S VRI, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Making the Static’s Shine

One of the biggest challenges of working at an Airshow is capturing those great static shots. There isn’t always an opportunity to pull a plane out to where you want it, and in the case of this last weekend the background was mostly hangers anyways. A big factor that I found for the Cable Airport was that in the mornings when the sun came up over the hangers, the hangers cast a shadow over the parked planes. This made morning shooting difficult, but not impossible.

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This F4F Wildcat from the Comemorative Air Force was one of my favorite subjects to work with. It made a nice subject along with the SBD from planes of Fame. The one thing that still confuses is me, is the paint job. I can’t figure out that scheme.

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The Pilatus Porter PC-6 was a very interesting plane. The man flying it was known other than Clay Lacy, a true legend in the field of aviation, with over 50,000 hours under his belt. He had an amazing performance at the show, and that plane of his does a spectacular job. It turns on a dime and takes off in a very short distance. As I said earlier this is about making those static shots shine. Well in all of my shots down the runway there was an annoying set of power lines and building crane. Both of these were quick fixes in CS5. But there was one other tool I used on these planes to make them shine.

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Now one of my favorite lenses for working with static planes is the 200-400 VR. Not only does this lens allow me to be far away from the subject so I don’t get in anyone else way but also it compacts the subject and the background. When you got a lot of background clutter you don’t want in your photograph then it’s a good way to go. The Wildcat was shot with a 70-200, much closer, much tighter shot. Now the last element that i used on these shots which makes a big difference is Color Efex Pro’s Detail Extractor. This tool is absolutely amazing when working with planes. It brings out so much detail especially in the shadows under the wing that it’s almost a most. One thing to be careful with is that it does bring up noise, so it’s best to not apply this to the sky.

In the Bag
Nikon D3, 200-400 VRII, 70-200 VRII, Lexar UDMA Digital Film

A Transport this Time

It’s been a while since I updated my Gallery with some new aircraft so this week seemed to be a good enough time as any. This one if the Douglas C47 Skytrain. It was developed after the DC-3 Airliner with some improvements for the Allies combat action, including a strengthened floor and a rear door. This aircraft played a huge part of the war effort. Over ten thousand were made for dropping troops, carrying cargo and transferring wounded. Some of its greatest uses came in the naval battle in the Pacific where the need to move as quickly as the Japanese in jungle fronts was essential. The Navy designated the plane R4D where in the European front it was later modified to drop paratroopers then known as the C53 Skytrooper. The men on the ground had another name for it, the Gooney Bird.

 

C47 Skytrain

 

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Images Captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 70-200 VRII, AF-S 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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