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Originally published August 27, 2013 at 7:47 PM | Page modified October 9, 2013 at 8:52 PM

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Corrected version

Contest winners take flight into storied history aboard a DC-3

Nine winning entrants in a competition run by the Historic Flight Foundation at Paine Field got a chance to fly from Everett to Seattle aboard a vintage DC-3, the iconic propeller airliner from the 1930s and 1940s.


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A 1944-vintage DC-3 airliner, painted silver in the long-gone livery of Pan American Airways System, flew from Everett to Seattle on Tuesday.

It carried just shy of a dozen passengers, some with rich historical connections to this early workhorse of military and commercial aviation.

The plane came in low over Elliott Bay, buzzed Boeing Field at a height of 100 feet, then wheeled around and headed back north over Lake Washington.

A select group aboard, lucky winners of a competition run by the Historic Flight Foundation at Paine Field, included three boys with a youthful zest for airplanes and a Boeing engineer who works on the 787.

Others had deep DC-3 connections. Ursula Denison was there to celebrate 60 years of freedom.

After Denison escaped with her mother and sisters from East Germany when she was 11, her first plane ride in 1953, from a West Berlin refugee camp to Frankfurt, was aboard an American military version of the DC-3.

She married an American soldier and, 20 years after her escape, became a U.S. citizen.

Fred Charles, who’ll turn 90 in February, piloted the military version of the DC-3 into Tokyo exactly 68 years ago this month, ferrying communications equipment to the USS Missouri for the formal surrender of the Japanese that ended World War II.

Now unable to walk, he arrived in a wheelchair, eager to fly.

As the DC-3 took off from Paine Field, tears filled the eyes of Reen Doser, 62, who held her hand over the United Airlines captain’s wings pinned at her heart.

Her father, Mac McKelvey, had flown DC-3s for United and met Doser’s mother, a stewardess, on a flight from Chicago. Both are buried on Queen Anne in Seattle, with a DC-3 etched on the headstone along with the words “Together We Fly.”

The competition winners aboard the first flight Tuesday morning, and a second group on another hop that followed the same route shortly after, took turns sitting in the cockpit.

In the plush passenger cabin, they sat in six large armchairs or on two long, plush benches. They had lots of headroom. Big, rectangular picture windows allowed spectacular views.

There was no more than a quiet drone from the Pratt & Whitney engines and just a slight whiff of aircraft fuel to remind one that, though the cabin resembled an elegant Pullman car from the glory days of the railways, this was an aviation fantasy.

The DC-3, built in Long Beach, Calif., by Douglas Aircraft, defined flying in the 1930s and 1940s. More than 16,000 were produced. Immediately after the war, 85 percent of all U.S. domestic flights were in DC-3s.

Sitting at an angle on the tarmac — with a small tail wheel and taller front landing gear — the plane epitomizes the lost glamour and romance that once enwrapped the experience of flying.

This DC-3, restored by the Historic Flight Foundation, started life as the plane’s military C-47 version, flying supplies over the Himalayas to support the Chinese fighting the Japanese in World War II.

After the war, it flew in China as one of the first airliners in the region.

In 1953, it returned to the U.S. and began a second life as an executive aircraft, owned by the chief executive of Johnson & Johnson and then a series of private individuals.

The airplane, which retains that VIP interior but is painted with its 1949 Pan Am livery, will fly again this weekend, along with 60 other historic military and civilian aircraft, during the foundation’s annual Vintage Aircraft Weekend at Paine Field.

The area around the foundation’s facility “will be covered with airplanes,” said John Sessions, the Historic Flight Foundation’s founder and the pilot on Tuesday’s flights. All Saturday afternoon, “There’ll be constant flying.”

Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

Information in this article, originally published Aug. 27, 2013, was corrected Aug. 28, 2013. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the airplane in the final scene of the movie Casblanca was a DC-3. In fact, that was a Lockheed Electra.



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