A scene straight out of the late 1930s as a Douglas DC-3 Dakota named “Tangaloa” cruises high over the islands of Tonga in the South Pacific.
This was the Golden Age of passenger aviation. The skies were filled with the sound of throbbing twin Pratt & Whitney radial engines as airlines scrambled to buy DC-3s, the first commercial airliner that could carry enough passengers for them to actually start making a profit.
It was a romantic time. And the world was suddenly a little smaller as air routes reached out across the planet, to places like South America and Africa. And Tonga.
Now for a reality check. These pictures were actually taken yesterday, 11 November 2010, by Brendan Odell who has been busy these last few months getting this particular Dakota back in the air. The aircraft will operate a scheduled daily service around the island group for owner Chatham Pacific. Apart from the great sea-kayaking around Tonga, flying in on an inter-island service by Dakota is impossibly romantic and reason enough alone to make the long journey to the Pacific.
Not bad for an aircraft that is nearly 60 years old. It’s small, but a noteworthy, victory when one considers the current difficulties at Boeing and Airbus over their much-hyped new airliners (see the story HERE). Boeing’s vaunted 787 Dreamliner faces further test-flight delays after an in-flight fire, while Airbus’s huge A380 doubledecker gets another blast of bad PR following engine troubles and subsequent grounding of the Qantas fleet.
Old DC-3 hands will tell you that the only replacement for a DC-3 is another DC-3. They’re probably right.
I saw a brace of DC-3s on the drive from Bangkok to Pattaya yesterday – in military camouflage (US Viet Nam era I guess) – quite tatty but will try and get a photo on my return next week.