Delta recently celebrated 75 years since the first flight of Ship 41, a type of aircraft that helped transform commercial aviation.
Ship 41 was Delta’s first DC-3 aircraft to carry passengers. It completed its first scheduled flight on Dec. 24, 1940, from Atlanta to Fort Worth.
“The DC-3 is the most important aircraft in modern aviation history,” said Otis Bray, a retired manager of Delta's Powerplant Program Development. While at Delta, Bray was also a mechanic who worked on the planes. “Its versatility and durability allowed its users to do things that had not even been thought of with the early airplanes.”
Unlike previous aircraft, the DC-3 was the first plane to be able to carry enough passengers to make the airliners profitable through passenger service instead of relying on mail subsidies. The airplane was reliable, easy to maintain and able to make continental and even transcontinental flights.
The original DC-3 had 21 seats with two on the left and one on the right; Ship 41 had 25 seats. At top speed, the airplane could fly around 160 mph, compared to a modern passenger jet that flies 500 to 600 mph.
After Delta retired and sold Ship 41 in 1958, the aircraft flew for many other owners for 35 more years. In 1990, a group of Delta retirees led an effort to find one of Delta’s first DC-3s and discovered Ship 41 in Puerto Rico. Delta purchased the aircraft and flew it back to Atlanta.
A team of Delta employees and volunteers worked from 1995-99 to restore Ship 41, which is now one of the centerpiece displays of the Delta Flight Museum in Atlanta.
Here is a photo gallery of aircraft’s restoration.