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Saturday, January 1, 2011

My memories of Flying on the Fabulous DC-3.. (Memory Lane)

A memory was jogged by this article I ran across on the anniversary of the first DC-3. I love the DC-3. Not from any aeronautical perspective but due to memories I have of being a frequent flyer on Southern Airlines. My Dad, (actually he was my step-dad. Out of boredom, Mom was forced to occasionally change husbands )...was a mechanic for American Airlines, in fact, he was their first hire on the west coast, post WWII at LAX. I came along in the '50's when air travel had style and class... which of course Southern Airlines lacked both. What they did have was oodles of humor and humor can trump style and class every time if you do it right. As a company, Southern Airlines knew not to take themselves too seriously. They knew their fleet of DC-3's had become, by modern-day-standards, somewhat comical and treated their passengers as if they were your favorite, goofy uncle, out giving rides in the back seat of his Dodge Dart. They flew so low, it felt that I could reach out and touch the treetops. So, because my mothers family was from Tallulah Louisiana, my dad would get us tickets through the airlines to fly down and spend a month every summer with her lesbian (shhhh, don't tell anyone) aunt who was a sheriff... sure, it's cliche but after all there is a whole lotta truth about how cliche's get to be cliché's.

Aunt Bobbie, circa 1935 to 1940

Those rides down to Tallulah on Southern Airlines were heart stoppers. We would fly to New Orleans on an American 727 and leave New Orleans on one of those amazing DC-3's and make the short hop over to Monroe via the fabulous, little DC-3.

If Willy Wonka designed an airplane, he would have come up with the DC-3. He would have made it all shiny with the smell of hot chocolate wafting through the cabin and it would have had big, bouncy cartoon tires but the overall look would remain the same.

It's best to be short when traveling on a DC-3, when I was a little kid, I was among those who could stand up at the seat and not hit my head. The stewardess (There was no such term as "flight attendant.") would start off her safety spiel with "Hey ya'll, welcome to Southern Airlines, where southern hospitality is a must since our planes were obviously constructed by the seven dwarves, we feel it's our duty to smile no matter how bad our backs feel." Then a joke, about how low we would be flying, would usually follow.

Once, in the '70's, while I was in college, I flew down to visit that aunt. I remember an announcement that went something like this: "To operate your seatbelt, insert the metal tab into the buckle, and pull tight. It works just like every other seatbelt, hopefully you can figure it out on your own, if you can't figure it out we will be happy to come by and laugh at you." They made the experience fun. After the announcements, the little plane would rumble and race down the strip, promising to get into the air. When it first came out in 1935, the DC-3 was considered revolutionary, ahead of its time. The cabin was large and roomy for that days standards but, by the time I was a passenger of Southern Airlines, in the '60's and into the '70's, it had become passe', cramped and comical. The DC-3 was, and still is, a tremendously reliable aircraft with at least 2000 still flying today and it's still one of my favorite planes. I revere my memories of all those, short nostalgia filled flights, sweeping close to the ground, over the lush, velvety green swamps and pastures of the South. Silos on the edge of cotton or corn fields and boats moored to little wooden docks melded into some odd kind of fairy-tale collage.

I got stuck in Greenville Mississippi, a small airport with a Quonset hut looking building for a terminal on that trip home in the '70's from visiting my aunt. The connecting flight wasn't connecting and there I was, a skinny, teenage girl with a "yankee accent." I had about $30, 2 bags and no credit cards. I was "shit-out-of-luck" as the natives put it. I took the only cab in town from the bleak, little terminal. The old, black man who drove me, drove to a little coffee shop that was next to a hotel that time had defiantly forgotten about. It was just off Nelson Street. Believe it or not, Nelson Street was a happening place during mid-century 1900's but by the time I got there, it was a bit past its prime. There were still several blues joints and back then, they didn't ask for your I.D..

My Dad had wired me a hundred bucks, which in 1976, was way more than anyone needed in Greenville Mississippi. My night, stuck in that two-bit town, was spent listening to the best blues guitar and bass combo in Mississippi while sipping rum and cokes. Oddly enough, I wanted to stay an extra day or two but instead, I met my connecting flight and left Greenville Mississippi behind, never to return. The memories are keen and etched deep in my psyche. Thundering down the runway inside the cozy, little DC-3 and soaring just high enough.


  1. It's funny, one day I was flying out of John Wayne Airport. Usually when I do I try to get there a couple hours early because I'm a plane nut. Anyways, I was just sitting there watching some of the other planes, people, etc when I hear the sound of propellors throttling up. I thought to myself, that's a DC-3...sure enough it was.

    There's a group here that restores planes...I might have to take a flight on their DC-3.

  2. They have a real sound of their own. It's like, knowing how a Corvette sounds in the driveway. It's just that certain sound.