Historic plane lands in Iowa City

Flagship Detroit DC-3 first commercially viable passenger plane

The Flagship Detroit DC-3 sits on the tarmac at the Iowa City Municipal Airport on Monday, Aug.18, 2014. The plane was m
The Flagship Detroit DC-3 sits on the tarmac at the Iowa City Municipal Airport on Monday, Aug.18, 2014. The plane was manufactured in 1937 and is oldest DC-3 currently flying. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — An historic airplane that played a key role during the early stages of passenger aviation made a landing in Iowa City on Monday.

The aluminum 21-passenger twin propeller plane called the Flagship Detroit DC-3 was one of the first commercially viable passenger planes. This particular aircraft built in 1937 for American Airlines may be the oldest DC-3 still flying.

“This plane was the birth of passenger aviation,” said Sheryl Christian, a member of Flagship Detroit Foundation. “It’s the first airplane that could make a profit.”

Before the DC-3, airlines relied on contracts to carry mail for the government, she said.

According to, the DC-3 carried 95 percent of airline passengers in the United States by 1938. American Airlines operated the DC-3 from 1934 to 1946, according to the foundation.

The Flagship Detroit stopped in Iowa City on Monday on its way to an air show in Greeley, Colo. later this week. The plane will be at the Iowa City Airport until this afternoon or Wednesday before continuing on its journey.

Eastern Iowans can stop by to see the plane, and foundation president and pilot Zane Lemon said rides can be offered with at least 12 passengers. The rides are available to people who purchase a $150 Flagship Detroit Foundation membership.

When Denny Verry saw the silver vintage airplane with a 100-foot wingspan pass overhead on its way to the Iowa City Airport, he knew his young daughters would die to see it.

Verry immediately called home for the girls to look up to the sky, and later they stopped by the runway to check out the historic plane.

“She loves planes of all kinds,” Verry said of his 6-year-old Madison, who visits the airport several times a week.

The family was one of a handful of people that explored the plane on Monday.

Alan Murray, a pilot and foundation member from Grapevine, Texas, sat in the cockpit to show off some of controls.

The plan is mostly manually controlled, though it has a hydraulic pump for the wing flaps and landing gear. It has one upgrade — a global positioning unit (GPS).

The cabin isn’t pressurized so cruising altitude is about 11,500 feet, though the plane can go up to 14,000 feet for about 30 minutes at a time, Murray said.

The foundation purchased the plane in 2004 in hopes of raising awareness about this early era of aviation.

It was being used as a bug sprayer in Virginia until the foundation bought it. A volunteer crew led the restoration of the plane that took nearly two years. Its base is an American Airlines hanger in Tulsa, Okla.

Foundation members have been flying around the country to air shows several times a year ever since.

“It requires a lot of monitoring,” Murray said. “There’s no autopilot, but it’s a good stable airplane.”

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