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Douglas DC-7: Piston Powered From Coast to Coast

November 06, 2019

The DC-7 was Douglas’ last major piston engine-powered transport aircraft. Built 1953 to 1958, it entered the American Airlines flagship service on its New York-Los Angeles route, becoming the first airliner to offer nonstop transcontinental service in both directions, flying westbound against the prevailing winds. N390AA began its career with American Airlines in 1956, eventually being converted to a freighter in later years, most notably with Ortner Air Service in Ohio. Walter Soplata acquired its cockpit and other fuselage sections during the 1970s from the Ortners. MotoArt continues the dream to preserve this aircraft by offering a Soplata Collection DC-7 PlaneTag

Douglas DC-7

DC-7

N757Z taken May 1970 by Bob Garrard. Used by permission

 

The DC-7 was developed at the request of American Airlines, who was seeking an airplane that could fly coast-to-coast across the U.S. non-stop in 8 hours for their New York-Los Angeles route.  Its wing was based on the DC-4 and DC-6, with the same wingspan. Its fuselage was 40 inches longer than its predecessor the DC-6B, with identical tail. The prototype flew May 1953 and the first DC-7 was delivered to American Airlines November 1953 in an inaugural first non-stop east-coast-to-west-coast flight. The DC-7B was identical to the earlier version but featured larger engine nacelles to carry more fuel. The later DC-7C could fly transatlantic non-stop. The turbo compound engine was the last of the Douglas piston engine designs, pushing piston engine technology to the limit. The DC-7 may have been less reliable because of it, but it was faster and had a longer range, which kept American Airlines ahead of the race.

 

DC-7 Specs

  • First flight:     May 18, 1953
  • Model number:     DC-7
  • Wingspan:     117 feet 6 inches
  • Length:     108 feet 11 inches
  • Height:     28 feet 7 inches
  • Power plant:     Four 3,250-horsepower Wright R3350 engines
  • Weight:     144,000 pounds
  • Ceiling:     25,000 feet
  • Speed:     330 to 400 mph
  • Range:     5,635 miles
  • Accommodation:     74 to 110 passengers
  • Crew:  3 pilots, 2 flight attendants

 

American Airlines Flagship Fleet

Vintage American Airlines DC-7 Mercury Flagship Airliner Postcard, Printed In USA flickr photo by France1978 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license  

 

American Airlines Flagship

American Airlines and Douglas had developed a relationship while collaborating on the DC-3 and DC-6. When AA president C.R. Smith requested a transport aircraft and placed a $40 million order for 25 planes, Douglas developed the DC-7. AA was looking for a plane to fly non-stop coast-to-coast in under 8 hours. The DC-7 was designed to do just that, both east-to-west and vice versa. Between 1953 and 1956, American received 34 DC-7s, followed up by 25 additional DC-7Bs in 1958. Some of the latter were delivered in a Royal Coachman configuration, with five abreast seating. 

  DC-7 Sky Full Of Planes

1954- sky full of planes - DC-7 flickr photo by x-ray delta one shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license  

 N390AA was one of the transcontinental Royal Coachman. At the time, it was considered the fastest aircoach service between New York and Los Angeles. Passengers could enjoy a meal in their reserved seat, visit the rear lounge for drinks, and choose from multiple flights daily. By the late 1950s, with the end of the piston liner and the arrival of planes like the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8, passenger transportation was transformed yet again.

 

Travel by air should be a time of leisure, a chance for you to escape humdrum worries. - American Airlines brochure

 

Ortner Air Service

Ortner Air Service DC-7

Photo of another Ortner Air Service DC-7 courtesy of Bob Garrard, used by permission

 

N30AA remained with American Airlines from April 1956 to October 1966. With the introduction of newer, faster, more reliable aircraft, the DC-7 was no longer the fastest transport plane in the sky. However, they were well suited to carry cargo and many were fitted with large front and rear freight doors, and converted to freighters. 

 The plane was redesignated as N757Z, a cargo plane, and changed owners a few times. It passed into the hands of the legendary Ortner Air Service in Wakeman, OH. The Ortner brothers, Andy, Ferd, and Dean, were passionate about aviation. They learned how to fly and built a runway on their farm in Birmingham, OH. Andy started Ortner Air Service, one of the largest private charter fleets in the country. Andy and his brothers flew freight around the country. N757Z was one of 7 DC-7s owned. Eventually, the cockpit, fuselage, and other parts of this plane were purchased by Walter Soplata for his collection. 

 

Soplata DC-7

DC-7 cockpit

 

MotoArt owner Dave Hall was stoked to see the DC-7 when he visited the Soplata Estate in Ohio earlier this year. “We knew it was there but weren’t really sure what we would find,” said Hall. “Seeing the unmistakable DC-7 cockpit was a thrill. I knew we had to have it for our collection up at the Mojave boneyard.”

Soplata Collection DC-7

 

The team spent several days onsite over the summer. They used this first visit to remove the airplane skin from the airframe to make PlaneTags.

airplane skin

 

recycled airplane parts

 

Transporting a DC-7

During a second trip later in the year, the team returned to pack up some of the airplanes. They were welcomed warmly by the Soplata family. “Our time spent with the Soplatas was an incredible experience,” recalls Hall. “We were treated like we were family too.”

Dave Hall, owner of MotoArt PlaneTags

With the temperatures quickly beginning to chill, the team knew this would be the last time to visit and get things moved before the snow. They spent several days packing up cockpits and large parts to transport back to the Mojave Air and Space Port.

transporting dc-7

 

salvaging dc-7

 

It was not easy. Several large trucks and trailers, and a crane, were brought in to help with the job. Still, there was a lot of teamwork and elbow grease needed in order to lift planes which had not been moved in several decades.

In addition to the DC-7 cockpit, several other planes also took a cross country trip. While Hall is not revealing them all yet, he promises that they will be just as special as the DC-7 and B-36 Peacemaker.

 

Soplata Collection PlaneTag

Soplata Collection DC-7 PlaneTag

The team back at MotoArt Studios in Torrance, CA were already hard at work getting things ready for the new DC-7 PlaneTag. “We had all heard of this collection for years,” says Hall. “There was such an enthusiasm amongst us all to get the display card and the promotional copy just right. We celebrate so many different aircraft and we love each and every one of them. But the Soplata Collection is just such an honor to be a part of.”

 

DC-7 Collectible

dc 7

As with the other Soplata Collection PlaneTags, the DC-7 is being issued as a very limited special edition. Each has been cut, polished and assembled by hand at MotoArt Studio in Torrance, CA. They come with a strong ring, attached to a colorful display card. Whether you display them or attach them to your favorite bag or keys, grab one for your collection before they are gone.

Read about the B-36 Peacemaker, also in this special collection.

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