February 15, 2016

Photo Essay: A Warbird Flies Over the LA Basin

I can remember my first time in any aircraft. It was a helicopter flight over Lake Placid and the Adirondack mountains of Upstate New York, and it made me incredibly air sick.

I was probably 10 years old.

I didn't fly again until something like a decade later, when I boarded my first commercial airplane: a Virgin Atlantic flight from New York's JFK to London Heathrow for my semester abroad.

Since then, I've been a passenger on plenty of other airlines—American, Delta, US Airways, United, Aer Lingus, Lufthansa, Air France, Air Tran, Virgin America, JetBlue, and even the defunct Song (which only operated from 2003-2006).

I also managed to get on two round trips on a private plane in 2012.

I've flown a sailplane, and I've jumped out of a plane with a guy strapped to my back.

But until this weekend, I'd never experienced what it was like for the first passengers to ever take a commercial flight.

On Valentine's Day morning, I arrived to the Pacific Jet Center at Long Beach Airport to take a scenic flight over the LA basin in a Douglas DC-3A...

...the model of airplane that lured passengers off the rails and into the air, ushering in a new era of air travel...

...that offered longer distances, shorter travel times, and the ability to bring a dozen or two people all to the same destination.

Back in 1936 when the first DC-3 commercial flight was offered, it changed everything—and it began to pioneer new flight paths across the United States.

But while passengers enjoyed the comfort of the spacious DC-3—which could also accommodate sleeper beds— the time World War II hit, the DC-3's were commandeered by the military.

This veteran plane was manufactured in Santa Monica as a C-53D and was converted into a DC-3. It became a staple throughout WWII, dropping paratroopers to invade Sicily in 1943, Normandy on D-Day in 1944, and Germany in 1945.

But after the war, ownership of this NC43XX (now a DC-3) transferred to TWA, then Northeast Airlines, and then United from 1945 to 1952.

Appropriately, one of its post-war owners (there were over a dozen of them from 1953 to 2006) used it to drop skydivers (not paratroopers) over Connecticut.

Aviator Flight Training bought the ol' gal in her current restored version in 2013...

...and now offers recreational, scenic warbird rides... anyone brave enough to take off in one.

This one seats 19 passengers... two pilots in the cockpit...

...and has all the modern amenities...

...including cushioned seats and cupholders (but no ashtrays).

We began our non-stop service to Long Beach from Long Beach...

...following the LA River as we headed north, away from the Pacific Ocean.

We unbuckled our seatbelts and moved freely about the cabin... snap photos from both sides of the plane... we soared over freeway interchanges...

...past mountains...

...Griffith Observatorythe Hollywood Sign...

...and the Downtown LA skyline, as we looped around and headed back.

This was my Valentine's date with myself—and a bunch of kindred spirit old timers.

I didn't get dressed up in period-appropriate costuming. I didn't do my hair and makeup. And I didn't pose for endless photos in front of the plane.

I wasn't there for fashion...or vanity...or to be cool or vintage or retro. I went for the adventure of it—and to experience something I couldn't have experienced in my own time (though this type of plane was still being used as a commercial airliner in the early 1980s).

And you know what? It was awesome.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Planes of LAX's Flight Path Learning Center Museum
Photo Essay: Planespotting at Santa Monica Airport
Photo Essay: Long Beach Airport's 90th Anniversary Fly-In
Photo Essay: Planespotting at Van Nuys Airport
Photo Essay: LA's First Commercial Airport, Then & Now
Photo Essay: In Praise of the Flightless Planes at Palm Springs Air Museum
Photo Essay: The Retired Big Boys at March Field Air Museum

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