"Flagship Tulsa": A Legacy of Beauty and Innovation

February 25, 2019

The American Airlines DC-3 Legacy


The 1930s were arguably the decade that made commercial air travel a household word. The decade started with 6,000 Americans flying commercially in 1930. By the end of 1939, over 1 million Americans had traveled aboard an airplane. The Douglas DC-3 revolutionized transport during the 1930’s and 40’s and is considered by many as one of the most significant transport aircraft ever produced. Find out how you can own a piece of this important aviation history.


American Airlines and Douglas Team Up


American Airlines needed to modernize their fleet. During the 1930's they were flying Curtiss Condor biplane sleepers, Ford Tri-Motors and Fokker tri-motors, none of which were suitable for transporting the luxury passengers now beginning to criss-cross the country. Although the DC-2 was an improvement, it had some drawbacks that American Airlines President C.R. Smith and American Airlines’ vice president of engineering William Littlewood wanted to improve. It was difficult to land, with heavy aileron and rudder control, directional instability, propeller and fin icing problems, and yawing excessively in turbulence, amongst other stated problems. It was quite fast but lacked power and could not be flown non-stop from New York to Chicago It was also too narrow to accommodate the sleeper berths that had been envisioned.

They began redesigning the DC-2 in earnest, backed by an initially reluctant Douglas. Their desire was to give customers safe, comfortable, and reliable transportation in a wider, larger plane. With a depression-era Reconstruction Finance Corporation loan from the government to fund the development, American Airlines ordered several of the new planes. The DC-3 was born.

What began as a redesign ended up as a completely new aircraft, with a wider, longer fuselage, larger tail area and wingspan and more power. It introduced a completely new way of crossing the country. A cross-country flight from New York to Los Angeles in 1934 required 25 hours, changing planes and airlines, with up to 15 stops. With the advent of the DC-3 a single plane could ferry its passengers across the country, with just three stops to refuel.

Flagship Tulsa DC-3

"1930's - American Airlines DC-3" flickr photo by x-ray delta one shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

History of Flagship Tulsa DC-3

Flagship Tulsa, NC-18141 was part of the celebrated Flagship Fleet.  American Airlines DC-3 Flagship service was unveiled on June 26, 1936, with simultaneous ceremonies introducing “Flagship New York” at Newark, New Jersey and “Flagship Illinois” at Chicago’s Midway Airport. Their flight route/time table brochure from this era boasted transcontinental flights with sleeper berths, comfortable seating and smoother rides, and luxuries such as a drawing room, lavatories, china and fine dining. Between 1936 and 1946, 94 flagship planes took to the air.


Courtesy of Georgia Dent Inferrera via American Airlines Reunion

“Flagship Tulsa” NC18141 flew as part of American Airlines fleet from May 1939 to February 1949, numbered 37 of the 94. If you were flying aboard her or any of her fleet sisters, you could expect narrower seats by today’s standard, but still comfortable reclining seating with a seat back pocket, call button, reading light, air vent, air sickness receptacle and an ashtray on every armrest.  After World War II, DC-4s transitioned from war-time to commercial use and replaced the DC-3 Flagship Fleet.


Saving a DC-3


NC18141 was sold with other DC-3s to Trans Texas Airways, where it flew from February 1939 until February 1949. She then flew for Air New England, Provincetown-Boston Airlines, and Aero Libertad, as N1841, N38PB, XA-RPE, and N2237C. She was finally grounded 1994 and stored in Wisconsin. She was sold once more to Russ Newman and Pete Kourtis of Tulsa, who, in 2008, donated it to Tulsa Air and Space Museum and Planetarium in memory of their fathers. It is currently being restored by TASM .


Unique Piece of History

As with other historical airplanes, MotoArt was able to save portions of the Flagship Tulsa and preserve them for generations to come in the form of a PlaneTag™. Each one is cut from the actual skin, and etched with Flagship Tulsa Douglas DC-3, and a number in a limited series of 4,000.



Every tag is different, with different natural imperfections such as dents and scratches and variations in color. These pocket-sized treasures make great aviation gifts and can be appreciated by aircraft aficionados, avgeeks, history buffs and any lover of travel. A portion proceeds from their sale will be shared with the Flagship Tulsa restoration project.