Santa Monica Celebrates 80th Anniversary of the DC-3 First Flight, and Court Date Set for City’s Appeal Against FAA

DC-3 Flyby

C-47 from Lyon Air Museum (top) and DC-3 from Clay Lacy Aviation perform a formation flyby. Photo captured from video by

Readers of this blog and the HangarNetwork eNewsletter may recall that the Douglas Aircraft Company was founded by Donald Wills Douglas, Sr, in 1921 in Santa Monica, CA, and moved to Clover Field a few years later. Clover Field, originally named after World War I aviator 2nd Lieutenant Greayer “Grubby” Clover, was renamed Santa Monica Airport (SMO) and was the home of Douglas Aircraft until 1958.

The Douglas Aircraft Company, a significant player in the history of aviation, designed and produced many aircraft including its “DC” or “Douglas Commercial” series, beginning with the prototype DC-1 through the DC-7 at the SMO production plant. On 17 March 1924, the special custom-built Douglas World Cruiser took off on the first-ever circumnavigation of the world by air, returning after flying some 28,000 miles.

During its lifespan, Douglas Aircraft Company was responsible for the production of nearly 30,000 airplanes.

Think about that: 30,000 airplanes produced by one company. A large percentage of that production went into the Allied effort during World War II: transports, bombers, attack, and fighter aircraft.

By 1958, Douglas needed a longer runway to test and produce the larger DC-8. However the city, following the wishes of its residents, refused to lengthen the runway. As a result, Douglas closed the plant, which during the war had employed 44,000 people, and moved the company and its production facilities to Long Beach Airport (LGB).

Among the many aircraft designed and produced by Douglas, the DC-3 and its military variant the C-47 Skytrain are widely considered the most reliable and significant transport aircraft ever made.

The first flight of the Douglas DC-3 occurred on 17 December 1935. And on 22 December 2015, the Museum of Flying at SMO celebrated the 80th anniversary of that first flight with a ceremony at the site of their newly-renovated DC-3 monument. There was also a commemorative formation flyover of a C-47 from Lyon Air Museum at John Wayne Airport (SNA) and a DC-3 owned by Clay Lacy Aviation at Van Nuys (VNY).

DC-3 monument at the Museum of Flying at Santa Monica Airport KSMO.

DC-3 monument at the Museum of Flying at Santa Monica Airport KSMO.  Photo captured from video by

The DC-3 monument, seen in the photo above, was an actual operational DC-3 produced as an airliner that saw service as a C-47 in 1942 for the Army Air Force and as an R4D for the Navy, and finally became a corporate aircraft for Richfield Oil. It’s mounted on 3 pedestals and has been repainted in the scheme of Donald W. Douglas’ personal aircraft.

More than 16,000 aircraft of this type were manufactured: more than 9,000 of which were produced for World War II, about 1,000 were used as DC-3 commercial airliners, and the rest produced under license by other countries, notably Russia and Japan. General Dwight D. Eisenhower called the C-47 one of the five main machines that led the Allies to victory.

In its heyday, the DC-3 revolutionized not only air transport but transportation in general, and was the first aircraft to ever make a profit by carrying passengers. Of the total number of DC-3/C-47 produced, nearly 200 are STILL flying for airlines today, eighty years after their first flight, with many others flying in private ownership and Commemorative Air Force wings.

A truly memorable occasion, was the rededication of the DC-3 monument and the 80th anniversary of its first flight. However, storm clouds continue to swirl around the Santa Monica Airport and its future is still uncertain.

In an irony worthy of Alanis Morissette, the Santa Monica Daily Press announced on 13 January that arguments will begin on 11 March at 9am in the appeal of Santa Monica’s case against the FAA. In 2013 the City filed suit against the FAA, alleging that the federal government had no claim to the land occupied by the airport and therefore the FAA could not force Santa Monica to continue to operate it as an airport.

The suit was dismissed by Judge John Walter on the basis that the statute of limitations had expired and the city had lost its ability to file a claim. The city appealed the ruling, but appears to be ready to simply restate the assertions in its initial suit: that the fed has no claim, any claim they might have had was abandoned, and that the city had indeed filed within the time limit.

We’ll continue to stay abreast of developments in this story and bring them to your attention.

Mike Straka, PhD
HN Staff Writer & Technical Support
Chairman, Colorado Aviation Business Association

1.  Santa Monica Celebrates 80th Anniversary of DC-3 Flight. Pia Bergqvist. Flying Magazine website, 22 December 2015.
2.  Santa Monica Airport Park youtube video. Recorded 17 December 2015 and embedded in source #1:

3.  Court date set for City’s ongoing lawsuit against the FAA. Matthew Hall. Santa Monica Daily Press, 13 January 2016.