The Department's Fleet of DC-3s

In the early postwar years, the Department of Civil Aviation acquired four Douglas C-47 Dakota transports from military disposals to be converted into civil DC-3s.

Interavia Notes (compiled by DCA PR officer Doug Gillison) for 26 November 1946 contained the following story:

Flying Laboratories

Department of Civil Aviation is converting two C-47 aircraft purchased from American disposal authorities, for service in checking and calibrating the department’s existing VHF radio range network [Lorenz 33 MHz], testing new four-course VHF range equipment now being installed, and experimenting with advanced electronic equipment on the multiple track radar range now being developed by the Commonwealth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

The aircraft will also be used for testing pilots for commercial licences and inspecting remote outstations.

Modifications include duplication of all engine instruments at the flight engineer's desk. In addition to normal communication transmitter operating on eight frequencies with duplicate emergency unit directly controlled by the radio operator, installation of equipment includes:- VHF transmitter-receiver for airport and airway control; pilot’s remotely controlled receiver for medium or high frequency work (duplicated for radio operator); special 33 megacycle radio range receiver for use with department’s existing chain of transmitters (duplicated emergency set); VHF radio range receiver for 112-118 meg. 4-course radio range system now being tested; automatic radio compass to give aircraft’s heading in relation to any radio beacon or broadcasting station (with duplicate set on navigator’s desk); localiser instrument approach receiver giving lateral indication of aircraft’s position when coming in on SCS-51 instrument landing system; glide path instrument approach receiver providing vertical position when landing on SCS-51; radio altimeter; radar distance indication [DME]; multiple track radio range receiver; American Signal Corps 'LORAN' long range aerial navigation receiver; inter-communication system connected to all crew positions. 


DCA first registered their DC-3s using the initials of Ministers for Air and the two previous Directors-General before later moving their DC-3s into the Department’s reserved VH-CA_ (for ‘Civil Aviation’) registration block. The aircraft were:

First registration Date registered Registered after... Re-registerered to... Date
VH-ASD 3.47 Arthur S. Drakeford VH-CAN 8.50
VH-DMV 10.47 Daniel McVey VH-CAO 2.51
VH-ABC 8.49 A.B. Corbett VH-CAQ 9.50
VH-JVF 11.49 J.V. Fairbairn VH-CAR 7.50

Notes from Eric Read, DCA Examiner of Airmen and Airways Surveyor, held in the CAHS Archive reveal the story behind the re-registrations:

I can now relate how these aircraft [the DCA DC3s] had their registration letters changed to conform to the Civil Aviation, CA- series.

Group Captain Wiggins*, accompanied by the Minister for Civil Aviation, Sir Thomas White, were taxying at Mascot in a Qantas ‘Connie’ to attend a conference in New Zealand. VH-ASD was on the tarmac and ‘Stiffy’ drew the Minister’s attention to it, remarking "That is the first of our fleet."

"What do the letters ASD stand for?" asked the Minister. When told, the Minister issued a directive on the spot, saying that no aircraft in his Department would carry the initials of the Leader of the Opposition. VH-ASD became CAN, and so on with the remainder of the DC-3s and subsequent aircraft purchased by the Department.

* Group Captain Carn Scarlett ‘Stiffy’ Wiggins, Director of Air Navigation and Safety c.1947.

Click on the images below to see photos of the Department's DC-3s:





Click here to read more about Airways Survey in the DC-3 era

(wet leased for MLS trials)

Flight Survey station >

In its capacity of economic regulator of civil aviation in Australia, DCA acquired twelve ex-US military C-47s during 1944-45. These aircraft were converted for civil use and allocated to Australian Airlines. Click here to read more about these aircraft.


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