CONTRIBUTED BY MYSTI GATES –
There was a rumble in the skies over Mena recently as a local businessman lined up a Douglas DC-3 to land on Runway 27 at Mena International Airport. The transport plane, originally built in 1941, was returning from a recent showcase at an air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the largest in the world. The aircraft, commonly referred to as a Douglas Sleeper Transport (DST), was one of more than 30,000 planes on display.
The DST, also known by other names including DC-3, Gooney Bird, Dakota, Skysleeper and the C-47 Skytrain, has a rich history. Its lasting effect on the airline industry and World War II has earned its fame as “one of the most significant transport aircraft ever made.” Prior to the war, the DC-3 made transcontinental and worldwide flights possible, and is considered to be the first airliner to make passenger flights profitable. The DC-3 has flown under American, United, Western, and Delta Airlines – a popular model that can accommodate 14 overnight passengers or 28 for daytime flights. According to Boeing.com, the DC-3 was the first airplane that “could make money just by hauling passengers.” By 1939, Boeing reports “90% of the nation’s airline passengers were flying on DC-2s and DC-3s.”
Over 10,000 DC-3s were produced as C-47 military transports during WWII. The C-47 was the standard transport craft of the Army Air Forces, which could carry up to 6,000 pounds of cargo, 28 soldiers in combat gear, or 14 stretcher patients and three nurses. The C-47 proved invaluable in wartime efforts; with at least 22 name designations, the aircraft became utilized by every branch of the U.S. Military and all the major Allied Powers. It remained in military service after WWII, playing a vital role in the Berlin Airlift and in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Former Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces of Europe and later, President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower credited the C-47 as “one of the most vital pieces of military equipment used in winning the war.”
This specific aircraft, the DC-3 N33644, has been in the Seattle area under private ownership for the past 22 years. The new owners, who also own Arkansas Round Engines, a local aviation business, plan to fly the aircraft for personal use and showcase it in national air shows. The plane currently has just over 51,000 flight hours and has no previous restorations. Restoration plans include modernizing the interior, specifically the aircraft’s radio equipment, which includes components ranging from the 1940s up to the 1980s.
Arkansas Round Engines aims to acquire and preserve vintage planes with radial engines, specifically historical aircraft. The plane will now reside in its permanent home – a hangar at Mena Intermountain Airport. Now that the DC-3 will call Mena its home, it will not be uncommon for area residents to see this winged beauty circumventing the skies in fair weather.