When I was a little boy in the 60s and 70s, the Douglas DC-3, which, like they did in Britain we used to call the Dakota, was all the rage. I used to travel around the country in that aircraft with my mum and dad. It was an awesome experience. I used to love the way the tail dipped when the aircraft was on the ground and how it lifted as it taxied down the runway before take off. A remarkable airplane, and one I couldn’t forget even when the Fokker Friendship came to replace it on domestic routes. As it happens, the DC-3 never really went away. 73 years after the DC-3 first flew, it has remained in the skies in quite a few countries around the world… it is believed there are 400 DC-3 aircraft still in service. In this article, I will discuss retro travel and the opportunity that awaits you to rekindle vintage travel in a remarkable tourist haven and setting that is, Tanzania.
One of the most successful airplanes ever built, the DC-3 made its maiden flight on December 17, 1935. The Gooney Bird, as it was sometimes called, was one of the first airplanes built primarily out of metal, replacing the wood-framed-and-doped-fabric airplanes that had evolved out of the Wright Flyer and the many models of airplanes developed during World War I. In the 1930s and 1940s, this American fixed-wing, propeller-driven aircraft — generally regarded as one of the most significant transport aircraft ever made because of its lasting impact on the airline industry and World War II — is still taking to the skies to this day in many parts of the world. Like its land equivalent, the marvels of yesteryear engineering — the steam train — offers a lap of luxury to its passengers to this present day on packaged rail safaris like the Blue Train in South Africa, aviation too brings back the the beauty and luxury of vintage travel to the skies.
Air travel in the 50s was much more regulated than it is today. All fares were fixed by the International Air Traffic Association (IATA). It seems almost inconceivable today, but IATA dictated exactly what could be charged on any particular route. Airlines could compete on standards of service, but not price. Hence a desire to offer the passenger the very best prevailed. In the early fifties there was only one class of travel: first or better than first class. Such luxuries as cocktail bars, and even beds had been provided on transatlantic flights. Fares were expensive and passengers were either very wealthy or claiming the trip on expenses. By the end of the fifties, there were four classes of travel, deluxe (better than first), first class, tourist class and economy class. The Indigo Aviation Dakota plying the Zanzibar, Selous, Pemba and Mafia routes from Dar es salaam, Tanzania, judging from the luxurious cabin alone, takes you back to the early 50s when, literally, there was only one way to travel – first class.
When I saw an ad on the cover of a local magazine (Advertising Dar) back in May 2009, I was thrilled to see the DC-3 back in action. To me, she is the most beautiful bird that ever took to the skies. My plan is to get on that plane to travel to Mafia island, a fascinating island steeped in history, and what I consider to be the ideal destination to fly to to write a series of articles on, in retro style.