The DC-3 was first produced by the Douglas Aircraft Company in 1935, following a marathon phone call from American Airlines CEO C.R. Smith demanding improvements in the design of the DC-2. The amenities of the DC-3 (including sleeping berths on early models and an in-flight kitchen) popularized air travel in the United States. With just one refuelling stop, transcontinental flights across America became possible. Before the DC-3, such a trip would entail short hops in commuter aircraft during the day coupled with train travel overnight.
Early American airlines like United, American, TWA, and Eastern ordered over 400 DC-3s. These fleets paved the way for the modern American air travel industry, quickly replacing trains as the favored means of long-distance travel across the United States.
During World War II the armed forces of many countries used the DC-3 for the transport of troops, cargo and wounded. Over 10,000 aircraft were produced (some as unlicensed copies in Japan as Showa L2D, and as licensed copies in the USSR as Lisunov Li-2) and the DC-3 was vital to the success of many Allied campaigns, in particular those in the jungles of New Guinea and Burma where the DC-3 alone made it possible for Allied troops to counter the mobility of the light-travelling Japanese army. In Europe, the DC-3 was used in vast numbers in the later stages of the war, particularly to tow gliders and drop paratroops. In the Pacific, with careful use of the island landing strips of the Pacific Ocean, DC-3's were even used for ferrying soldiers serving in the Pacific theater back to the US.
After the war, thousands of surplus C-47s were converted to civil service, and became the standard equipment of almost all the world's airlines, remaining in front-line service for many years. The ready availability of ex-military examples of this cheap, easily maintained aircraft (it was both large and fast by the standards of the day) jump-started the worldwide post-war air transport industry.
Numerous attempts were made to design a "DC-3 replacement" over the next three decades (including the very successful Fokker Friendship) but no single type could match the versatility, rugged reliability, and economy of the DC-3, and it remained a significant part of air transport systems well into the 1970s. Even today, almost 70 years after the DC-3 first flew, there are still small operators with DC-3s in revenue service. The common saying among aviation buffs and pilots is that "The only replacement for a DC-3 is another DC-3."
A swedish DC-3 was shot down over the Baltic Sea in June 1952, see the Catalina affair.
Units Using the Dakota
United States Army Air Force
Royal Air Force
South African Air Force