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Douglas DC2/DC3


Starting with a description over the Douglas DC2 looks easy but believe it, it isn't. The problem is there is so much to tell about this first metal airplane from Douglas Commercial that's hard to start some where but I will give it a shot. The first KLM DC2 known as the famous Uiver (PH-AJU), won the London-Melbourne race in 1934. This race, organized by a Australian chocolate factory consisted out of a speed- and handicap race. The PH-AJU joined the handicap race since it was for the KLM just an ordinary regular passenger flight to Batavia. The only difference lies in that no hotels where visited. After Flying day and night it reached Melbourne in 4 days.

Albert Plesman took this metal airplane instead of the Fokker F.XX from Anthony Fokker simply because one of his pilots, Parmentier had seen the predecessor, the DC1 in America and tried to convince Plesman that those airplanes are the ones of the future.

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Flying to Batavia in those days was almost a regular service however, impressive navigation equipment was not onboard, even autopilot didn't exists so it was flying by hand and still looking to rivers, coastlines etc. The DC2 was followed by the most famous aircraft ever built, de Dakota DC3. Unfortunately the Uiver had a short live with the KLM. During a special Christmas on December 21st 1934 to Batavia the PH-AJU had a deadly crash in the desert 16 kilometers south of Rutbah Wells (Syria).

Regular flights

In the beginning only 5 passengers could travel in the Douglas on this route. Critical distances over the sea and the desert didn't allow the weight. Later this number was increased to 7. They had comfortable chairs at their disposal, which could be placed in a resting position, so they could sleep.

KLM took good care of their passsengers. Transit visa and passports were all made in good order. This was not easy, because the journey encompassed 18 countries. The company also provided travel ensurance. Nightstay and all meals were included in the ticketprice, as well as all transfers from and to the airports. On top of that, each passenger received two suitcases, to carry 20 kg of luggage. Flighttime was approximately 10 hours a day: so passengers spent 14 hours on the ground, for sightseeing, dining, night stay in mostly very comfortable hotels, and breakfast.

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During the flight, crew and passengers didn't have to complain about a lack of variation. The Flight took always place during daytime, and for 5 days, an everchanging panorama could be seen from the Douglas. And at the different stops, there was always something of interest to see.

The Indië line was flown along the same route throughout the year, exept in Europe. In summer from Amsterdam over Leipzig and Budapest to Athens, in winter over Marseille and Rome to Athens. From Amsterdam, as well as from Batavia, every wednesday and saturday a DC2 would start in the Holland-Indië line.

Athens was the first nightstop on the outbound voyage. Passengers and crew would stay in Hotel “La Grande Bretagne”.

On the second day, over the Mediterranian sea, the crew would change their dark-blue KLM uniform in a Khaki tropical uniform. In the cockpit they carried 4 pistols and ammunition. This was a precautionary measure, in case of an emergency landing in an inhospitable area. From Alexandrië, to Gaza in Palestina for refueling. From Gaza over the Syrian desert, mostly following the oil pipeline, to Baghdad, place of the second nightstop. There was no airco in those days, and temperatures of over 50°C during the day were not much lower at night. In hotel “Tigris Palace”, people would sleep on the rooftops, plagued by mosquitos.

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The third day was flown from Bagdad, via Bushire, Jask, Karachi to Jodphur. Baghdad-Karachi was to far for a DC2 to fly in one go. A refueling stop was made in Jask, a deserted strip of land between the Gulf of Oman and the rugged mountains. Overthere, it was really hot. The arrival in Jodphur was something different. The Maharadja was a modern man, who liked to fly, and there was a fully equiped airfield. They would stay in the “State Hotel”. Jodphur was a beautifull city for siteseeing.

400 feet above Karachi
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Day four would bring them from Jodphur to Rangoon, via Allahabad and Calcutta. During this day the deserts landscapes would more and more be replaced by lush rainforrests. From Calcutta, they would cross the Bengale Gulf, notorious for it’s fierce monsoons during summer. Rangoon was a beautifull city, with splendid golden temples, which were often visited by passengers and crew. They would stay at the “Minto Mansion”.

Day five.
Flight from Rangoon to Singapore over the Mallakkan peninsula. Refuelingstops in Bangkok, Alor Star and Medan. The Dutch Indies were reached. Circumstances permitted, they would sometimes fly very low, to take a look at herds of elephants. In Singapore, an important seaport, they stayed in te “Sea-view Hotel”. Here also the Captains diner was held to celebrate the last night.

On day six a relative short distance was flown from Singapore to Batavia. At Palembang a short refueling stop, and then after another hour flight, Batavia, the final destination Tjililitan airport was reached. The passengers would leave the plane for an onward voyage, and swift hands would unload the plane of mail and goods. The DC2 would fly empty from Batavia to Bandoeng, where on Andir Airport, the technical service of the KLM was stationed. Here it would recieve maintanance before being flown back to the Netherlands.
The crew would stay in Lembang or Bandoeng for a 6 day restingperiod.

The flight was mostly flown by dead reckoning, and VFR. For navigation during flight the crew mostly used coloured topographical maps. For each section of the route a map was on board the plane. These maps could be rolled up on drums, and placed in a special lightmetal case with a window. As the trip progressed, the map would be rolled up a bit, to show the part they were flying over. On the map courselines and distances were given. Most of the route was over land, or along a coastline. During flight under low visability, the radio operator could help navigate by requesting radiobearings (a kind of ADF). Also during landing the flightcrew could get help from radiobearings. The captain and radio operator would work very closely together during this.

Ground organisation
In the beginning, the ground organisation was fairly primitive. All activities had to be organized, and carried out by the crew. Fuel and oil usually were poured from cans into the tanks, standing on a ladder. Custom formalities caused hours of delay.
There was no nightlighting on the airfields, and very few radiostaions along the route but, more and more fascilities for airtravel were introduced. The number of radiostations was increased, many with directional bearings.

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Weatherforecasts were becoming more relyable. And thanks to bigger experiance and co-operation between aircrew and groundcrew, delay on the ground was becomming shorter. Also, nightlighting improved. Nightflying was possible, but was only used for emergencies in the beginning. All in all, everything progressed. In 1932, it took 10,5 days to fly to Batavia, in 1935 5,5 days!<>

The KLM Technical Service, put spareparts on every of the 22 airfields along the route. They were stored in special steel lockers, along with the special needed tools. The planes mechanic had acces to these lockers, and knew exactly what was in them. Shell started to build underground tanks, to store fuel and oil, and using tanktrucks and powerfull pumps to service the planes. It now took 15 minutes to fill the planes tanks.
In 1935, the groundcrew on all airfields could easily handle 4 flights, 2 outgoing to Batavia, and 2 homebound for Amsterdam.

On July 17, 1937 the Douglas DC2 era on the lndië-route came to an end. From now on, it was flown by the Douglas DC3.

MacRobertson Air Race

The Great 1934 London to Melbourne Race was sponsored by the Melbourne confectionary giant, Sir Macpherson Robertson. It was divided into a speed competition and a handicap division, and was run over an 11,300 mile course. Twenty entrants took part. Eleven finished the course. Three aircraft crashed, in one case killing both crew. In 1930, the question as to how the Australian state of Victoria, and its capital city Melbourne, might celebrate its coming centenary produced a suggestion from Melbourne's Lord Mayor, Harold Smith, that an air race linking England with Australia be organised. A sponsor was sought, and found in the person of wealthy confectionary manufacturer, Sir Macpherson Robertson, of Macrobertson's Chocolates. The Royal Aero Club of England was to oversee the event. It was divided into a speed division – the winner being the first aircraft to reach Melbourne; and a handicap division, which allowed 16 days to finish, the winner having the lowest flying time based on a formula.

Pioneering pilot Jim Mollison flew a route in 1931 between England and Australia which was adopted as the basis of the race's course. It covered 11,300 miles, and would include five compulsory stops. Pilots could choose their own course between those stops, and a further 22 optional stops or "checking points" were included. The Royal Aero Club set to work, convincing various countries along the way to upgrade airports chosen for compulsory stops and checking points, and the Shell Oil and Stanavo companies provided supplies of fuel and lubricants at all points. If required, entrants could also enjoy overnight accommodation at the stops.

The rules did not limit aircraft size or power or crew size. It was stipulated that no pilot could join an aircraft after it left England. All had to carry three days rations per crew member, as well as floats, smoke signals and efficient instruments. Another rule was subsequently added that entrants would have to produce a certificate of airworthiness from their own country confirming that the aircraft met the minimum safety requirements of the International Convention of Air Navigation (ICAN). This immediately troubled the U.S. entrants, whose Department of Commerce issued separate certificates for commercial aircraft and long-distance racing machines, the second of which the Royal Aero Club at first refused to accept. A compromise was reached in which the U.S. racing certificates were accepted with a few changes.

The British had no aircraft which stood out as a promising contender until, early in January 1934, Geoffrey DeHavilland announced his company would be prepared to build a number of 200 mph aircraft with a range of 3,000 miles for a comparatively low price, if at least three firm orders were received by the last day of February. Three orders were placed, for what would become the DH.88 Comet aircraft, G-ACSP, G-ACSR and G-ACSS. With a take-off date set of 20th October, 1934 at dawn, it looked like the race would be a huge event. There were 64 potential starters from 13 countries, the biggest contributor being the United States, - 27 aircraft and 20 pilots. As the deadline drew near, the field reduced to 20 starters. Irish entrant Colonel James C. Fitzmaurice was forced to withdraw hours before the race when his Bellanca, "Irish Swoop", proved to be overweight, and he was not willing to sacrifice fuel load.

Lloyd's of London gave race participants a 1 in 12 chance of being killed.

Uiver's last flight

PH-AJU Douglas DC-2-115A KLM, named "Uiver" crashed on December 19th near Rutbah Wells (Syria) on a non-scheduled flight from Amsterdam (Netherlands) to Batavia (Netherlands East-Indies, now Jakarta, Indonesia). The aircraft departed short after midnight from Schiphol on a special so-called 'Christmas' flight to Batavia with post and 3 passengers. On the Cairo (Egypt)- Bagdad (Iraq) route it was missed.

On December 21st the Douglas was found, completely destroyed and burned, by a RAF-pilot, in the desert 16 km south of Rutbah Wells. All 4 cockpit-crew and 3 passengers were killed.

Weeks later, KLM released the results of it's investigation. The DC2 had hit the ground at full speed, all switches on, throttles wide open, the surface controls in a cruising altitude so trimmed for a horizontal flight, and the landing gear retracted. The official report said lightning struck the aircraft killing all on board immediately. The aircraft continued to fly until it flew itself into the ground, somersaulting and bursting into flames. Some test-flights were performed with changed vertical tail- plane and rudder. Five months after the crash, the public was beginning to feel confident with the airplane again. The DC2 had logged more than 200.000 miles of safe flying in 21 countries.

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Not that long ago this aircraft was one of the 20 participants in the MacPherson Robertson London-Melbourne race during October 1934. The "Uiver" made its famous forced landing on a racing track in Albury (Australia), but managed to win the handicap race. The flight of December 1934 was the first commercial flight for KLM the aircraft made after arrival in summer '34 as the first DC-2 in the Netherlands and after the participation in the London-Melbourne race. The Uiver was very popular during that time in the Netherlands and its crash shocked the whole country.

Looking backwards, the Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM) DC-2 PH-AJU "Uiver" took off from Schiphol on December 19th 1934 for a faster than normal flight to Java, in order to deliver the Christmas mail for the Indies before December 25th.

After stops at Marseilles, Rome and Athens, the aircraft left Cairo International Airport at 21:30 local time on December 19th. Part of the mail was salvaged and flown from Baghdad to Batavia by the KLM Fokker PH-AIR "Rijstvogel".
In Holland special envelopes were made available for this Christmas flight and a special cachet was applied to all mail. Salvaged mail was back stamped on arrival in the Indies. This cover was mailed the day before the planned takeoff. This special envelope (black printing) was carried on the crash flight and back stamped Batavia December 28th of 1934.

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Taking the DC2 into service was already special by itself. The KLM had a very good relation with Fokker. The maiden flight of the DC2 changed to whole aviation and more modern, high comfort and faster airplanes where hot. Anthony Fokker didn't have an answer on that. The crew of this special Christmas flight consisted out of  captain M.W.O.A. Beekman, co-pilot J.van Steenbergen, telegraph operator G. van Zadelhoff en flight engineer H.A. Waalewijn. Willem Okke Beekman was one of the oldest and a very experienced pilot of the KLM flight crew. It was a special person, quite and he said to everybody what he wanted, even to Albert Plesman. This open mind gave him most of the time conflicts with Plesman.

From the "Uiverpost" (mail) the following was undamaged: bag of  3¼ kg from Amsterdam to Tjepoe,
-1 bag of 2 kg from Amsterdam to Soerabaja.
-1 bag of 3¼ kg from Amsterdam to Medan, registered mail.

Partly intact staid:
-1 bag of 2½ kg from Amsterdam to Tandjong Pandan,
-1 bag of 2¼ kg from Amsterdam to Soerabaja.
The rest, in total 190½ kg in seven bags for a different destination. Most of it was burned or due to the oil and sand, no longer usable.

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