News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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July 11, 2012

Ticket to Fly: 1937 American Airlines DC-3 lands history in Terre Haute

Aircraft on display at Hulman Field through Thursday

TERRE HAUTE — A gleaming piece of aviation history is parked on the runway at Terre Haute International Airport–Hulman Field.

A 1937 American Airlines DC-3, a twin-engine propeller-driven passenger aircraft, will be at the airport through Thursday.

Visitors are welcome to take a look at the historic plane, thanks to members of the Flagship Detroit Foundation, a not-for-profit group that flies and maintains the aircraft.

“It’s the oldest DC-3 flying in the world,” said Dave Gorrell, one of several pilots and members of the foundation who brought the plane to Terre Haute on Tuesday afternoon. “We love to come out here and show it off.”

The Douglas DC-3 was the first passenger airliner able to make a profit without a government mail delivery contract, members of the foundation said.

It seated 21 passengers and seems incredibly small compared to commercial jets of today. When parked, the aircraft’s nose points up in the air at a fairly steep angle, making a walk from the rear of the plane to the cockpit an uphill climb.

A ticket to fly coast-to-coast on a DC-3 in 1937 was $300, Gorrell said. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $4,722 today.

Another change from 75 years ago: The seats on the Flagship Detroit, which is what the plane was christened, are narrow, probably a very tight squeeze for the typical American of today.

“It’s historic. It’s special,” Gorrell said shortly after landing the aircraft in Terre Haute about 1:20 p.m. Tuesday. “You won’t see them very much longer anywhere else in the country.”

Jerry Cook, who was among the dozen or more people at the airport Tuesday to watch the plane arrive, said his late father, Master Sgt. Norman Cook of the Indiana Air National Guard, used to work on DC-3s as a crew chief in Terre Haute.

“It’s my favorite,” Jerry Cook said looking at the Flagship Detroit. “It’s very sturdy and well built. It’s got a timeless proportion to it.”

Flying the DC-3 is an enjoyable experience, the various foundation pilots said Tuesday. The plane flies at a much lower altitude than today’s commercial aircraft and, with a top speed of 200 mph, is much slower.

The Flagship Detroit is headed next to New York City, a five-hour journey. By comparison, a typical commercial flight today would take slightly less than two hours, Gorrell said.

The DC-3 even has windows in the cockpit that open, allowing the pilot and co-pilot to rest their arms in the wind and get fresh air while flying.

“It’s a lot of fun to fly the airplane,” said Rick Smail, a member of the Flagship Detroit Foundation and a trained jetliner pilot. “We were commenting on the way over here how pretty Indiana is from 2,000 feet,” he said. “At 30,000 feet [typical of modern commercial jets], you have no idea what it looks like.”

You can visit the Flagship Detroit today and Thursday at Hulman Field during regular business hours. Members of the foundation will be standing by to give tours. To take a flight in the aircraft requires membership in the foundation, which costs $150 annually.

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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