How The Douglas DC-7 Revolutionized Air Travel

The DC-7 was the final propeller aircraft produced by Douglas. Despite it being the last of a generation, it caused quite a stir in the industry when it was introduced in the 1950s. The jet engine would enter the market in the same decade. However, before these turbines shook up United States aviation, the DC-7 opened up new doors for airlines in the country.

Swiss Air DC-7 In Flight
Swissair was one of several carriers to operate the DC-7, and here it is flying across the California coastline. Photo: Getty Images

Going out with a bang

There were considerable advancements with the DC-7. The plane was an upgrade on the DC-6B piston-engine aircraft, which was also a trusted model across the industry at the time. However, due to the improvements that came with the newer type, airlines were able to break further ground.

American Airlines introduced this low-wing airliner on November 29th, 1953. The legacy carrier flew it on a route between New York and Los Angeles. With this move, the company became the first operator to offer nonstop transcontinental service in both directions. It was a massive deal to be able to fly westbound in the US against the prevailing winds.

Following the DC-7’s entry into service, it became the fastest plane in action across the commercial aviation industry. With a new wave of opportunities on the horizon, airlines came flocking to take on the aircraft. In the five years between 1953 and 1958, 338 units were produced, which were taken on by 18 different carriers.

United Airlines Douglas DC7 - 1958
The type conducted its first flight on May 18th, 1953. Photo: Getty Images

Leveling up

Delta Air Lines was one of the notable operators that deployed the plane. The aircraft entered scheduled service with the firm on April 1st, 1954, initially flying on a Chicago to Miami route. The Atlanta-based carrier was keen to take advantage of the new provisions that came with the aircraft, such as the greater load capacity than the DC-6 and Lockheed Constellation.

The airline noted that the DC-7 brought weight savings of around 200 pounds per plane amid the first use of titanium on aircraft. The heat-resistant and lightweight nature of the metal was truly an innovation in the industry.

Altogether, airlines appreciated the several benefits to be had across the board. For instance, the technological and logistical advancements in the cabin opened up new prospects, which would be valued by both carriers and passengers.

“The longer length of the DC-7 and DC-7B fuselage (over eight feet more than the DC-6), allowed room for an eight-passenger Sky Room, with facing seats, and a five-seat Sky Lounge, in addition to two main cabins. Delta’s DC-7 and DC-7B initially held 69 passengers in all first-class seating, except for four DC-7B which were delivered in 1957 with all-coach configuration for 90 passengers. Improvements in air conditioning and sound proofing provided additional comfort,” Delta Flight Museum shares.

“Windows in critical noise areas had an added third pane of glass, free-floating in rubber, sandwiched between the usual two panes, to reduce noise. The “luxurious interior” of the DC-7 in 1954, featured rich colors: forest green fabric seats with gray leather arms, a gray-green ceiling and dark carpet. The lounge was gray-green with bright coral upholstery.”

DC-7 Passenger Cabin
The plane’s four Wright turbo-compound piston engines helped it reach a maximum speed of around 406 mph (653 km/h) and a range of up to approximately 5,635 mi (9,069 km). Photo: Getty Images

International growth

Even though the DC-7 was a revolution in itself, the series continued to expand its offerings rapidly. In 1956, Douglas released the DC-7C Seven Seas, which was an extended-range version of the aircraft. This edition was launched to cater to growing European markets. Amid the introduction of this variant, there was greater fuel capacity, and interference drag was reduced.

Moreover, the cabin was made quieter due to the engines being moved further away from the fuselage. These units had nacelle fuel tanks, which could also be spotted on DC-7Bs held by South African Airways and Pan American World Airways.

DC-7 Evacuees From Baghdad
From Pan Am to United Airlines, several veterans put their trust in the DC-7. Photo: Getty Images

Boeing gave the DC-7C the title of Seven Seas, as it claimed it could transport 110 passengers “anywhere in the world.” Thus, SAS made the most out of its plane and launched its first “around the world” service on February 24th, 1957. Here, the airline was flying from Copenhagen to Tokyo via the North Pole.

Two DC-7Cs, Guttorm Viking and Reidar Viking, flew in each direction on the same day. By cutting through the Arctic, the carrier was able to shave 2,000 mi (3,219 km) off the journey.

Prince And Princess Mikasa
Airlines were able to become truly intercontinental outfits thanks to aircraft such as the DC-7. Photo: Getty Images

Rapid shifts

Despite the high hopes and the initial breakthroughs with the DC-7, the aviation industry was going through a fast-paced transformation. Boeing began producing the Boeing 707 in 1956, while Douglas itself started making the DC-8 in 1958. Importantly, both of these types were powered by jets.

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Airlines across the globe would jump on the jet craze by the time the 1960s got into full swing, which caused propellers to fall behind amid the changing market. Even the Delta Flight Museum admits that Delta’s units were phased out in favor of the modern jet aircraft on the scene.

So, at the turn of the decade, Douglas scaled up the conversion of several DC-7s and DC-7Cs into DC-7F freighters. These planes were equipped with sizeable forward and rear freight doors. Additionally, some windows of the cabin were taken out. With this modification, the life of the DC-7 was extended significantly with cargo operations.

A former Eastern Air Lines DC-7, which was built in 1958, was converted into a fire-bombing aircraft. Tanker 60 was refined in the 1970s and was only retired just last October. So, the DC-7 managed to find a place in the industry for several years, albeit not in the initial fields that it was designed for.

What are your thoughts about the Douglas DC-7? How do you feel it compares with its counterparts over the years? Let us know what you think of the aircraft and its operations in the comment section.