Douglas C-47

C/n 4423

Manufactured by Douglas Aircraft Corporation at Long Beach in California and rolled off the production line on 4/6/1942. Aircraft was designated as a C-47-DL. It saw service with the U.S.A.A.F. and allocated the U.S. serial number 41-18385. From June 1942 served as a glider towing aircraft in America towing Waco CG4A Hadrian gliders aloft until August 1943.

Reportedly saw war service overseas but location unknown. Returned to United States on 15/11/1944. On 15/10/1945 aircraft had been transferred to Reconstruction Finance Corporation where it was considered to be surplus to their requirements and struck off charge.

In October 1945 sold to R Farrell Export-Import company for HK$195,000 and registered NC58093 and flown to the Far East where it flew ad hoc charter flights initially from Shanghai and later Hong Kong. This aircraft had the distinction of inaugurating services for the newly formed company Cathay Pacific Airways Limited that was based at Hong Kong. Reregistered VR-HDB on 3/10/1946. Whilst in service with Cathay Pacific it mainly flew as a freighter throughout South East Asia. Aircraft was affectionately known by the crews that flew it as 'Betsy'.

On 5/6/1949 suffered damage at Bhamo in Burma when it caught fire prior to takeoff. After the normal checks were completed at the end of the runway prior to taking off the starboard engine fell off. A replacement wing was ferried to Bhamo under the centre section of another Cathay Pacific DC-3. Repaired after much trouble with the limited facilities that were available at the airport to reenter service.

Sold to W R Carpenter & Sons which was based at Port Moresby in New Guinea on 23/8/1953 for HK$320,000 whose company had formed Mandated Airlines but not delivered to company until 1955. Ferried from Hong Kong to Lae by Captains J Perry, G Withers and Chief Engineer B Humphreys. Registered to W R Carpenter & Co Ltd trading as Mandated Airlines on 23/8/1955.

During the career of this aircraft with company it suffered an accident at Madang when under the command of Captain G Bigg in the days when the thumbs up sign by the Captain represented a request for gear up. As the aircraft was accelerating for take-off and the Captain was advancing the port throttle to provide balanced power he apparently allowed his thumb to project slightly toward the vertical at sixty knots and as take-off speed had not been closely monitored the new and very eager First Officer demonstrated his efficiency with the quickest undercarriage retraction on record.

The aircraft descended unceremoniously onto the coral surface and literally ground to a halt with a cloud of white coral dust that shredded the propeller and bent the other. Captain Bigg's remarks on discovering the explanation for their present predicament was definitely not for the record. Repaired to reenter service.

On 12/1/1961 ownership of aircraft was transferred to Ansett-MAL and on 9/5/1968 transferred to Ansett Airlines of Papua New Guinea P/L. In September 1973 leased to Bush Pilots Airways Ltd. Sold to the company on 1/11/1973.

The company was later renamed Air Queensland on 3/1/1982 and operated as a freighter out of their base in Cairns. During the wet seasons in Queensland this aircraft was always used for dropping supplies to such communities as Gove, Cooktown, Groote Eylandt and Weipa.

When Cathay Pacific discovered that their original aircraft was still in existence and flying they made arrangements with Air Queensland to repurchase the aircraft. Prior to leaving Australia aircraft had been restored in the early Cathay Pacific markings and flown to Sydney and positioned at Bay 14. Next door at Bay 18 was one of Cathay Pacific's Boeing 747s. Even though this aircraft was still on the Australian register as VH-MAL it was able to carry its original Hong Kong registration of VR-HDB by special arrangement with the Australian and Hong Kong aviation authorities.

The return flight to Hong Kong from Sydney routed via Coolangatta, Cairns, Port Moresby, Wewak, Biak, Davao, and Manila where aircraft was met by a group from Cathay Pacific to accompany the aircraft on its final leg to the home base in Hong Kong. This group comprised Sir Adrian Swire the Deputy Chairman of Cathay's parent the Swire Group, Cathay's Director of Flight Operations Captain B Wightman and First Officer M Willing.

As there were no endorsed Cathay Pacific pilots for the DC-3 this aircraft was ferried to Hong Kong by an Air Queensland crew. The crew involved in this memorable flight were Captains R Perkins, C Shedden and Engineers J Lucas and B Smeaton. As the aircraft was being exported from Australia it required an export permit and on departing Cairns it had to be listed as an item of cargo on its own manifest.

On this flight it also carried another first when Air Queensland designed an aeronautical mobile amateur radio station with the callsign VK4MAL so that the sentimental amateur hams along the route could say farewell to the grand old lady of the sky. On the final leg of the flight the Cathay Pacific pilots on board had their licences validated and assisted in the flying to Hong Kong. Struck off the Australian civil register on 16/10/1983.

After arrival in Hong Kong placed on display outside the City Hall in Edinburgh Place but is now in storage pending a decision as to whether it will take to the skies again. If this aircraft takes to the sky again it will be the culmination of the hard work by one of Cathay Pacific's pilots M J Willing.

This aircraft is now preserved at the Hong Kong Museum of Science and Technology in February 2006 and is suspended from the ceiling of the museum.

© Gil White (2006).

click on the image !

VR-HDB on Airliners.net


My trip China 2002


Gil White 2005IN MEMORIAM.
"It has been a great pleasure to have known you all, but my days are now numbered." -24Jun06.
Gil White passed away on 27Jun06. He will be remembered by me as a enthusiastic (Ansett) historian and a courageous person; may he rest in peace.



Last updated 23.2.2006