The Douglas DC3 – when flying was an adventure

I hate to say this, because I usually like to fly, but I think that flying has become pretty mundane.  There used to be a bit of glamour attached to flying.  If you were going to go somewhere by plane then family and friends would come out to the airport to see you off; there was something celebratory about it.

Before the development of the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet began to bring the cost of flying down, hopping on planes wasn’t something that a lot of people did.  The prices were fairly exorbitant, and people were considered to be lucky if they could afford a flight.  Family and friends could afford to go to the airport to see you off, because airport parking was plentiful, and you didn’t even have to pay for airport parking.

There was a time, in the early 1970s, when I lived in Papua New Guinea.  It’s a very mountainous country which gets very heavy rains, meaning that the thick clouds bringing the rain roll in with regularity.  Combine very high mountains with very low, thick cloud, and remote, unexplored jungles, and you get some very tricky flying conditions.

Back then, one aircraft which managed to fly successfully in Papua New Guinea was the Douglas DC3.  The DC3 was not pressurised, like today’s jet aircraft, so you couldn’t fly too high as passengers needed to breathe.  There was none of this flying above the weather that we do today; back then, in Papua New Guinea, you flew through the weather, which often made for a deliciously bumpy ride.

And you felt those bumps, because they didn’t have the comfortable reclining seats we’ve become used to.  The seats on a DC3 had a metal frame across which was stretched a bit of canvas.  If you were lucky, you actually had seats that faced forward as often you’d be sitting with your back to the fuselage facing the passengers opposite.  One of the good things about flying in DC3s was that you knew you luggage was travelling with you because you could see it – stowed behind a mesh barrier at the back of the plane.

I lived in Mt. Hagen, which is in the Western Highlands.  On the trip between Mt. Hagen and the Capital Port Moresby you flew between the mountains and not over them, so the views were somewhat spectacular.

Each trip was exciting because you knew you were flying.  In those days, the cockpit doors were left open and you could see the flight crew actually manipulating the controls to keep the plane airborne.   And you heard the sound and felt the vibration of those magnificent Pratt & Whitney engines.

Before take-off, as you were taxiing to the runway, you could feel every little bump in the tarmac, and then as the pilot revved up the engines for take-off you could feel their power as they lurched the aircraft forward, and you had a real feeling of achieving speed.  When the plane left the ground, you actually felt airborne, and it was a gradual climb so you had time to observe the countryside you were flying over.

Flying in a DC3 was fantastic! Yes, it was more dangerous, and there were many fatalities, but flying was an adventure, whereas now it has become somewhat of an inconvenience.

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