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Aircraft Spotlight: DC-3 "Flagship Detroit"

...continued from the DC-3 Society Newsletter

Reaching into the past

Today, one of the clearest ways we can connect with the experience of a flying example of one of those early passenger aircraft is through the "Flagship Detroit." Manufactured in early 1937, it was the 24th DC-3 in the American Airlines fleet and it flew in regular passenger service until its sale in 1947. Each of the Flagship Aircraft in the AA fleet took its name from naval tradition, and a city that was part of that particular aircraft’s route.

During the war years, "Flagship Detroit" was not actually pressed into military service. As the Army Air Corps did not have a dedicated presidential transport aircraft during the war, "Flagship Detroit" had the distinction of transporting the First Lady. It’s believed Eleanor Roosevelt flew on the aircraft 13 times and  that she always sat in the rear seat on the right side, just forward of the entry door. It’s said she always wanted to be the last person boarded and the first person deplaned.

New lease on life

By 2004, "Flagship Detroit" found itself in the rather unglamorous role of a mosquito sprayer, with spray booms mounted under the wings. Purchased by the volunteer, non-profit Flagship Detroit Foundation, a team of volunteers brought the aircraft back to its prewar, ship of the air, appearance, right down to a replica of the original galley. “We found this aircraft in a field,” explained George Dennis, Executive Director of the Flagship Detroit Foundation. “Twenty years later, I am so proud of all of the support we’ve received from our volunteers, and through their efforts, we’ve been able to restore the airplane to how it looked in 1937.”

As the "Flagship Detroit" tours at various airports around the country, spontaneous moments happen involving those whose lives were touched by the aircraft years before. During one event, a retired pilot told stories of flying the aircraft. The crew thought he was referring to the DC-3 in general, until he pulled out his logbook to show them the aircraft’s tail number recorded inside.

Another story involves a retired pilot whose mother and father met onboard the "Flagship Detroit" when she was a stewardess, and he was a passenger. At that time, the requirements for the stewardess job were strict, including being a certified nurse in case of an in-flight medical emergency and…maintaining an unmarried status. The couple kept their engagement a secret until the airline spotted a marriage announcement in the local newspaper!

As we continue to prepare a fleet of C-47s and DC-3s to take to the skies and cross the Atlantic once again, it’s good to remember the stories of those such as the "Flagship Detroit" that built the foundation for all of the aircraft that followed and were later pressed into service in one of history’s greatest conflicts.



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