Legendary plane makes Macau stopover

The Douglas DC-3 parked in a local hangar

Boarding the Douglas DC-3 is like returning to the era of black and white movies, when commercial aviation was making its first steps. A model of the twin-engine propeller plane, which revolutionized air transport in the 1930s and 1940s, arrived at the Macau International Airport on Sunday as part of the Breitling DC-3 World Tour.

The plane is expected to depart today to Taiwan, from where it will fly to Japan, for a one-month stint at several airshows. It will later cross the Pacific toward the US, where it will stay for part of the summer. The total length of the world tour is six months, covering 55 cities and 28 countries.

Since it took off in Geneva in March 9, exactly 77 years after it flew for the first time in 1940, the plane has made a number of stopovers at the Balkans, before it moved on to the Middle East and the Gulf states, after which it charted a course towards Greater China, showcasing in events and air shows.

The captain and owner of the DC-3, Francisco Agullo, spoke with journalists yesterday at the hangar where the airplane is parked. Besides the DC-3, Agullo – a former Swissair pilot – currently flies private jets. He has accumulated 12,000 flight hours in different types of aircrafts, including nine round the world flights, one of them with an ultralight plane (in 2010).

Captain Francisco Agullo stands in front of the plane

The Swiss captain said that the heritage plane was last flown commercially by Eastern Airlines in 1988. He bought it in 2008, and restored it almost to its original version – with exception of the cabin and the cockpit, upgraded to modern flight requirements, which are completely different then they were in the 40s. To make the longer stretches of the world tour, the plane has also been adapted to have a 14 seat capacity in order to carry extra fuel, which is stored in the cabin.

When asked about the difference between flying a 77 year-
old plane and a modern one, Agullo said: “I always give this example: I don’t know if you’ve had the opportunity to drive an old car or an old truck. It is very heavy, there is no power steering. But you can drive the modern cars nice and easy, because they have power steering. The airplanes are exactly the same. You can fly an Airbus A380, the biggest plane in the world, with two fingers… But the DC-3? You need two hands and your friend [the co-pilot] needs to help with power because it is so heavy. It is a different philosophy, but this is a lot of fun.”

Curiously, the DC-3 is still being used by a few airliners in countries like Colombia, Bolivia, US (namely in Alaska) and Canada, occasionally with a replacement engine but retaining the remaining parts.

“In Colombia they use the airplane to fly in the jungle, for example. It is quite amazing to see an airplane still flying commercially in certain countries. The reason is that, in the aviation world we say that the only replacement for a DC-3 is another DC-3. And that means a lot and it’s true. This airplane can carry 30 people inside and land on a field, in the mud strip or on a grass strip that is only 800 meters long. There is no other airplane that can do this, even today,” Agullo said, adding that it is still possible to find original parts for the model, although “it is becoming more difficult.”

When asked about what is going to happen to the plane after the world tour, Agullo pledged not to sell it. “I hope that we can keep the airplane for as long as possible in flying condition. We want people to come and fly with us. That is what we really want to do for as long as possible,” he concluded.

During the Macau stopover, the plane was authorized to make a 15-minute flight, cruising 800 meters above Macau with some invited guests.

Over 16,000 DC3produced

The maiden flight of the Douglas DC-3 took place on December 1935. A total of 16,079 DC-3 were built in three different countries, with the majority being built in the US (10,655), with others in Russia (4,937) and a small number in Japan (487). The model’s production ended in 1945. A military version (the C-47) was also used extensively during World War II. The current market price of the DC-3 ranges from USD300,000 to USD5 million, according to Francisco Agullo. There are currently around 150 DC-3s flying around the world.

500 watches aboard

BREITLING is marking the world tour by introducing a limited edition of its Navitimer aviation chronograph. Five hundred watches will make the world tour aboard the DC-3. The watch will be on sale this fall, after the tour ends. According to the captain, the watches are being kept inside the plane in a secret location.

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