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What airplane designs have been around the longest, from first flight through last retirement from active commercial or military service?

My guess is that the DC-3 will win, since it has been around since before WW II and is still in service, although there are enough other designs out there I'm not familiar with that I'll be interested to see where I may be wrong on that. (Russian designs come to mind as an obvious source of possibilities.)

Can anything out there beat the DC-3? What's the runner up?

(The wikipedia page on the DC-3 says its first flight was December 17, 1935.)

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    $\begingroup$ @Farhan - similar, but distinct in that I'm thinking less about production timeframes, than design logevity. That site has some interesting leads, though. (Looks like he deleted his comment; site posted was en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_most-produced_aircraft) $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    May 18 '15 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I deleted my comment as I noticed answers started to come in. So I thought I might not have completely understood the question. $\endgroup$
    – Farhan
    May 18 '15 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ There is already an older plane listed, but the PBY Catalina first flew in March 1935 and there are still models being flown. $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    May 18 '15 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ If you are asking for airplane you already have answers, if you are looking for aircraft, ballon basic design is unchanged since centuries. That will be your oldest designed aircraft. Airplanes are a little bit more than one century old $\endgroup$ May 18 '15 at 22:38
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure to fully understand the question. Do replicas count? Are you looking for the oldest aircraft still maintained in flying condition? $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    May 19 '15 at 12:36
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This is a community-wiki mashup of the other answers - I thought a table would be useful.

Date Introduced Aircraft Type Commercial Service (2015)
1909 Bleriot XI Flown by Shuttleworth collection UK, entrance fee.
1932 JU-52 Sight seeing flights by Ju-Air, Switzerland.
1932 Tiger Moth Flight experiences, e.g. Cheltenham UK.
1934 Dragon Rapide Sight seeing flights, London.
1935 DC-3 Many commercial flight-experience/other operators.
1935 PBY Catalina Still used in aerial firefighting role.
1938 Piper Cub Many still in private/GA use and in flight schools.
1947 AN-2 Still in widespread use in 2020.
1952 B-52 76 still in service with USAF. Projected service to 2045?
1952 Tu-95 In service with Russian air force. Projected service to 2040?
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  • $\begingroup$ Seems reasonable to point out that all those older than the DC-3 are one, two, three flying examples -- and there are still dozens, if not hundreds of DC-3 in day-to-day service around the world. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Dec 16 '20 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ @ZeissIkon According to Wikipedia there are about 250 Tiger Moths still flying. $\endgroup$
    – Eric S
    Dec 18 '20 at 2:13
  • $\begingroup$ @EricS Okay. As trainers? I know of a few doing effectively barnstorming. $\endgroup$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Dec 18 '20 at 12:05
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If any commercial or military service will do then there are a few designs which are older.

There's a de Havilland Dragon Rapide still in commercial service doing air tours around London, that's first flight was in 1934. The Noorduyn Norseman is still used for air tours and cargo work and it was first flown a month before the DC3. The Ford Trimotor was introduced in 1925 and I think there's still one or two doing tours.

Apart from tours the DC3 is still the one I'd think of as still doing really serious service.

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The Shuttleworth Collection, at Old Warden aerodrome in Great Britain, has a flyable Bleriot XI which was built in 1909 and served at a flight school into the Thirties. It is still regularly displayed in flight. You might argue that this is no commercial service, but to witness the display, you need to buy a ticket, and ticket sales help to support the collection. So I enter it as a contender here.

Having flown first in 1932, the Ju-52 is also older than the DC-3 or even the Dragon Rapide. Several are still in commercial service - you can book scheduled sight-seeing flights with the Swiss operator Ju-Air. Ju-Air's three Ju-52 served from 1939 to 1982 in the Swiss Air Force. Wikipedia has an exhaustive list of current Ju-52 operators.

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    $\begingroup$ The CASA license-built Spanish version of the Ju52 was in service with the Spanish air force until 1974 or 75. It was a safe and conveniently slow plane for parachute drop training train. I myself flew many times in it during my military service... $\endgroup$
    – xxavier
    Mar 20 '17 at 17:38
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The legendary Piper Cub which was used as a trainer during WWII and first flew in 1938 is still a popular plane and although not by Piper is still made in some form of variants today. I dont think its in service any more (at least as far as I know) but there are still loads of them flying.

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The USAF B-52 first flew in 1952, stopped production in 1962, is still a frontline bomber, and is projected to continue service until 2045

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_B-52_Stratofortress

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Ju-52 started in 1931 and in 2018 - after 87 years - was still used for a commercial passenger transportation (nostalgic flights but between the two different airports like Duebendorf to Locarno all the way over the Alps and not just circular tours), by the Duebendorf based airline (Switzerland).

Unfortunately these flights were suspended after the 79 year old aircraft crashed in 2018. However the airline expects to resume the service in 2021 (source).

Older designs may serve for longer as they parts have less (or no any) strict life limits as set by the manufacturer.

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