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It epitomizes the art deco image of the aeroplane. Even today, its iconic form can be recognized worldwide in art, photographs, film, and advertising as the classic propeller airliner.
It defined the early days of commercial aviation and military airlift, and pioneered troop transport in the Second World War.
It is the renowned Douglas DC-3.
One of the best airworthy examples of this legendary aircraft is owned and operated by Swiss company Breitling, well known for its long history of producing quality aviation timepieces.
Breitling’s DC-3 visited Toronto on Aug. 17, just one stop on a world tour which began in March and will conclude in September. In total, the legendary aircraft will visit 55 cities in 28 countries.
It spent a month in Japan, where young tsunami victims were given rides. Major airshows on the tour included the Iwakuni Friendship Day and Oshkosh. Other stops included local familiarization flights for Breitling retailers and their customers.
The logistics of the tour have been challenging. Avgas is rare and had to be prepositioned in many locations. As well, it has been difficult to acquire flight permits for some countries.
Fuel bladders have added about seven hours of flying time to the DC-3’s range, allowing it to fly up to 14 hours non-stop for transoceanic legs.
The journey from Japan to Shemya, Alaska, was the most arduous. It entailed an overnight flight to allow a daylight landing at Shemya. The DC-3 has no deicing equipment; with icing above 2,000 feet, the aircraft had to fly below the clouds at 1,500 feet with uncertain altitude readings and no visual references.
Skies met the DC-3 and its crew at Toronto’s Pearson airport, where Capt Francisco Agullo delivered an informative briefing about the aircraft, the tour and a special timepiece created by Breitling specifically for the journey.
Carried on the aircraft throughout the tour are 500 commemorative edition Breitling Navitimer aviation chronographs, featuring an engraved caseback with the world tour logo. The timepieces will be made available for sale after the tour, and each will be accompanied by a certificate and facsimile logbook signed by the pilots.
After the briefing, it was time to climb aboard for a short but exciting flight around the north side of Pearson airport.
The interior of the Breitling DC-3 is equipped with modern airliner seating (although with ash trays in the arms) and safety equipment. The cabin is adorned with period wooden trim and window framing on the large rectangular windows.
The hum of the twin Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 Wasp engines was muffled in the cabin; however, a low underlying thrum could be detected throughout the flight.
In addition to its lovingly preserved DC-3, Breitling operates a Lockheed Constellation, with both aircraft based in Geneva. The Constellation was acquired in 2004 and the DC-3 in 2008. The company also has an L-39 jet team and an MX200 air racer.
Breitling’s DC-3 has an interesting past. It was delivered to American Airlines as N25658 ‘Flagship Cleveland’ on March 9, 1940.
It was impressed into the USAAF between 1942 and 1944, where it gained notoriety as the only DC-3 to carry out a bombing mission during World War Two. The run took place in Greenland, when the local base commander was informed of a German U-boat sighting nearby. He requisitioned the Dakota, loading ordnance aboard with the intention of throwing it out the cargo door if the submarine could be located. It wasn’t.
The aircraft resumed commercial service in 1946 with several small airlines until 1988. It was restored twice: once by Champlain Air in 1996, and by Breitling in 2009 to certify it for passengers.
The DC-3 has accumulated a staggering 74,500 hours over its lifetime, and requires about 100 hours of maintenance per flight hour.
Breitling uses the vintage aircraft for corporate events and airshows. It is normally equipped with seating for 30 passengers; however, capacity was reduced to 14 seats for the Breitling DC-3 World Tour, to make room for the 500 watches and fuel bladders required for transoceanic legs.
When it concludes its tour in Geneva, Switzerland, on Sept. 12, Breitling’s DC-3 will hold the record for the oldest aircraft to fly around the world.