It was recently announced a Hawke's Bay-based DC-3 aircraft operated by the Hawke's Bay DC-3 Charitable Trust will be doing regular scenic flights here.
The propeller-driven DC-3 was made by the Douglas Aircraft Company in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s, and was soon appreciated for its flight range, reliability and the comfort afforded to passengers.
It pioneered many travel routes before World War II in the United States.
During World War II, many DC-3s were put into military use (as was the Hawke's Bay DC-3 which was used as troop carrier for the United States Navy, which was put into service in 1943).
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After the war, the DC-4 and Lockheed Constellation superseded the DC-3 on many main routes in the United States due to their replacement's size and speed, but they were still used for many commercial routes there and around the world – including New Zealand.
The New Zealand National Airways Corporation (NAC) upon beginning its domestic operations in 1947 had amongst its fleet DC-3s. Its flights into Napier began with Lodestars, until navigation systems could allow the DC-3 to land in Napier in the 1950s.
South Pacific Airlines New Zealand (SPANZ) was formed in 1960 by two former NAC pilots Captains Bob Anderson and Rex Daniell. To get up and running they needed significant capital to purchase two DC-3s, which were modified with bigger cabin windows, which were termed Viewmasters.
Reg Ansett from Australia backed the two men and took a 49 per cent stake in the airline. The first flight into Napier was in December 1963.
NAC would upgrade 12 of their DC-3s in response to the competition from SPANZ by equipping them with better sound proofing, new interior fittings and larger windows. They called the upgraded DC-3s Skyliners, which were named after provincial towns and cities.
SPANZ would struggle financially with passenger numbers on its East Coast routes and other smaller centres, despite an innovation serving breakfast on its early morning flight from Napier to Auckland. Their planes flew without any accidents.
In November 1965 SPANZ went into receivership and went out of business the next year.
NAC would continue to fly their DC-3s until the 1970s. One of their fleet crashed into the Kaimai ranges in 1963 killing 23 people, but the weather was stormy and forecasts underestimated the force of the wind.
It was a turbulent down draught that slammed the plane into a ridge in the Kaimais.
The Court of Inquiry into the accident also said that an absence of distance measuring equipment made it difficult for the pilot to know how far he was from his destination.
NAC continued to operate a DC-3 until 1974, as they could be used on runways which were not tar sealed. NAC was merged into Air New Zealand in 1978.
At the opening of the Napier control tower in 1959. Napier mayor and chairman of the Hawke's Bay Airport Authority, Peter Tait, spoke of the need to seal the runway so Fokker Friendships could fly into Napier.
After four years of bitter politics about which city this sealed runway should be in, the first Fokker arrived in December 1963, which became the 503rd airport in the world to be serviced by the aircraft.
It is thought today from the 16,079 DC-3s made that there are still hundreds of this much-loved planes in use over the world today.
Thanks to Richard Waugh and Graham Duley.
Michael Fowler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a contract researcher, commercial business writer of Hawke's Bay history.