Thursday, May 31, 2007

Douglas DC 3, The Dakota

The photo above is of Lord Linlithgow, the then Viceroy of India and Lady Linlithgow alighting from a Douglas DC-3 plane at the Wellingdon Island airport, Cochin, circa 1940. On seeing this in the Lotus Club Platinum Jubilee Souvenir (Some Clubs of India), I was reminded of the old Dakota days. Till the Fokker Friendships were introduced in the early 1960s, Dakotas (the name given by the British to this American plane) served Cochin.

Those days we had the Great South Indian Milk Run, if one could call it that – a hopping flight, MadrasMaduraiTrivandrumCochinCoimbatoreBangaloreMadras. That is perhaps the maximum take-offs and landings a pilot was permitted to do at one stretch of duty.

Then there was the Bombay flight. After one and a half hours of flying from Cochin – cruising speed about 170 mph – it would land at Mangalore. Half an hour there and then on to Belgaum which had a camp-shed terminal - another one and half hours flight. Stop over of half hour again. Then the final lap to Bombay – one and a half hours more!

Later on, with Fokker and then Avro, the journey used to take three hours twenty minutes, perhaps the longest non-stop flight in India.

The Bombay flights on the Dakota during the Monsoon seasons were sometimes gut-racking. The aircraft would get thrown around all over the place. Because the cabins of these planes were not pressurized, the cruising altitude for passenger operation, I think, was 7000-9000 feet (against the service ceiling of 24,000 feet). And that appeared to be the favorite level for turbulence.

But the pilots were not worried. They used to claim that the Dakotas were so reliable and dependable. No wonder these planes, which first took to the skies in 1935, are still flying seventy years later.

They call the Dakotas ‘the plane that changed the world’. Quite rightly too. It is a flying machine that combines economy with efficiency and safety.

I left out one detail – for the five and a half hour trip from Cochin to Bombay, the ticket cost was Rs.150 (in 1958). Bombay-New York fare then by Super Constellation was Rs.4000.



Dr.Mathew said...
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Dr.Mathew said...

Your post reminded me of the times we landed at Belgaum airport at night, before taking off for Bombay.It was Dakotas alright. I was at Satara Sainik School in those days.I remember Pope Paul VI making a memorable visit to Bombay to open the Eucharistic Congress in 1964.

Unknown said...

Had they built a proper terminal building instead of tents by the time you were using Belgaum airport?
Abraham Tharakan.

Dr.Mathew said...

Yes, they had built a terminal.But the long walk to the building from the plane, in the dark..

Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Good article. I have been a passenger on the early Fokker friendship flights (Bangalore to Cochin) in the 1970's and decades later I have flown as commander on the F-27's! They have all been withdrawn from service.

The last I saw of a Dakota in India, that was in flying condition, belonged to the Aerial Survey department in Calcutta, I think that was in 1999 or so. In the U.S. I have seen them flying even recently. Flying examples of the Douglas DC-3 in the U.S. can be found at Opa Locka Airport near Miami. I saw the same Dakota (DC-3) airframe fitted with a turboprop engine flying in Guatemala as well.This modified version was also used succesfully in South Africa as it enabled the same aircraft to fly faster and burn less fuel.

Unknown said...

Thank you Capt. Anup Murthy for your interesting and informative comment.

Satish Kumar said...

I was amazed to hear Belgaum airport had night landing fecility since then, the latest is Central Govt is expanding and building new terminal at Belgaum, but the runway still need to be extended, one more fact is near by Belgaum Airforce base parade ground have two old C-47 or DC-3 Decotas parked at each corner ,these birds still look eligant.

Unknown said...

Thank you Satyadeep. I have passed through Belgaum airport during daytime only. Glad to hear that the airport is being expanded.

Carrizo said...

I know Dakota very well.


Unknown said...

Carrizo, thank you. It would be nice if you care to share some of your Dakota experience with us. I could consider publishing an article of about 500 words, which conforms to the blog's policy.