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Flight report: On board the Breitling DC-3 HB-IRJ

Plus news of a new Navitimer to celebrate the RTW trip. 500 pieces limited Edition.
by Peter Chong on April 6, 2017

The Breitling DC-3 will be the oldest aircraft to circumnavigate the world when she completes her journey by this year end. She started this round the world trip on March 9, 2017, her 77th birthday! Her maiden voyage was made on March 9, 1940 carrying the American Airlines livery. And this round the world trip will see her flying some 210 hours in flight, and will take 6 months. She will fly to 28 countries and will be set to complete this epic journey by the end of this year. To commemorate this epic trip, Breitling will release a special limited edition Navitimer with the DC-3 engraved on the case back. The series will be limited to 500 pieces, and the DC-3 will carry the entire collection on board on the entire trip, so the watches will also have covered the same round the world trip. 

 

The Breitling DC-3 (Call sign and tail registration: HB-IRJ

 

HB-IRJ, the call sign and tail registration o the Breitling owned DC-3 aircraft which will attempt to circumnavigate the world this year, and when successful, will be the oldest aircraft ever to do so.

 

The DC-3 is a  twin-engine propeller plane launched in 1935 which revolutionized air travel. Nicknamed the “Normandy landings plane”, it enjoyed its moment of fame in June 1944. More than 16,000 were built and most major airlines acquired them as part of their fleet. Today there are less than 150 DC-3 aircraft in flight worthy condition worldwide, including the Breitling DC-3.

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The Breitling DC-3 aircraft, with tail registration and call sign HB-IRJ have had an illustrious history. First commissioned by American Airlines, she made her maiden flight with AA livery on 9 March 1940. She was called to service during the war, and in one mission was converted into a bomber for U-Boats off the coast of Greenland. She did not manage to find any U-Boats, and as a result never dropped any bombs. After the war, she was acquired by Texas Airlines and used for commercial flights serving Florida and the Bahamas. She served several commercial airlines till 1988, when she was retired by Eastern Airlines. Breitling purchased the aircraft in 2008, and fully restored her. The airframe and engines remain original, having done 74,500 flight hours (typical modern Airbus and Boeing aircraft are progressively retired after 60,000 flight hours).

 

The Breitling DC3, parked at Seletar Airpot in Singapore. The nose characteristically tilts up at an angle. Interestingly, the aircraft has her entrance door situated on the starboard side at the stern. This unusual arrangement was at the request of AA who commissioned her in the late 1930s.

In 2017, Breitling will launch its DC-3 on a major round-the-world tour in several stages that will notably encompass the Middle East, India, South-East Asia, North America and Europe. This World Tour will begin and end in Switzerland, starting from Geneva in March and winding up in September at the Breitling Sion Airshow 2017. It will be punctuated by numerous stopovers providing opportunities to organize events and take part in air shows. We boarded the plane for a short joy ride around Singapore, making our way to Johor and returning. The 30 minute flight was a great experience.

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The Singapore Flights

 

Our flight path, taking us from Seletar Airport to Tebrau in Malaysia and returning.

 

HB-IRJ was specially prepared for this round the world flight. Typically she would carry 30 passengers, but as the fuel used, AVGAS was not easily found in some of her stops, she had the seat configuration modified to carry additional fuel on board. As a result, in the current configuration, she is able to carry 16 passengers.

 

All on board. Sixteen privileged passengers were taken on a joy ride around the area.

 

Flat bed for First Class passengers? Not quite. This is the space were 14 seats were removed to allow the aircraft to carry additional fuel.

 

The aircraft was rather spacious, with a high ceiling…even the tallest among us did not have to stoop, unlike the experience in some of the smaller private aircraft. She was equipped in a two row, single aisle configuration. The seats were rigid, and did not feature any adjustable pitch. As the aircraft cabin was not pressurised, and had no air conditioning, it was very hot on the tarmac, much like a tin can under the hot sun. Once on the way, the above head air sprouts provided adequate air circulation. It must have been quite cold when flying in winter. However, this Round the World trip is undertaken during the Northern Summer, and Singapore was as far South as it will go during the trip, so cold weather is avoided. In fact, the standard DC-3 de-icing equipment was removed from HB-IRJ to reduce weight and lengthen range.

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The pilot himself made the safety briefing. But unlike most commercial flights, we could keep our electronic devices on all the time, and he even hinted that we could have a cigar, if we wished..:-)

 

And we were off!

 

Our GPS (iPhone) recorded a 103km, max altitude of 967m, flight time of 32 minutes. Average speed of 193 km/hr and a max speed of 309 km/hr.

Contrary to some belief, the cabin was not excessively noisy, we could hear the double propeller engines clearly, but we could speak in normal tones. And unlike commercial flights, the cockpit had no door, and we could wander in to talk to the pilots once the “Fasten Seatbelt” sign was off.

 

The cockpit was kept as original as possible during the 2008 restoration. But had to be equipped with latest navigation equipment to comply to international regulations. Photograph taken about 2000 ft above ground, about 180kph, somewhere over Johor.

 

Maintenance of the aircraft is surprisingly high. For every flight hour, she needs 100 hours of maintenance. With a career of 74,500 flight hours, if we estimate an average speed of 150 kph, she would have covered some 11 million km. Globe trotter indeed.

 

Our stewardess on board…not really. There were no cabin crew on board. Only two pilots and an additional tech crew who sat on the jump seat.

 

Interesting flight in  historic aircraft. And the watch? More info on these pages soon. We will carry a detailed report on the new Navitimer with original high resolution photographs soon. In the meantime, here is the original Navitimer on the rear wing of the DC-3.

 

Breitling Navitimer on the rear wing of the Breitling DC-3.

 

 

 

 

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