A March 1940-make Dakota C-43, the oldest aircraft in the world attempting circumnavigation of the globe, touched down in Nagpur on Monday. Also called DC-3 (Douglas DC-3), these planes had played a key role in India’s wars with Pakistan in 1947 and 1965.
The present aircraft, owned by Aeropassion, a Swiss firm, flew in here from Karachi on Sunday night, its 11th halt on the 55-city tour during which it would circumnavigate the globe.
The aircraft, manufactured by the now extinct US-based Douglas Aircraft Company, were extensively used by the Allied forces during the World War II. Among other missions, they were used to airdrop the troops during the landing on the Normandy coast in France on the `D-day’.
The ‘Breitling DC-3 World Tour’ started off from Geneva on March 9, the 77th birthday of the 36-seater aircraft with a 3-member crew, said Captain Francisco Agullo, the pilot.
Agullo (48), a Swiss national, has experience of 28 years. The tour is sponsored primarily by the Swiss watchmaker Breitling. The other two crew members are co-pilot Paul Bazeley from Britain and engineer Daniel Meyer, a Swiss, who doubles up as official photographer of the tour.
Agullo said DC-3 was the first aircraft to be commercially viable when made in 1935 by the Douglas Aircraft Company, which went on to make as many as 16,000 of them between 1935 and 1950.
To put it in perspective, Airbus, the world’s largest aircraft-maker, has made only 10,000 planes so far.
The aircraft on the world tour has two Pratt & Whitney piston engines, Agullo said, adding that it has flown 74,500 hours. Engines of this make have to be changed after every 1200 hours, he said.
The DC-3 was also the first plane to complete the US east-west journey with just one stop. Out of the 16,000 DC-3 built, 10,000 were in the US, 487 in Japan and the rest in Russia.
The Breitling DC-3 World Tour will end in Geneva in September after covering 24,000 nautical miles.
Bezeley said the plane chose Nagpur for a halt because the city is at the heart of India, and also because the ‘aviation gas’, its fuel, is not available at large airports.
On Wednesday the plane will fly off to Chittagong in Bangladesh, from where it will head to Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Japan.
It will be stationed in Japan for a month before heading for the west coast of the US. In Tokyo, the plane will offer a joy ride to the child victims of the 2013 tsunami.
Civil DC-3 production stopped in 1942 with 607 aircraft made. However, the production of its military derivative, the C-47 Skytrain (designated as Dakota by the UK’s Royal Air Force), and the Russian and Japanese versions continued till 1950.