This book is the first I’ve seen to present a complete modeler’s guide to what is probably the most famous transport aircraft ever built, the Douglas DC-3/C-47 series. The author begins with a historical account of the development and service life of the plane, accompanied by profuse illustrations showing nearly all conceivable forms in which the aircraft appeared, and providing detailed accounts and reviews of nearly all of the plastic kits issued in the popular modeling scales. Although the DC-3 is the stated subject, some coverage is given to the DC-1 and DC-2, the predecessors of the DC-3, although no mention is given to kits of any but the DC-3.
The book begins with an account of the air transport industry at the end of World War I, and how the various types, following single engine mail carrying biplanes, evolved through the Fokker and Ford Trimotors, the Curtiss Condors, and some of the European types, to the Boeing 247, which appeared just before the Douglas airliners.
Chapters in the book include the Douglas DC-1 and DC-2, the DC-3 in Detail, the DC-2 and DC-3 at War, the DC-3 in Post-War Years, Contemporaries and Successors, Douglas DC-3 Variants, Fly-On Forever, A DC-3 Pilot’s Story, the Douglas DC-3 in Profile, Modeling the DC-3, and Model Showcase.
The book has many photos and drawings showing different examples of the DC-3 and other aircraft, which serve to illustrate the variations in form and color schemes used by DC-3’s through their service careers. The color profile drawings show some of the typical airline markings of the period, and exclude the military examples that will probably be depicted in a secondary volume.
The book is intended as a modelers’ guide, and all of the material included appears to be aimed at our club membership. Beside the usual color and marking information, the author includes a detailed description of the available kits in the major scales, including the 1/144 scale Minicraft kit, the 1/72 scale kits by Airfix, Italeri, and ESCI, and the 1/48 scale Trumpeter kit. Missing in action is the first DC-3 kit issued by Monogram , P9-98, in TWA markings and priced at 98 cents when first issued in the 1960’s to 1/90 scale. I built this kit years ago, and still have some parts of the fuselage in my spares box. For its day, it was a pretty good kit, although it was not to any consistent scale. Today, according to Burns’ Guide, surviving examples sell for between $50 and $80.
One really useful feature of this book is the detailed description of each of the major kits of the aircraft, as the author is an experienced modeler, and has built each of the models covered in the book. He goes through each kit, explaining the pros and cons, showing how to overcome the problems and come up with a decent model of the various types. In the back of the book, pictures are provided of all of the major details of the kits, which will be helpful in providing information for modelers wanting to include extra details in their efforts.
For modelers, one really excellent addition to the book is a page devoted to aftermarket modeling accessories, including parts, decals, and other items intended to add details and special markings to their models. While modelers can usually improvise military markings, airline color schemes are much more difficult, and after market materials are really necessary, as there are very few decal sheets which provide airline markings. There are some, but if I want a model of a Capital Airlines DC-3 that I helped load baggage on when I worked for Capital back in the fifties, I would need aftermarket decals.
The DC-3 was probably produced in greater numbers than any other transport aircraft in the history of aviation. Before the war, it had become the dominant airliner throughout the world, and with the wartime production, thousands became available after the end of the war. Many were produced in the Soviet Union, and the type also became the major transport type for the Japanese Navy. All of the Japanese types were scrapped after the war, but many Russian Li-1P’s or PS-84’s, as the type was called, survived for many years, with a few still exhibited in museums today.
While the author mentions these types, there isn’t a lot of information provided on them, probably because they were primarily military types. There is one photo provided of a Japanese “Tess” transport in the process of being shot down towards the end of the war, and another photo, identified as a Japanese DC-2 on page 7, which actually looks like a Showa produced DC-3, with all of the extra cockpit windows and no landing lights in the nose, as the DC-2’s had. In addition, there is one photo provided of one of the amphibian floatplanes moored to a dock. There is at least one of these still flying, and I am including a photo of it in this review.
One problem with the DC-3 series is the fact that the plane began service as an airliner powered by a Wright R-1820 single row radial, and later production aircraft used the Pratt & Whitney double row radial producing slight higher power. There were many variations in the production aircraft, depending upon which airline ordered it. When the U.S. military began to obtain the type, some were acquired straight off the production lines, and others were impressed from airline fleets, and it seems that each type was somehow different, usually because of engine, door locations, or seating and/or cargo arrangements, and the way the military operated, each variant had to have a different designation. With the Army designating the type C-47 to C-47D, C-48 to C-48C, C-49 to C-49K, C-50 to C-50D, C-51, C-52 to C-52C, C-53 to C-53D, C-68, C-84, and C-117, and the Navy calling the type R4D-1, R4D-2, R4D-3, R4D-4, R4D-4R, and R4D-4Q, R4D-5, R4D-6, R4D-7, and R4D-8, designations and configurations are definitely confusing even to those familiar with the system. Then the postwar modifications, including those types equipped with various turbine engines, make exact identification of an airplane extremely difficult. I have been photographing DC-3’s of all types since about 1951, and have found that the registration number in the case of civil aircraft, and the USAF or USN serial number, with U.S. military aircraft, is essential for exact identification. Then there is a factory serial number that goes along with each aircraft, and this can usually be determined through FAA records (faa.registry) if the records haven’t been stricken from the records. But then, many numbers have been changed or cancelled, thus adding more confusion to the issue. And sometimes, maintenance personnel enter the wrong designations, making things even worse.
One of the most unusual DC-3’s I ever photographed was at San Deigo in 1981. The owner had taken off the wings and tail unit, and made a motor home out of the remainder. The main entrance was in the back of the rear fuselage. If you ever have a DC-3 kit that is missing the wings, this would be a good conversion. I don’t know where the thing is now, but uit must gather siome interesting looks when on the road.
One problem with the book is that there is no section that provides a line drawing with the detail differences noted for each variant, but there are other sources for this information, so if you can hire a CIA team of investigators, you’ll be able to find the information you want. There are a number of excellent color profiles I n the book showing 23 different civilian DC-3’s and one DC-2, and a number of photos throughout the book illustrating different variants. I was surprised by the large number of DC-3 photos from official sources, museums and government agencies, and the lack of photos from private photo collectors, such as Bill Larkins, Peter Bowers, and Howard levy among others, who photographed every DC-3 they saw from the middle nineteen thirties. I would think that anyone writing a book of this type would contact the owners of these collections so as to illustrate many different variations of the aircraft. I know that my black and white photo file on DC-3’s almost fills a single 3 x 5 file drawer, and I would have gladly contributed some of these for publication in the book.
The back of the book contains photos of each of the models covered in the book, except, of course, the Monogram 1/90 DC-3 airliner kit. Detailed photos are provided, which should be very helpful to anyone building any of these models
There is an awful lot of information included in this book, and if you are a DC-3 addict, as I am, this book is certainly worth getting. Watch for a second book dealing with military variants, as it will hopefully include anything left out of this publication. Highly recommended.
About the Reviewer
I have been a serious aircraft modeler since the nineteen fifties, and have had some experience with the DC-3. I worked for Capital Airlines while in high school, and recall loading a lot of suitcases through the front and rear baggage doors of their ‘threes. My brother flew them for Capital and North Central, and I have photographed them for the past 70 years in both civilian and military colors. It has always been one of my favorite airplanes, and I have several models of the plane in my display cases. The airplane has become a legend in our own time, and I’m glad that I have had a chance to fly in them.
My thanks to Casemate Publishers for the opportunity to review the book!