when you get the chance to take a ride on a Douglas DC-3,you don't pass it up.
The innovative planes first took to the skies in 1935, served the U.S. Military during World War II, and went on to make commercial flying possible, as they were the first relatively affordable, reliable, safe aircrafts ever made. 16,000 were manufactured, but only about 150 remain in operation today. One of those, a 77-year-old specimen now owned by Swiss watch brand Breitling, is currently being flown around the world on a promotional tour, traveling to 55 cities and 28 countries in the span of six months. It stopped in Houston yesterday.
“If we are successful in what we are trying to do now—flying around the world—this will be the oldest airplane ever in history to fly and to circumnavigate [the world],” said Francisco Agullo, one of the pilots.
Although our flight was about an hour behind schedule because of yesterday's rain, the 20-minute trip over the Port of Houston and part of Clear Lake was well worth the wait. The aircraft had steep steps—its tail rests on the ground—and no air-conditioning, and when the engines purred to a start, you could feel their vibrations through the seats. But really, it was a lot like flying on today’s average commercial airplane.
With a wingspan of 27 meters and a cruising speed of 250 kilometers per hour, the plane stayed at about 1,500 feet throughout the flight, which was close enough for a good view, but far enough so that you could make out the Fred Hartman Bridge and Kemah Boardwalk at the same time, on either side. It was easy to forget about the heat and marvel at the fact that we were on-board a plane that had flown through decades of history. The ride was smooth, with little turbulence, and the landing was downright pleasant.
On board the plane along with the dozen or so passengers was precious secured cargo—500 limited-edition Breitling Navitimer watches, which will be available to the public in fall 2017.
“The idea of carrying these watches is to give them a story,” Agullo said. “We’re taking them around the world so that the person that buys the watch not only has a nice Navitimer but [they] have a story to tell.”
The plane will make 20 other stops before making its way to its last destination, Switzerland’s 2017 Breitling Sion Airshow, capturing imaginations along the way.
“It’s a popular airplane everywhere,” said Michael Bludworth, a historian at the 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Hobby Airport. “That is the airplane that changed the world.”