Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The Tail-Dragger

“Tail-Draggers” were those airplanes whose third wheel was not at the nose, as is the case these days, but under the tail. The plane’s tail rode low and did not rise until the craft neared take-off speed. You see them in old movies and war films.

Once in a while you might see a film which shows a DC-3, the greatest airplane of its time. 10,655 were built, starting in 1935, with over 400 still in use. They were referred to as “a collection of parts flying in loose formation.” Pretty good formation, I’d say, given as how so many are flying more than seventy years later.

I was thinking of my disc jockey days and remembered that Charlie Barnet’s band had a big hit in 1944 with “Skyliner,” the only song I’ve ever heard about an airplane. Which airplane? The DC-3, of course. Laugh, you may, but it sold a lot of records and is still a powerful big band piece. By the way, when was the last time you had a popular song about, say, the Boeing 787, or the Airbus?

Many years ago, when hanging out at airports was a lot more fun than now (I was up in the control tower, for instance), I had a chance to get inside one of those freight tail-draggers. It was a “Three” and, as a little kid, I remembered it as being somewhat like climbing a hill as I went from the rear loading door up to the cockpit.

It flew low; you could pilot it with your window open.


Anonymous Don said...

I too have sat in the pilot's seat of a DC-3, up at the Air Museum in Windsor Locks. They have an "open cockpit" day once a year and for the price of admission you get to actually sit in the cockpits of quite a few historic aircraft. I made a bee line to the DC-3 and sat there dreaming of the roar of the engines and the ground slipping by far below.
I have always had a soft spot in my heart (head??) for that plane and it's Army Air Corps version, the C-47 "Gooney Bird." Visions of the C-47s flying over "the hump," well beyond their design limitations, as they flew supplies to our troops across the Himalayas and of pilots tossing candy out open cockpit windows to the children of West Berlin as they flew tirelessly, day and night, to keep that city alive and free, will always make that a special plane to me.
My grandfather would always pull to the side of the road and wait if he saw a DC-3 approaching the airport in Lordship. We would sit there and watch as that "giant" plane would swoop down and glide to a stop. Once he took me to the terminal so I could see one up close. To my young eyes it seemed too big to actually fly through the air.
That was back in the days when, if you heard a plane overhead, you would look up and try to be the first to call out it's name. The DC-3 and the Super Constellation were the easier to spot but we were pretty good spotters back in those days and very few aircraft went unidentified. Little did we know what was to come just a few short years down the road.


April 02, 2009 3:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fran Michels who lived next door to us was married to a WWII pilot and every time he'd fly over the house he'd wag his wings.

I knew Corsairs very well, knew Grummans because they were built over on Long Island and I considered them Corsair's main opponents. Knew DC-3s and naturally those yellow Piper Cubs.

How many time during and after the war would cars be lined up near the airport to watch the Pipers land and bounce. Secretly I think everyone wanted to see one flip over.

There were three things that created massive vehicle emigration out there, Piper Cubs, the annual marsh fires and Lou Prussin's Dairy Queen.

Exit 318

April 03, 2009 6:48 AM  

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