December 14, 2012: On December 12th a South African C-47 transport crashed, killing all eleven on board. What’s unusual about this is that the C-47 (“Dakota”) is a 1930s design (as the DC-3) that was heavily used during World War II and ever since. Obviously, this involved a lot of upgrades and refurbishment. The SAAF (South African Air Force) extensively refurbished ten of its C-47s in the early 1990s. Each of these “Super-Daks” was modified for a specific mission (5 for maritime patrol, 3 for transport, and 2 for electronic warfare). The one lost on the 12th was a transport model.
Some aircraft seem to fly forever. A prime example has been the DC-3/C-47. The latest revival for this iconic plane is a refurb that creates a 13 ton aircraft with a rebuilt and lengthened fuselage, upgraded wings, new engines, and modern electronics. Called the BT-67, it is in use by eight civilian (including the U.S. Forestry Service) organizations and nine air forces (including the U.S. Air Force and the Chinese Air Force). The BT-67 is about a meter (three feet) longer than the original DC-3 and 1.5 tons heavier. Cruising speed is 380 kilometers an hour, compared to 240 for the DC-3. Range is more than twice the 1,600 kilometers of the DC-3. Typical load for the BT-67 (4 tons) is also about twice what the DC-3 would normally haul. The longer range made the rugged BT-67 capable of delivering airfreight to research stations in Antarctica, from an airport in South Africa. The BT-67s cost about $5 million each.
In the early 60s, while stationed at NAS Sigonella, Sicily, my father flew an R4D-8 Super Gooney*, the updated version of the C-47. Coming from the AD Skyraider community, his transition pilot was one of the last of the Flying Chiefs, an Enlisted Aviation Pilot. Dad had fond memories of flying the Gooney across much of the Mediterranean.
The Warbird museum down the road in Chino has a C-53, the paratrooper version of the C-47. Relatively few were built, as it was easier to modify the cargo C-47 to carry paratroopers, than to modify the C-53 to carry cargo. I see the C-53 fly by pretty often.
*After the designation system changed, the R4D-8 became the C-117.