Douglas C-47 Skytrain, Historical Background

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the C-47 "Skytrain" and other U.S. military variants

One of the most famous airplanes ever built, the "Skytrain", more commonly called the "Gooney Bird", saw action in three wars - something only a handful of aircraft can claim. Other nicknames that stuck on this Douglas product were: Dakota, Dizzy Three and Spooky.
Used in every theater of the war, the C-47 was the backbone of the USAAF transport service. The Gooney Bird flew in the heat and the humidity of the Pacific to the frozen steppes of the Soviet Union. Not only did it simply carry cargo, it was the standard glider tug from 1942 onwards, playing a critical role in Operations Overlord - the invasion of France in 1944.
During the first two months of the battle for Guadalcanal, Allied forces there were depended on the C-47 for all fuel, bombs and small arms ammunition, which were flown in from bases 650 miles away. On return flights the C-47 often carried seriously injured Marines to the rear for additional medical treatment. During the Japanese invasion of Burma, one pilot reportedly crammed over 70 refugees into a Gooney Bird and flew them to safety.
This versatile aircraft also was the first weather reconnaissance aircraft to fly. It was used for photo reconnaissance , electronic warfare and as the platform for he first gunship, appearing in South Vietnam in the early 1960s.
Called "Puff, the Magic Dragon", the AC-47 could put a 20mm slug in every square foot of a football field with a 3-second burst from its three electrically operated miniguns.
Jeff Slosson did not agree with the math: "Puff" had 3 Gatling guns in it which could each fire 6,000 per minute. That's 100 rounds per gun per second. Three guns could fire 300 rounds per second total and a 3 second burst from all 3 guns at the same time would put the number of rounds at 900 per second. As noted in a copy of your article, you state that: the AC-47 could put a 20mm slug in every square foot of a football field with a [which I assume to mean a single, or one] 3-second burst from its three . . . mini-guns. A football field has about 16,000 square feet (or about 5,333 yards) on the playing surface alone. In other words, it would take almost 18 3-second burst from the Dragon to cover every foot of a football field; or a single burst of about 54 seconds.

In another reaction I received:
"Was reading the description about the minigun and its firing capability on the webpage for the AC-47. Interesting to note that the statement said 20mm slugs...
Actually, it is pretty well known that the AC-47 fired 7.62 mm slugs - every fifth one a tracer."
Don Luke
former crewchief, AC-47D S/N 43-49211,
Danang AB, RVN [1968-1969]

Painted black and using red tracer rounds, the Viet Cong thought that Puff was a god, wreaking vengeance on them with its long red tongue. It soon became one of the most feared weapons in Southeast Asia, and much beloved by the "grunts".
More than 1.000 C-47s were still on Air Force rolls in 1961, and even now thousands of Gooney Birds still ply the airways serving governments, small airlines and bush pilots around the world.

From 1941 thru to 1945 a total of 10.048 were purchased by the USAAF and US Navy. Plus some 2.700 were built in the Soviet Union as the Lisinov Li-2. Additonally, another 1.900 flew in the 25 RAF squadrons as the "Dakota".

Serial numbers:
41-7722 thru -7866; 41-18337 thru -18699; 41-19463 thru -19499; 41-38564 thru -38763.
42-5635 thru -5704; 42-23300 thru -24419; 42-32786 thru -32935; 42-92024 thru -93823;
42-100436 thru -101035; 42-10879 (??????????) thru -108993
43-15033 thru -15432; 43-47963 thru -48640; 43-48642 thru -49032; 43-49034 thru -49267;
43-49269 thru -49350; 43-49352 thru -49374; 43-49376 thru -49702; 43-49704 thru -49759;
43-49761 thru -49789; 43-49971 (?????) thru -49807; 43-49809 thru -49813, 43-49815 thru -49831;
43-49833 thru -49851; 43-49853 thru -49879; 43-49881 thru -49902; 43-49904 thru -49920;
43-49922 thru -49938; 43-49940 thru -49955; 43-49957 thru -49962.
44-76195 thru -77294, with 71 randomly placed exceptions
45-876 thru -907.

Line Mississippi ANG: Constellation, Boxcar Packet, C-47A Skytrain and A-26 Invader
Credit: USAF Photo; nice line up of Mississippi Air National Guard aircraft. Probably taken in the 1960s. Left to Right: Lockheed C-121C Constellation (54-0151), Fairchild C-119F Flying Boxcar (51-8052), C-47A Skytrain (43-16050, cn20516) and Douglas Invader (0-434559). The C-47A served with the Miss.ANG till the end of the 1960s, after which it was stored at Davis Monthan AFB/MASDC,AZ.


Variants:
C-47: two 1.200 hp R-1830-92 engines, seats for 27 troops or 10.000 pounds
C-47A: same as C-47, but with 24-volt electrical system
AC-47A: electronics calibration aircraft, later redesignated EC-47A (AC-47 designation given to gunships in 1962)
EC-47A: designation given to ex/AC-47As in 1962
HC-47A: designation given to ex/SC-47A, an air-sea rescue conversion
JC-47A: a C-47 used temporarily for testing
RC-47: converted for photographic survey purposes
SC-47A: originally designation for air-sea rescue conversion; see HC-47A.
VC-47A: executive transport conversion
WC-47A: weather reconnaissance conversion, at least one (43-15218) flew
C-47B: a C-47A but with 1.200 R-1830-90 or -90B or 90C with high-altitude superchargers and provisions for additional fueltanks
TC-47B: diverted to US Navy for training purposes
VC-47B: converted for VIP transports
XC-47C: one C-47 (42-5671) fitted with twin Edo model 78 amphibious floats, each with 2 retractable wheels; planned for use in the Pacific. Other C-47 had the floats attached in the field.
C-47D: basically a C-47B with superchargers removed
AC-47D: 26 converted in 1953 for electronic calibration, became EC-47D in 1962 when about 25 gunships, originally FC-47Ds, were redesignated AC-47Ds
EC-47D: electronic reconnaissance conversion, with R-1830-90D engines; also designation for electronic calibration aircraft, formerly AC-47D designation
FC-47D: original designation for "Puff, the Magic Dragon" gunship used in Vietnam by 4th Air Commando Squadron; fitted with 3 fixed 7.62mm miniguns on portside firing through 2 windows and the door. Also with increased fuel capacity for long loiter time. Redesignated AC-47D in 1962.
HC-47D: redesignation of SC-47D
RC-47D: photo/electronic reconnaissance conversion of the C-47D, with 2 R-1830-90C or -92 engines; turned over to South Vietnamese Air Force
SC-47D: rescue conversion of C-47D with a ventrally mounted lifeboat; redsignated HC-47D in 1962
TC-47D: TC-47Bs with superchargers removed
VC-47D: VIP transport conversions of C-47D
C-47E: projected version of C-47B with 2 1.200 hp R-1820-80 engines; this version never flew and designation was given to 8 C-47As and C-47Bs modernized and given R-2000-4 engines (used by US Army for airways check aircraft)
YC-47F: Super DC-3 prototype with relocated wing, redesignated tail and other detail refinements. Evaluated by Air Force (51-3817), eventually turned over to US Navy as SR4D
C-47G: reserved but never used
C-47H: designation given to US Navy R4D-5s that were turned over to Air Force
EC-47H: designation given to US Navy R4D-5Qs that were turned over to Air Force
LC-47H: designation given to US Navy R4D-5Ls that were turned over to Air Force
VC-47H: designation given to US Navy R4D-5Zs that were turned over to Air Force
C-47J: designation given to US Navy R4D-6s that were turned over to Air Force
EC-47J: designation given to US Navy R4D-6Qs that were turned over to Air Force
LC-47J: designation given to US Navy R4D-6Ls that were turned over to Air Force
SC-47J: designation given to US Navy R4D-6Ss that were turned over to Air Force
TC-47J: designation given to US Navy R4D-6Rs that were turned over to Air Force
VC-47J: designation given to US Navy R4D-6Zs that were turned over to Air Force
TC-47K: designation given to US Navy R4D-7s that were turned over to Air Force
C-47L: reserved but never used
EC-47M: reserved for US Navy Electronic Counter Measures version of C-47
EC-47N: ECM/electronic reconnaissance version of C-47A wuth R-1830-90D or -92
EC-47P: an EC-47N but converted from C-47D
EC-47Q: a few C-47As and -Ds re-engined with R-2000-4 engines and outfitted with classified ECM equipment

C-48
DC-3As and DCT-As commandeered from United Air Lines and 3 taken from the production line.
The DST-A were Pullman conversions of the DC-3, equipped with sleeping platforms that were used for overnight flights. These 36 impressed aircraft flew either as staff transports or as air ambulances.
Variants:
C-48 (41-7681): one DC-3A intended for United Airlines, a 21-seater powered with 2 R-1830-82s
C-48A 41-7682/3/4): three impressed DC-3As, with R-1830-82 engines and 18-seat interiors
C-48B: sixteen impressed DST-A, 15 from United Airlines and one from Northwest Airlines, with R-1830-51 engines, 16-seat interiors, used as air ambulances. (42-38324 thru -38326, 42-56089 thru -56091, 42-56098 thru -56102, 42-56609 thru -56612, 42-56629)
C-48C: sixteen impressed DC-3As, with R-1830-51 and 21-seat interiors. (42-38258 thru -38260, 42-38627, 42-38332 thru -38338, 42-78026 thru 78028, 42-52990 and 42-52991.

C-49
138 examples, commandeered by the military from airlines.
Most were standard DC-3, but a few were the DCT version. All were flying with civilian airlines when the government impressed them in 1942 and 1943 for use in the war effort.
Maximum payload: 3.950 pounds (upto 24 passengers).

C-50
14 examples, commandeered by the military from airlines.
These aircraft were "made available" from American, Central and Braniff Airlines to the Army Air Corps and put to use for the war effort.
The C-50, named by the AAC, was an early version of the DC-3 airliner; reconfigurations were carried out to fit them for the military task.
Variants:
C-50-DO, ex/American Airlines
C-50A-DO, special seating for 28 troops
C-50B-DO, ex/Braniff Airlines
C-50C-DO, ex/PA Central Airlines (1)
C-50D-DO, ex/PA Central Airlines (modified for 28 troops)

Max payload: 3.727 pounds (28 passengers)

C-50 serial numbers:
41-7695 thru 41-7696
41-7697 thru 41-7700
41-7703 thru 41-7705
41-7709 thru 41-7713

C-51
Only one Gooney Bird to receive the designation C-51 (41-7702). Like the C-50, this aircraft was commandeered from Canadian Colonel Airlines.
The plane carried a starboard-side door, seating 28 combat troops and a pair of Wright R-1820-83 engines. The plane was configured for carrying of paratroopers. It seems uncertain if the aircraft in fact was used for this task in combat. Records have shown that it was taken off the Army Air Corps rolls in 1943.

C-52
This Gooney Bird variant was basically the same as the C-49, only with larger powerplants.
The C-52 was mostly used for paratrooper operations. Only 5 were procured, they were commandeered from United Air Lines, Western, Eastern and Swiftline Airlines.
Engines were Pratt & Whitney R-1830s.
Variants:
C-52-DO, ex/UAL (starboard-side door, 28 seats)
C-52A-DO, ex/Western A/l
C-52B-DO, ex/UAL
C-52C-DO, ex/Eastern (port-side door, 29 troops)
C-52D-DO, ex/Swiftline

Serial numbers: 41-7701, 41-7706, 41-7708, 41-7714, 42-6505.

C-53
Of this variant 404 were purchased or impressed. They were called Dakota Is and this version was powered by Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 (1.200 hp) engines. It was primarily used as a troop transport and glider tug.
Variants:
C-53 : basically a troop transport version of the C-47, with side seating for 28 troops and a port-side passenger door. But no large cargo door. Total of 219 of this version were delivered.
C-53B: winterized version of the C-53, with extra fuel capacity and separate navigator's station; 8 were built (42-20047/50, 42-20052, 42-20057/59)
C-53C: same as C-53, but with a larger port-side door; specialized as a troop transport and glider tug; 17 were built (43-2018 thru -2034)
C-53D: same as C-53C, but with a 24-volt electrical system. Total of 159 were built (42-68693 thru -68851)
VC-53A: executive transport (41-15873)
XC-53A: a single aircraft (42-6480), with full-span, slotted flaps and hot-air leading edge de-icing equipment
ZC-53: designation given to surviving C-53s in 1948
ZC-53D: designation given to surviving C-53Ds in 1948

Max.payload: 4.000 pounds (upto 42 passengers / 26 paratroopers)

C-47 on floats (WW2 footage on YouTube)


The above information comes from the book:
The "C"-Planes, U.S. Cargo Aircraft 1925- to the Present, by Bill Holder & Scott Vadnais (1996). ISBN 0-88740-912-1.

Multiple DC-3 photopages
Info on the DC-3, The Plane that Changed the World


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