Douglas DC-3

dc3Since its introduction in 1935, the DC-3 has been one of the most reliable and economical aircraft in commercial aviation history. General Dwight Eisenhower cited the DC-3, or “Gooneybird” as the military version was often called, as one of the most important factors in the Allied victory in World War II. Amazingly, even today, nearly 70 years after the first launch, DC-3s are still in service around the world hauling cargo and passengers.

The Douglas DC-3 defined the birth of the era of modern commercial aviation. Airlines finally had an airplane they could operate within expense limits that allowed ticket pricing available to the average person. Passenger travel by air across continents was possible day or night. Some versions of the DC-3 were equipped with sleeping berths.

Almost as remarkable as the revolution the DC-3 fostered in air travel is the fact that DC-3s are still flying for revenue. Some are used for scenic nostalgia flights and others are still hauling cargo. Donald Douglas would undoubtedly be proud to know that the venerable twin-engine bird is still earning money.

The DC-3 is about as easy an airliner as there is to fly. Like most taildraggers it needs some attention on the ground. The DC-3, however, is very stable to fly, easy to handle, and very forgiving of less-than-perfect landings.

Specifications

U.S. Metric
Cruise speed 185 mph 161 knots 298 km per hour
Engines Two Pratt & Whitney R-1830s
Maximum range 1,845 nm 2,125 miles 3,420 km
Service ceiling 23,200 feet 7,071 meters
Fuel capacity 604 U.S. gallons 2,286 liters
Empty weight 16,145 pounds 7,323 kilograms
Max gross weight 26,200 pounds 11,884 kilograms
Length 65.5 feet 20 meters
Wingspan 95 feet 29 meters
Height 17 feet 5.18 meters
Maximum seating 21 to 28
Useful load 10,055 pounds 4,560 kilograms

Flight Notes

Many factors affect flight planning and aircraft operation, including aircraft weight, weather, and runway surface. The recommended flight parameters listed below are intended to give approximations for flights at maximum takeoff or landing weight on a day with International Standard Atmosphere (ISA) conditions.

Important: These instructions are intended for use with Flight Simulator only and are no substitute for using the actual aircraft manual for real-world flight.

Note: As with all of the Flight Simulator aircraft, the V-speeds and checklists are located on the Kneeboard. To access the Kneeboard while flying, press SHIFT+F10, or on the Aircraft menu, click Kneeboard.

Note: All speeds given in Flight Notes are indicated airspeeds. If you’re using these speeds as reference, be sure that you select “Display Indicated Airspeed” in the Realism Settings dialog box. Speeds listed in the specifications table are shown as true airspeeds.

By default, this aircraft has full fuel and payload. Depending on atmospheric conditions, altitude, and other factors, you will not get the same performance at gross weight that you would with a lighter load.

Required runway length

Takeoff: 1,600 feet (488 meters) no flaps

Landing: 2,500 feet (762 meters) approach flaps extended (Full-45º)

The length required for both takeoff and landing is a result of a number of factors such as aircraft weight, altitude, headwind, use of flaps, and ambient temperature. The figures here are conservative and assume:

Weight: 25,000 pounds (11,340 kilograms)

Altitude: sea level

Wind: no headwind

Temperature: 15ºC

Runway: hard surface

Lower weights and temperatures will result in better performance, as will having a headwind component. Higher altitudes and temperatures will degrade performance.

Engine startup

The engines are running by default when you begin a flight. If you shut the engines down, it is possible to initiate an auto-startup sequence by pressing CTRL+E on your keyboard. If you want to do the startup procedures manually, follow the checklist procedures on the kneeboard.

  • The throttle levers on the DC-3 control engine power, from idle to takeoff power. Moving the throttles forward increases engine power.
  • The propeller levers are operated forward and aft for setting the required rpm for various phases of flight. The normal range is from 1,600 to 2,500 rpm.

Taxiing

For a taildragger the DC-3 has good visibility over the nose, but you may need to raise the seat (press SHIFT+ENTER). The normal power setting for taxiing is between 800 and 1,000 rpm (press F2 on the keyboard, or drag the power levers). You can lock the tailwheel during any long, straight portions of the taxi path to make directional control easier.

Flaps

Unless the runway is short, a no-flaps takeoff is standard for the DC-3. On the DC-3, available flap settings are 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, and Full. The flaps cannot be stopped at an intermediate point between these positions. See the kneeboard for the flap operating speeds.

Takeoff

Run through the Before Takeoff checklist. With the aircraft aligned with the runway centerline, check that the propeller levers are full forward, and the tailwheel is locked. Directional control is maintained by use of the rudder pedals (twist the joystick, use rudder pedals, or press 0 (left) or ENTER (right) on the numeric keypad). Takeoff power is 48″ Hg and 2750 rpm at sea level in standard atmosphere.

  • At approximately 50 knots (58 mph), the tail will come up (use the joystick or yoke or press UP ARROW to apply some forward pressure).
  • V1, approximately 84 knots (97 mph), is decision speed. Takeoff with one engine inoperable is permitted at 84 knots and above. Gently pull back on the controls to take off. Hold this speed until you get a positive rate of climb.

As soon as the aircraft is showing a positive rate of climb on liftoff (both vertical speed and altitude are increasing), retract the landing gear (press G or drag the landing gear lever) and allow the speed to increase.

Climb

At 105 knots (121 mph), reduce power to 35″ Hg manifold pressure and reduce props to 2,350 rpm. (Press F2, use the throttle control on your joystick, or drag the throttle levers to set the manifold pressure. Press CTRL+F2 or drag the propeller levers to set the rpm.) At a safe altitude, allow the airspeed to increase to 115 to 120 knots (132 to 138 mph). Maintain this speed while climbing to your cruising altitude.

The optimum DC-3 climb speed is 105 knots (120 mph). A speed of 115 to 120 knots allows some engine cooling benefits. Speed will decrease with altitude. Adjust the mixture and throttle settings as you climb to maintain the best rate of climb.

Cruise

Cruise altitude would normally be determined by winds, weather, and other factors. You might want to use these factors in your flight planning if you have weather systems along your route. Optimum altitude is the altitude that gives the best fuel economy for a given configuration and gross weight. A complete discussion about choosing altitudes is beyond the scope of this section.

DC-3 panel design

The instrument panel of a Douglas DC-3 might seem unorganized compared to the consistent panel design found in modern airplane cockpits. The familiar arrangement that pilots know today (airspeed indicator, attitude indicator, altimeter/turn coordinator, heading indicator, vertical speed indicator) is a fairly recent development. Back in the 1930s, each DC-3 panel’s unique arrangement reflected its owner’s preferences. If you’re used to flying the modern
airplanes in the Flight Simulator fleet, the DC-3 panel will takes some getting used to. But if you fly any airplane long enough, its cockpit will seem like home.

Let’s say you’ve filed a flight plan for 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). Approaching your cruising altitude, begin leveling off at about 50 ft (15 meters) below your target altitude.

You’ll find it’s much easier to operate the DC-3 in cruise if you use the autopilot. The autopilot in the DC-3 can hold the pitch attitude and heading you specify. For more information on using the DC-3 autopilot, see Using the Autopilot below.

A typical cruise power setting in the DC-3 for the parameters chosen above is 28″ Hg manifold pressure and 2,050 rpm. That will give you an indicated airspeed of around 140 knots and a fuel burn of 92 gallons per hour.

Remember that true airspeed is actually higher than indicated airspeed in the thin, cold air. Experiment with power settings to find the setting that maintains the cruise speed and fuel consumption you want at the altitude that you choose.

Descent

A good descent profile includes knowing where to start down from cruise altitude and planning ahead for the approach. Normal descent is done with no less than 20″ of manifold pressure and 2,050 rpm. A good rule for determining when to start your descent is the 3-to-1 rule (three miles distance per thousand feet in altitude). Take your altitude in feet, drop the last three zeros, and multiply by 3.

For example, to descend from a cruise altitude of 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) to sea level:

10,000 minus the last three zeros is 10.

10×3=30

This means you should begin your descent 30 nautical miles from your destination, maintaining a speed of 135 knots (155 mph; it may not indicate this high until you descend into denser air) and a descent rate of 500 ft per minute. Add two extra miles for every 10 knots of tailwind.

In the DC-3, adjust thrust during descent to maintain 135 knots (use the joystick throttle or press F2 to decrease thrust or F3 to increase thrust). The propeller levers should remain at 2,050 rpm.

Approach

As you near the approach phase of flight, bring the power back to 20″ if you haven’t already, and fly at 105 knots on downwind. When you intercept the glide slope or enter the downwind, set the flaps to 1/4 (press F6 or click the flap lever) and put the landing gear down (press G or click the landing gear lever). If the landing gear malfunctions, press CTRL+G repeatedly to manually lower the gear.

Abeam the touchdown point, lower the flaps to 3/4. Turning base, go to full flaps. Over the fence you should reduce speed to 90 knots (104 mph).

Landing

As you cross the threshold at around 50 feet (15 meters) AGL, the power should be at 15″ Hg and 2,050 rpm.

Raise the nose slightly to flare and slow the descent rate. Bring the power back to idle and hold some back pressure on the controls (hold the joystick aft or press DOWN ARROW). As soon as the main wheels contact the ground, the propeller levers should be set to full forward. The tail on the DC-3 tends to start down as you slow so you’ll want to hold some forward pressure on the controls to let the tail down gently.

Once the tail wheel is on the runway, apply the brakes (press the PERIOD key) to slow to taxi speed, exit the runway, and taxi to parking.

Using the Autopilot

This section discusses autopilot features specific to the Douglas DC-3 (for a general discussion of autopilots, see Autopilots in the Learning Center). The autopilot settings in Flight Simulator are not persistent or saved, so if a flight is reloaded, the pitch and heading will return to 0 degrees.

The autopilot has two gauges, an on/off switch, and a power light to indicate that the unit is functioning. If the master switch is off, the power for the autopilot is not available.

FlightNotesDouglasDC3Autopilot1. On/off 2.Indicator light 3. Heading indicator4. Heading indicator knob 5. Heading Reference6. Heading Reference knob 7. Attitude Indicator8. Attitude Indicator knob 9. Pitch Reference bug10. Attitude Reference knob 11. Cage knob

On the left side of the autopilot is a wheel-style directional gyro with an adjustment knob immediately below it. Immediately above the directional gyro wheel is another knob, the Autopilot Heading Reference. Rotate the Heading Reference knob on the upper right of the directional gyro to set a desired heading (clockwise to turn right, counterclockwise to turn left). When the autopilot is on, the aircraft will turn to and follow the course set by the user on the Autopilot
Heading Reference. The default setting for the Autopilot Heading Reference is zero degrees.

On the right side of the autopilot is a standard attitude indicator with an adjustment knob and a cage knob. The instrument face also has an Autopilot Pitch Reference in the shape of a slender horizontal window. Rotate the Pitch Reference knob on the upper right of the attitude indicator to set the desired pitch angle. When the autopilot is engaged the aircraft will hold the pitch angle set by the pilot.The default setting for the Autopilot Pitch Reference is zero
degrees.

The autopilot essentially holds a given attitude, not an altitude. If the aircraft is disrupted by turbulence, the autopilot will attempt to return the aircraft to the selected attitude and heading. If gyro drift is turned on in the Realism dialog box, the autopilot will drift off course as the directional gyro drifts.

If you use the keyboard command for altitude hold (CTRL+Z) the autopilot will behave like a more modern unit, holding altitude (at a constant power setting) even though the unit is designed to hold attitude. You will not be able to override the autopilot control of the aircraft by manipulating the stick and rudder. You must turn off the autopilot to regain control of the aircraft.

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