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Venerable DC-3 on display at Felts Field

John Brecht wipes down the engine cowling of a 1937 DC-3 after it landed at Felts Field on Thursday in Spokane. (Dan Pelle)
John Brecht wipes down the engine cowling of a 1937 DC-3 after it landed at Felts Field on Thursday in Spokane. (Dan Pelle)

A restored DC-3 is in Spokane today, and the public is invited to Felts Field for a visit.

The 1937 vintage plane touched down Thursday afternoon after a short flight from Kalispell.

A nonprofit organization devoted to preserving the history of the DC-3 brought the aircraft, the Flagship Detroit, here as part of a nationwide tour.

“We love to remind people of what flying was like in the 1930s,” said David Gorrell, of Park City, Utah, one of the pilots on the tour.

It will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Those who join the Flagship Detroit Foundation will get a chance to board a sightseeing flight at 5 p.m. Annual cost of membership is $150.

“It’s a real reward to get a mastery of this plane,” said Gorrell, a retired American Airlines pilot.

The Flagship Detroit was part of a fleet of 82 DC-3s purchased by American Airlines from Douglas Aircraft Corp. Each was named after a city served by American.

An older man Thursday took a quick look inside and said, “That brings back a lot of memories. Thank you.”

The plane was purchased by the foundation after being used for agricultural spraying in Virginia. It was overhauled in 1986. It has 49,000 flight hours, a relatively low number for a plane that old, Gorrell said. Some DC-3s have as much as 200,000 hours, he said.

The plane is powered by a pair of twin Wright cyclone engines. It has updated avionics for instrument flying. The exterior is painted in a vintage American Airlines motif.

With a maximum range of nearly 1,400 miles, the DC-3 was the backbone of American Airlines during an era when plane travel was expanding rapidly.

Gorrell said it was the first passenger plane that could fly profitably without a U.S. Mail contract. The Flagship Detroit flew for American until 1947.

Felts Field, Spokane’s original airport dating to that era, is providing the appropriate backdrop for the tour.

The plane can carry 21 passengers with a crew of two pilots and attendant. It is the oldest operating DC-3, Gorrell said.

It typically flies below an altitude of 10,000 feet because it does not have a modern pressurized cabin. The plane is 64.5 feet long with a wingspan of 95 feet. Its gross takeoff weight is 25,200 pounds. Cruising speed is 160 mph.

It was originally equipped with an early version of instrument guidance that used radio signals to lead pilots to the runway in bad weather.

The Spokane stop was chosen because the city is home to a number of historic airplane buffs, Gorrell said.

“Our objective is to educate people,” he said.