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Beware of a low flying café!

Photo: A surprise for passers-by!


An unusual eating place in New Zealand where enterprising New Zealanders have found a novel use for one retired Douglas DC-3.

A retired Douglas DC-3 is now a popular café situated in Mangaweka, a small township in central North Island of New Zealand. While the ‘chocolate chip cookie’ livery is a far cry from its original Air Force olive drab camouflage, the team that converted the transport aircraft still had a demonstrable enthusiasm for the historical significance of the aeroplane.

Tethered on stilts, the ‘Cookie Time’ DC-3 no longer reaches a maximum speed of 230mph (at 8,800ft) or even the cruising speed of 185mph (at 10,000ft), but has proved to be a popular landmark for travellers on New Zealand’s State Highway 1.

The Douglas DC-3 has certainly earned its place in aviation history. Significantly, the type made its first flight on December 17, 1935, 32 years to the day from the Wright Brothers first man-carrying flight at Kitty Hawk in America. The speed and range of the fixed wing, propeller-driven aircraft revolutionised air transport in the 1930s and 1940s. Because of its lasting impact on the airline industry and Second World War, it is generally regarded as one of the most significant transport aircraft ever made.

The DC-3 evolved from the DC-2 ‘Douglas Sleeper Transport’ – the sleeping berths were removed and substituted with 21 seats, which allowed airlines to carry more passengers for increased profit. The DC-3 became an immediate success when introduced to airline service in June 1936.

Within two years the DC-3 became standard equipment in the US and was utilised worldwide. The aircraft was larger, faster, safer and more economical than its competition and proved popular with passengers and operators alike, featuring a number of firsts for a passenger aircraft that we take for granted today, including an auto pilot, cabin heating and sound proofing.

The airline industry converted to the DC-3 as fast as Douglas could produce them and by 1939 approximately 90% of the world’s airline business was flown by the type. At the peak of production Douglas were completing a DC-3 every 34 minutes. By the Second World War’s end more DC-3s were flying than any other type of aircraft ever before.

The cockpit is still in good condition and well cared for by volunteers.

With large numbers of surplus DC-3s after the war, the aircraft became an integral part of civilian flight. It is still in limited service as an airliner around the world, and is in regular use in New Zealand as a freighter.

The ‘Cookie Time’ DC-3 was one of 10,655 built in the US between 1935 and 1946; manufactured at the Douglas aircraft factory in Oklahoma City, the aircraft was delivered to the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1945 and given the serial number NZ3556, entering service with No. 40 Squadron at Rukuhia on August 21. After 695 hours of service it was sold to the newly-formed National Airways Corporation (NAC) in May 1947 and registered ZK-APK. Its first domestic passenger flight was from Harewood to Paraparaumu and was later used on the Auckland – Wellington – Christchurch passenger and freight service.

Except for a brief period from May to October 1967 when leased to Fiji Airways, APK flew constantly for NAC until sold in 1969 for aerial survey. It logged 6,193 hours before being withdrawn from service on July 3, 1981, with a total log book time of 42,764 hours.

In 1986 it was renovated and repainted at Palmerston North before travelling by road to Mangaweka, where on November 1, it was lifted into its present position where it serves as a highway landmark and tribute to this iconic aircraft.

Posted in Features


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