Key American Airliners of the 1930s
Ford 5-AT – Boeing 247 – Douglas DC-3

While war drives rapid technological change competition in business is also a very strong driving force for change. The period between the two world wars in the United States saw the growth of a vibrant and highly competitive air transport industry, spurred on by a growing market and long distances between population centers. This led to a revolution in the design and construction of airliners. There was only ten years between the first flight of the first of the aircraft we are looking at today and the third. The revolution in aero engines was also dramatic with the engines on the first aircraft being only about a quarter the power of the engines of the third aircraft.

Ford 5-AT trimotor in 1/72 by Airfix
The Ford trimotor began with the Stout Metal Airplane Company which Ford acquired in 1925. In layout and design the trimotor was not revolutionary, nor was the all metal construction – remember the Junkers D.I we looked at a couple of weeks ago. However, combining those two features, along with the design and construction experience of the Ford Company, created a relatively cheap, rugged and reliable (for its time) airliner that was a quantum leap ahead of other airliners. Within a few months of its introduction in 1926 a coast-to-coast air service had been established in the United States. Between 1925 and 1933 199 of these aircraft were sold but Ford made little profit from them and lost interest in making aircraft. However the trimotor was so rugged and reliable that a handful remain airworthy almost a century after this aircraft first flew.

This model was made using the Airfix 1/72 kit which was first published in 1968 and re-released in several boxings into the 1990s. The most recent release was a combined set with the Dehavilland Heron and Beaver kits that was published in 2007. It was a good kit for its time, but that was over 50 years ago. There was also a Monogram kit in 1/77 scale first published in 1956 with new parts added in 1965. I made one back in the early 1960s and it was okay, but not as good as the Airfix kit. A quick search on ebay suggests that there are still copies around to purchase at reasonable prices. There is also a fair range of aftermarket decals but you will need some skill in attaching them to the corrugated surface of this model. Good luck with that.

Boeing 247 in 1/72 by Williams Brothers
In the early 1930s the Boeing company became an industry leader through use of a number of innovations including all-metal semi-monocoque construction and fully cantilevered wings. It brought together many of these innovations in the Boeing 247 airliner which was faster than the United States premier fighter of the time, the P-12. The first one flew in February 1933 and they entered service in May that year. On the inaugural flight one flew from San Francisco to New York in 19 and a half hours. However, production was tied to United Air Lines and an order from TWA was declined, leading to the development of a competitive airliner, the DC-2. It out performed the Boeing 247 so only 75 of them were ever made.

This model was made using the Williams Brothers 1/72 kit. It was first published in 1973 and re-released by S&M Models in 2014. It builds up into a fairly decent replica but I found it hard going at some stages, which is common for Williams Brothers kits. There is a good and detailed build review of this kit in the Hangar 47 website which would repay careful reading if you want to make this model.  There are no other options for this model and a quick flick through the interweb suggests that it is not common there, or cheap.

Douglas DC-3 in 1/72 by Esci
The success of the Douglas DC-2 led America Airlines to ask Douglas for a version that could accommodate sleeping berths for overnight flying. To achieve this the fuselage of the DC-2 was widened and other improvements made, which resulted in an airliner initially called the DST (Douglas Sleeper Transport) which was also given the designation DC-3. The first one flew in Decamber 1935 and it was immediately popular with airlines, not only in the United States but around the world. When production ended in 1942 607 had been made but over 10,000 of the military version were produced and they flooded the civil market at the conclusion of World War II. This made it one of the most important airliners of all time. A few remain airworthy and they on display in many museums around the world.

I made this model using the Esci kit what was first published in 1981 and has since been republished by Ertl, Revel, Italeri and Airfix in one boxing. I chose it because informed comment at the time suggested it was the best and most accurate kit of the DC-3/C-47 then available. If you like, you can drive yourself nuts trying to figure out which is the best DC-3 kit available and there is an interesting debate on this subject on . That discussion took place before the publication of the 2014 new tool Airfix kit which the review in Fine Scale Modeler rated as ‘clearly the best C-47 kit in the scale now.’