Douglas DC-3/C-47 Dakota


The DC-3 and its family is so well known that it is not necessary to go into its design history here. The type was introduced into New Zealand by the USN R4D which first arrived in September 1942. (An Australian bound DC-3 had been shipped by sea, passing through Wellington in October 1938). They were then issued to the RNZAF under the lend/lease system arranged in September 1942, for their use in the Pacific. The first NZ3501, a C-47 (c/n 9111 ex 42-32885) being taken on strength at Whenuapai on March 27 1943, and flown by S/Ldr Fred 'Popeye' Lucas. A total of 49 C47/C47A/C47B aircraft (NZ3501-3506, 3516-3558) were operated by the RNZAF in the 1943-1977 period. The aircraft were operated in a transport role by No's 40, 41 and 42 SQN along with No1 OTU. The aircraft were used for passenger and cargo work, VIP transport, paratrooper operations, and as target tugs. Six were lost in service. Thirteen more were reduced to spares or scrapped. Of the remainder, one was tranferred to the Ministry of Transport Calibration flight, one was sold to James Aviation, and all but two transferred to NAC. Of these, four were later returned

The last six RNZAF C-47's were struck off charge in 1977. One aircraft (NZ3551) a VIP transport is preserved with the RNZAF museum in the condition it was used during the Royal tour of 1953. The remainder were the subject of political controversy. After their sale it was thought they had been purchased with the intention of operating them in Rhodesia, then subject to an embargo. After sitting at Harewood (Christchurch) they were actually flown via Singapore and the Comoro Islands to South Africa in the early 1980's. The five were all on strength with the South African air force by 1985, and served until 1997-8. In the interim they were re-engined with turbo-props. After being struck off charge by the SAAF, one entered the South African register, and the remainder have been acquired by Dodson International in the USA. (Further info is in the survivors section below -thanks to Charlie H. and Peter L. for helping me sort through the changes in identity).

Many of the former RNZAF aircraft that went on to operate with the New Zealand National Airways Corporation (NAC) continued the work they had done in the war years. 40 Squadron had begun quasi-civil operations carrying fare paying civilians in January 1945. Post-war the government moved to set up an airline, which became NAC which took over this role. Operations began in September 1946, and the airline officially came into existence on June 1, 1947 using converted DC-3s, Lodestars, and several smaller types. A total of 28 DC-3 aircraft were operated, of which 26 were ex RNZAF C-47s. The other two were purchased in Australia, being a C-47A ZK-BKD (c/n 13521 described below) and a DC-3-277D freighter ZK-BKE (c/n 4119, ex 41-7697, VH- CAD, VH-ANI) originally ordered for American Airlines. During 1963-64 fifteen of the fleet were converted to 'Skyliners', which involved fitting larger windows and upgrading the interior. The type was officially phased out by 1970, with ZK-BBJ making the last scheduled run on August 20. However, ZK-AOF (c/n 16151/32899) temporarily returned to service from Christchurch when Timaru and Oamaru airports were resealed. The last flight was on December 20. NAC lost three aircraft in service; ZK-AOE (c/n 16383/33131) on August 9, 1948 at Rununder Point with two killed; ZK-AQT (c/n 15948/32696) on May 22, 1954 at Raumati with three killed; and ZK-AYZ (c/n 15204/26649) on July 3, 1963 in the Kaimai ranges with 23 killed. Four aircraft were returned to the RNZAF, six were sold for conversion to agricultural aircraft, and the remainder were sold overseas.

Two other scheduled airlines operated DC-3 aircraft. South Pacific Airlines of New Zealand (SPANZ) operated from December 1960 to February 1966, providing services on a range of routes nationwide. Formed by ex-NAC Captains Rex Daniell and Bob Anderson, the airline operated three of its own aircraft; ZK-BYD 'Ernest Rutherford' (c/n 13906); ZK-BYE 'Jean Batten' (c/n13529); and ZK-CAW 'George Bolt' (c/n 18293), all 'viewmaster' aircraft converted by major shareholder Ansett Transport Industries and imported from Australia. In addition the airline leased several aircraft including G-AMKE (c/n 14483/25928) and several NAC aircraft. Despite introducing a number of innovations to the previously spartan operating environment (viewmaster windows, in flight catering, etc) as well as opening routes to previously unsupported centres, the economic, political, and regulatory environment put harsh constraints on an airline. The receivers were eventually called in, and the airline made its last commercial flight on February 28, 1966. BYD and BYE were eventually sold overseas (going to Laos) while CAW is described below. The other airline was Mt Cook and Southern Lakes Tourist Company, which had been founded in 1928. Having started Ski-plane operations in 1956, the company recognised the need to bring tourists into its areas of operation. The acquired their first DC-3 ZK-BKD (c/n 13521) from NAC on October 25, 1961. They purchased two more, ZK-AOD (c/n 15701/27146) on October 31, 1964 and ZK-BEU (c/n 13099) on June 25, 1970. An extra aircraft was also chartered from NAC from time to time. The company began to re-equip with the HS748 in 1968 and the DC-3s were slowly retired, BKD in July 1970 (described below), AOD in November 1972 (to Field air who reduced the aircraft to spares, registration withdrawn April 13, 1976), and BEU in 1975 ( the aircraft was later broken up as part of a film production).

A role almost unique to New Zealand was the Ag-Dak. The use of DC-3's for top dressing was pioneered by James Aviation. Ossie James saw the increased efficiency in using a larger aircraft when most topdressing was being carried out with Tiger Moths and Austers. He convinced the government to part with an RNZAF aircraft in May 1954 (c/n 16568/33316 NZ3545 ZK-AZL), and after civil conversion by de Havilland at Rongotai, the aircraft was modified for its new role in Hamilton. The first load was dropped on December 1, 1955, and the concept was so successful that other companies chartered the aircraft. James Aviation also pioneered the conversion to allow single pilot operations in 1959, with changes to the undercarriage and flap controls, and the addition of hopper controls. At a 29000lb MTOW, the aircraft carried a 5 ton load. Fixed static loaders were eventually fitted at the aerodromes frequented by the ag-daks, some of which were in remote areas. (James Aviation are reported to have provided vehicles (Fiat 500 Bambina/ BMC Mini) loaded through the cargo door for operators away from home). Thirteen aircraft were eventually used in this manner. In 1960 James Aviation, Rural Aviation, and Fieldair formed 'Airland', who took over use of AZL. Airland purchased a number of DC-3 aircraft for conversion. ZK-BYF (c/n 20051) went into service on Mar 4, 1961, followed by ZK-CHV (c/n 17093/34360) on Sep 21 1964, ZK-APB (c/n 15945/32693) on December 8 1965, ZK-CQA (c/n 14585/26030) on August 13, 1966, ZK-AWO (c/n 33480/16732) on October 15 1968, and ZK-APK (c/n 34227/16967) on October 13, 1970. James Aviation had reclaimed AZL in 1963, and purchased a further aircraft , ZK-AOI (c/n 34226/16966) in December 1966 which worked for a short period in early 1967. This aircraft was stored in Hamilton till June 1970, when it worked from Ardmore and Rukuhia, and then in early 1971 went into service for James Aviation's subsidiary Southern Super Air. Fieldair began acquiring there own ag-daks, when ZK-BKD (c/n 13521) went into service on Aug 28 1971, and ZK-CAW (c/n 18293) on Nov 22 1972. James Aviation put two more aircraft into service. ZK-AZA (c/n 27144/15699) entered service on March 5 1973, and ZK-AWP (c/n 33135/16387) on July 27. The latter was a replacement for AOI which had crashed near Clarence on February 23, 1973 after the starboard wing seperated from the aircraft. The last ag-dak to enter service was ZK-BBJ (c/n 16962/34222) which had been purchaed by Fieldair in October 1971, but was not converted until December 1974. By this stage, the early ag-daks were being phased out of service. Age and economic changes were catching up with the aircraft. AZL was retired in September 1974, CQA (July 8, 1975), CHV (March 29, 1979), AZA (October 10, 1979), BYF (June 20, 1981), APK (July 3, 1981), APB (November 16, 1981), BKD (23January, 1983), AWO (March 1, 1984), CAW (October 29, 1984) and AWP (May 27, 1985). Fieldair absorbed the Airland operation in 1978, so from 1979 they were the sole ag-dak operator. The last of the ag-daks was ZK-BBJ, which Bruce Thompson worked from Gisborne until May 1987, when it was flown to Palmerston North to be converted to a freighter. (The fates of these aircraft are described in the survivors section below).

The last DC-3 'fleet' operation was set up in 1986. AS SAFE Air's Cook Strait freight operation was being wound up, Peter Vincent and a partner imported ZK-AMR (c/n 11970) formerly operated by the RAAF, and a number of Australian Airlines, on July 7, 1986. This was prepared along with Feildair's former ag-dak ZK-AWP for freight operations from Wellington which commenced in September 1986. The aircraft operated to Blenheim, Nelson and Christchurch under the 'Fieldair Freight' banner (Feildair Holdings being the 60% partner). ZK-BBJ joined the operation after being retired from ag-work in 1987. Air Freight (NZ) was set up as a stand alone company to run the operation in mid-1989. Contracts included NZ Post and Speedlink (a NZ POst division). Some of the aircraft carried the 'Speedlink' titles. The freight operation ceased at the end of March 1993. The three aircraft were put up for tender. ZK-AMR and ZK-BBJ were sold to Morris Catering for support work with the UN in Cambodia and subsequently Somalia and Kenya. The aircraft departed in April and May 1993 (see below). AWP was sold locally.

Other DC-3 aircraft were inbound to New Zealand in the same period. ZK-AMS (c/n 9286) a former RAAF C-47A operated by a number of Australian airlines was imported by Pionair Adventures. Arriving as VH-PWN on May 3 1992, the aircraft was registered on July 15 1993, and overhauled by Fieldair at Palmerston North before starting tourist operations fromQueenstown. ZK-AMY (c/n 13506), another Australian C-47A was imported by Peter Vincent as VH-CAN on April 8, 1994 and entered the New Zealand register on Auguste 24. He set up Vincent Aviation to run a similar operation in Wellington. They ceased their DC-3 passenger and freight operations in mid-1998 (see below). AWP was involved in another short lived charter operation (also called Classic Air) - see below for further details. This leaves Pionair's tourist operations as the last commercial operation of a DC-3 n Christchurch and Auckland (where they are associatedwith ZK-DAK). ZK-DAK (c/n 15035/26480) is another Australian C-47B imported in 1990 by a Warbirds Association syndicate and based at Ardmore.

As at April 1, 2001 the airworthy DC-3s are:

DC-3's on display include:

A number of DC-3s remain substantially complete, having become restaurants/ bars - including:

Sundry partial survivors include:

New Zealand related (particularly ex-RNZAF) aircraft I know of which are no longer in New Zealand are:

Further details on the history and fate of any of these aircraft (or the whereabouts of any more NZ releated DC-3s) would be appreciated. (Thanks to Peter Layne for checking the biographies listed, and adding some details).

Last Text Update:- 6 March, 2002
Last Picture Update:- 28 March, 2003

Technical Data


Parked - Paraparaumu

taxing in - Ardmore 1989 sideview - airshow 1991 damaged port elevator damaged port elevator taxying - airshow 95 liftoff - airshow 1998 flyby - airshow 1998

Restaurant - Mangaweka

Advertisement - Ohakea

derelict - Rotorua Restaurant - Taupo Controls - Taupo LC-47H - Ferrymead 1998 LC-47H - Ferrymead 1998

Close Up

Remember to let me know if you have a request for an image of a particular part of the aircraft!

Aviation Homepage © 1997-2003 Phillip Treweek, all rights reserved