During the winter 79/80 three friends and myself made plans for a spotter trip to the USA. During those days many US airlines had affordable air passes, so we acquired one from National Airlines and planned to visit the South Florida, San Juan Puerto Rico, St. Thomas (VI), Los Angeles area and Houston. April 01, 1980, was the date we left Holland onboard a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Douglas DC-8-63 bound for London Heathrow, where we transferred to a National Airlines DC-10-30.
We arrived, in the late afternoon, at Miami International. For a young spotter as I was, Miami Airport was during the early 80’s an Aviation Paradise. The place was packed with numerous old jets, such as DC-8’s, Boeing 707′s, Convair 880′s and of course all kind of propliners, such as Curtiss C-46, Convair 440s, DC-4,67s and Lockheed Constellations.
The dependably Douglas DC-3
In the early 80′s one could also still fly scheduled line-service onboard the faithfully Douglas DC-3! Not an opportunity to miss for a young aviation enthusiast like me. So on the morning of April 16, 1980 we were ready for our flight, "PBA1809" of which was operated by Province Town-Boston Airlines Douglas (PBA) DC-3A N130PB on the route between Miami and Naples.
We scrambled at 0800 hours in our rental Buick from the famous Miami Airways Hotel at the Northside of the airport at NW 36th St. to the departures hall at Miami Int Airport. Here we were greeted by a pretty PBA ticket agent who checked us in for flight PBA1809. On the ramp sat the pristine 1940 DC-3A N130PB, in the morning sun. The massive wings, to which two dependable Pratt & Whitney R1830-92s were attached, held no de-ice boots. In her distinguished red, blue and white trim of PBA, she is looking absolutely immaculate. ‘N130PB’, was one of the whopping 10,656 DC-3′s being built.
With construction number 2213, she was built at the Douglas Aircraft Company’s Santa Monica Plant as an early model DC-3-277B and delivered new to American Airlines in May 1940. In November 1947 she was sold to Trans Texas. In 1968 she changed hands again and Texas International became her owner. In February 1969 the aircraft was sold to Tradewinds Aviation Inc. from San Antonio, still with her original registration N25673. In January 1974, she was finally acquired by Provincetown Boston Airlines and re-registered N130PB.
We were introduced to the aircraft, by the captain, an thirty-year DC-3 veteran and his co-pilot, long before the rest of the passengers would board. Both men seamed to us well qualified for the job ahead.
The flight crew started with a thorough briefing from a technical manual and comprehensive engine handling notes. After giving us a few facts and figures, both men led us to the waiting airliner. Approaching her I admired the typical Douglas streamlined shape. The controls are fabric-covered and the three-spar, aluminum wings, on which two powerful Pratt & Whitney R-1830 radials are attached, are fastened by 328 individual bolts per side. Before boarding, both crewmembers needlessly reminded me that the big old thirty-liter, fourteen-cylinder power-plants require careful, sympathetic throttle and pitch movements to last their full 1,600-hour life. Passengers and crew alike enter through the RH passenger door, which was typical for early model DC-3s.
As we climbed the steps it was the smell of a rare essence of aviation fuel and hydraulic fluid that impressed us. Looking around the cockpit, I saw a somewhat cramped, slightly cluttered, matt-black and blue painted cockpit highlighted by chipped corners on the worn rudder pedals and the floor beneath. This flight-deck boasted no EFIS, no smart annunciators, no INS or flight director. The instruments lacked colored segments or red radials. This was a front-office of monochrome dials, muscle-power, and low tech instruments. Dominating the central panel were the antiquated Sperry autopilot′s DG and horizon, and below them, the six long engine control levers marked, from left to right, P, T and M for props, throttles and mixtures.
The co-pilot first duty after scaling the heights to the front was the bicep-building task of restoring hydraulic pressure (it trickles away overnight) by manually pumping up the 500 psi safe-braking minimum with one of the long red and yellow levers on the floor just inside the right bulkhead.
With all anxious passengers onboard and looked after by a charming air hostess, we were prepared to start the engines. At 0900 precisely, we contacted Miami Ground Control for start-up clearance. This was duly approved and the Captain then clutched the direct-drive electric motors, pressed the starter, hit the boost pump, primed and, after counting nine blades, switched on the mags. Then, when the engine fired, he push the mixture lever forward to auto rich, while continuing to give blips of prime with his thumb to keep the Pratt & Whitney’s running. The geared engines were slow to build to their 800 rpm idle, but when stabilized, the heart-stimulating rhythmic of the gleaming propeller blades just outside the open window set the tone for an exciting flight ahead.
"N130PB" was parked on a small hard stand, which was connected to the main taxiway by a narrow lane tightly bordered by parked light aircraft. The DC-3 has no steering wheel, so to taxi, the tailwheel lock is pulled out, the brake latch selected off. With taxy clearance received the captain throttled back one engine, opened up the other while treading on the inside brake, we left our confined space.
According to the captain, particular care is needed when running downwind, with reduced speed and the tailwheel lock engaged on straight stretches to control the eleven and a half tons of momentum. The modern DC-3′s MTOW is 25,900 lbs. and, with 400 gallons of fuel and 20 passengers, we weighted 25,000 lbs. At the holding point of runway 8R, the engines were run up together at 1,800 rpm. The co-pilot checked the feathering pumps and doubly checked them out of full fine by exercising the props again. Then rpm were increased one at a time to 2,500, with the sticks held hard back and both of the men clinging on to the snatching columns. They still jerked frantically as the captain ran up to static boost for the magneto checks. With take-off clearance received by the Tower, the Captain taxied the aircraft cautiously into the very center of the runway. He let it run straight for a few yards to ensure tailwheel lock engagement.
The captain released the brakes, increased the throttles and with the roaring sound of the two R-1830s radial piston engines, coming through the fuselage, "N130PB" started to move forward and shook violently. We were on our way! The tail came up very rapidly and the old bird was eager to fly, but the captain kept her pointed straight down the runway. With the co-pilot calling out the rising manifold pressures and, the speed passing fifty knots, he took over the throttles and continued increasing power to 48 inches in a rising crescendo of noise. With full power and 85 knots we were at take-off safety speed and after a couple of ready-to-fly bounces, the captain relaxed the back pressure and allowed her to fly into a shallow, accelerating climb. Once the 91-knot single engine climb speed was indicated, the captain shouted for "Gear up", releasing the up-locks, then hauled up the big lever on the floor beside him. At 100 knots, with the gear in transit, the captain called for "Power one," the reduction to the METO (Maximum Except Take- Off) setting of 1,050 bhp at 41 inches and 2,550 rpm.
Once the wheels were up and with the 110-knot two-engine climb speed on the dial, "Power two," for 35 inches and 2,350 rpm climb-power and "Off we bumbled". On first contact with Miami Control, the co-pilot advised our position and speed, and after several further minutes we levelled off a 6,500 feet. Reducing power to 28 inches and 2,050 rpm, the Captain pulled the mixture levers back to auto lean to establish the usual 135-knots cruise, with an average fuel consumption of around eighty gallons per hour. Looking outside I watched those stationary silver blades chattering infinitesimally on their reduction gears in the twilight airflow and gave me tremendous confidence in the airplane. I found the nose surprisingly low in the cruise and the forward view consequently very good. The predominant cockpit sound is of the slipstream rather than engine noise.
Flying conditions were smooth, with visibility over thirty miles, and our flightpath took us over the city center. We flew over northern part of the city, and then west until the Dade Collier Training & Transition airstrip came into view.
A heading of 260 degrees then set the Douglas on course for Naples airport.
All too soon we then headed north-west to prepare for the upcoming landing. The captain configured for the approach in plenty of time, to avoid too many power and pitch changes. He told me that it′s important not to reduce power below fifteen inches until touchdown to prevent the props from driving the engines. We started our descent at 120 knots with 25 inches and 2,050 rpm. The captain then reduced further to eighteen inches to slow below the 139-knot gear limit and 135-knot quarter-flap limit, and called for gear down, one flap and the landing check. Naples Tower was contacted on five miles from touch-down, and we received landing clearance together with the wind of 050 degrees at ten knots. Then the captain held us near level again for the speed to drop to 95 knots, using small, early power changes and increasing flap deflections to steepen the approach until he was sure of making the touchdown point.
The headwind demanded a power increase to twenty inches before the captain called for the very effective full (45 degrees) flap at the last minute and reduced to the eighty-knot threshold speed. Wrestling the slow-rolling old lady into line with the runway, the captain established a proper approach angle and a split second later we hit fairly the deck positively with both wheels at once. After a single brief skip and a bit of frantic pushing and pulling, the captain quickly edged the controls forward to pin her down and hold the tail up in clear airflow and with the now remarkably free rudder pedals to keep straight. As the captain did so, the co-pilot whipped up the flaps, and when they were retracted, the captain lowered the tail and he hauled back on the stick, started squeezing the brakes and cranking on ever more aileron as we slowed to walking pace. Waiting until we were almost stationary, the captain disengaged the tailwheel lock and the co-pilot completed the rest of the landing check. By a labyrinth of taxiways we trundled back to our assigned parking spot.
After the propellers wounded down, our delighted passengers disembarked, we were asked by the captain to come along with "N130PB" and then to PBA maintenance tarmac on the south side of the airport. With "N130PB" R-1830s re-started, the captain steered "130PB" through a mass of parked and retired DC-3′s, Convair 440′s and Martin 404′s to the PBA ramp. "N130PB" made its way to its sisterships at the PBA ramp and, after a short tour on the ramp we concluded our DC-3 flight with PBA, which gave us a very good opportunity to observe the operations of a well-organized DC-3 operator.
That after we returned to Miami International Airport, onboard PBA other twin engine propliner, the Martin 404…..But that′s another story!
On board N137PB (Naples/PBA), together with Paul J Hooper, departing 09R at MIA 9 Dec 82 and getting an immediate left turn to cut across 9L before heading west for our 0:41 minute flight to Naples.DC-3 flights were not new to us but we were on our way to APF to experience our first flight on the NAMC YS-11. N137PB, our ride from MIA, taking a rest at APF 9 Dec 82
PBA Airlines fleet listing
N31PB – DC-3A – c/n 2201 – 1940, stored Ocumare del Tuy, Venezuela
N32PB – DC-3A – c/n 4827 - 1941, stored Plattsburgh, New York
N33PB – DC-3A – c/n 4944 – 1942, Venezuela fate unknown
N34PB – DC-3A – c/n 2204 - 1940, M.SO. Air and Space Museum Eskisehir, Turkey
N35PB – DC-3A – c/n 2216 – 1940, active Cape Cod Airfield, Barnstable, MA
N38PB – DC-3A – c/n 2137 – 1939, stored Tulsa, Oklahoma
N40PB – DC-3A – c/n 2167 – 1939, stored/wreck Shell Creek FL
N43PB – DC-3A – c/n 1953 – 1937, display Huatulco International Airport, Mexico
N130PB – DC-3A – c/n 2213 - 1940, Lone Star Flight Museum in Houston Tx
N136PB – DC-3A – c/n 1997 – 1937, Aurora, Oregon privately owned
N137PB – DC-3A – c/n 4128 – 1937, active Cape Cod Airfield, Barnstable, MA
N139PB – DC-3A – c/n 2239 – 1940, Atlanta Regional Airport- Falcon Field Peachtree City.
With thanks to Jan Koppen, Rob hemelrijk, Dan Grew and https://www.sunshineskies.com/pba.html