The Douglas DC-3 or C-47?

August 28, 2021

The Douglas DC-3 is an airframe that admittedly, I have an ongoing love affair with. I have in the past taken one around the world in FSX, East to West, including a trip from Svalbard Longyearbyen in the Arctic Circle to Marimbio Station in Antarctica.  I have flown across the Bering Strait from Alaska into Russia and across the Pacific from Malaysia to Hawaii.  I can’t explain why but for the many years that I have flown in flight sims, a DC-3 has always been present in my hanger, ready for the next journey.  I have flown biplanes, seaplanes, commercial jets and yes, even the Concorde on a number of occasions.  But I always find my way back to the seat of a DC-3.

I have come to regard the DC-3 as the “Grandfather of modern commercial aviation,” and well to put it bluntly, in reality, it is.  Not only was it a troop carrier in World War 2, it was also the first commercial airframe to fly from coast to coast in the US in roughly 18 hours, lending greatly to the development of the commercial passenger transit industry.  But I could talk for days on end about the DC-3 and its history, so I will try to avoid delving too deeply into it.  I want to talk about two examples that are available for X-Plane, The Leading Edge Simulations DC-3 and the VSkylabs C-47, and while yes they may be different in name, they are both variants of the DC-3, but with some slight differences.

Starting with LES DC-3, we have a simple offering reflective of the airframes early days.  There is no computer whatsoever aboard this plane.  The autopilot is a Sperry unit using technology first displayed in 1914; the first true autopilot system.  The backup compass is hard mounted onto the glareshield and there’s no wiper controls to speak of.  The gauges are displayed with information relevant to engine operation, fuel, and navigation with radios above.  Behind the cockpit seats where one would find the radio stack in the Dakota variant, are the sleeper beds for the crew during overnight operation.  Its simplicity is its greatest feature with this version because it is how the DC-3 came to life early on, earning its reputation and revolutionizing the aviation industry in process.

The VSkylabs C-47 on the other hand shares the same controls as DC-3, the engine management levers, yoke, pedals are all identical; even the Sperry unit is still present, though slightly modified.  Along with additional padding that was common among the military variants, the overall aesthetic is slightly different.  The pedestal is also slightly different, with some controls such as the tailwheel lock and parking brakes changing slightly in control appearance.  Back up above however, the first noticeable difference between the two is the spring suspended compass which shakes with engine vibration and control input.  Another feature is the addition of a pair of 530 GPS units that fold down from the overhead panel, which tie into the autopilot through additional controls on the main panel just above the Sperry. 

As far as flight dynamics go, both of these examples fly very well, though with some slight variation.  The power from the 14 cylinder Pratt & Whitney R-1830-90C Twin Wasps of the C-47 does noticeably feel stronger than the 9 cylinder Wright R-1820 Cyclones of the DC-3.  Engine management within the cockpit is very similar between the two using the levers to maintain manifold and oil pressures during flight.  However, the Wrights of the DC-3 are more susceptible to failure with prolonged usage at full throttle.  The C-47 can feel a little more unstable than the DC-3 during take-off and inversely the DC-3 can become noticeably unstable during deceleration.  Both are incredibly stable during cruise and both are likely to wander while the Sperry is active, especially during high winds.  On the ground however, the two are very different.  The C-47 can feel stiff and difficult to turn, which is normal for a taildragger that uses differential braking to turn.  The LES DC-3 is much easier and handles like a much smaller plane.  Here is where the VSkylabs feels more accurate.

Visually, both are well modelled.  However, the LES DC-3 isn’t as visually refined as the vSkylabs.  It can appear matte in most lighting and under a close inspection of the engine cowls you’ll find that it is missing two engine cylinders, counting seven per side instead of nine.  The DC-3 is very clearly a civilian variant whereas the C-47 is a conversion of the military variant which is fine, many of the real variants were actually converted.  You might believe that so far, I may think VSkylabs is the outright better of the two side by side, but it’s not.  The short fallings of the LES DC-3 are made up for against the C-47 where it really matters for me in a flight sim.  That being that the LES DC-3 has many of the quirks and engine micromanagements present during flight, where the VSkylabs feels more forgiving.  The need to adjust engine RPM and monitor manifold pressures, cylinder temperatures and oil pressures etc, depending on altitude, air pressure and temperature changes are present; not to mention how to manage icing, when it does happen, either.

If you can look past the unrefined visuals of the LES DC-3, there is very little separating the two as far as overall experience is concerned.  It really comes down to personal preference in the end.  Do you enjoy the more modern touches and creature comforts such as GPS and a modern radio? Then go for the VSkylabs C-47.  Do you want a pure raw flying experience as it was back in the day with no computer assistance, GPS or modern navigation?  Then the LES DC-3 is for you.  For me, I enjoy the undiluted experience of flying the old-fashioned way and the LES is great for that.  Either way though, you won’t be disappointed with the enjoyment that these planes can provide.

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