Piloting the Dodo, the plane that was never meant to fly in Grand Theft Auto 3

Today you can soar across Los Santos with ease in a variety of aircraft, but there was a time in the Grand Theft Auto series when flying was a luxury. The Dodo, appropriately named after the extinct, flightless bird, is the only way to take to the air in Grand Theft Auto III—a task made difficult by its clipped wings and stubborn flight controls. “We were making a driving and shooting game, and even that was radical at the time,” Rockstar said in a fan Q&A. “The Dodo was never meant to be flown much at all. It was just a fun thing that people went crazy with when they figured out various bugs that let them fly it.”

Keeping the Dodo in the air for more than a few seconds is tricky, but it can be done. You can find detailed instructions here, but the general idea is keeping the plane as level as possible. If you don’t you’ll lose control and plummet to your death. And remember, silent protagonist Claude can’t swim, so you can’t just ditch safely into the water either. As a result, mastering the Dodo is a risky venture. Having to drive back to the airport in Shoreside Vale every time you screw up will deter a lot of pilots in training, but there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of staying aloft long enough to cross the whole map.

The primitive 3D engine used by GTA III was never designed for flight. As you fly over the Staunton Island district, skyscrapers pop into view and buildings have glitchy voids instead of roofs. But that only adds to the joy of keeping the Dodo in the air, seeing things you were never meant to see. You can even fly it to the fabled Ghost Town outside the boundaries of the map, which is in fact a chunk of city used in the game’s opening cinematic. “It’s from the bank heist at the very beginning of the game,” says Rockstar. “We built these few streets floating in space and assumed no one would ever find them.”

After the September 11 terror attacks in New York City, some content in Grand Theft Auto III was cut or changed. There are a lot of urban myths surrounding this, including the Dodo’s wings being cut off to stop people flying it into skyscrapers. But Rockstar has denied it, confirming that only about 1% of the game was actually altered as a result of this. “We removed one mission that referenced terrorists,” they explain. “And we changed a few cosmetic details, a couple of pedestrian comments, and some radio dialogue."

Of course, there are mods to give the Dodo its wings back and make flying it a lot more enjoyable. But the Dodo is memorable precisely because it’s such a pain in the arse to pilot. And, at the time, there was no other way to see Liberty City from above. You had to learn how to fly the thing, otherwise you’d be stuck on land forever. Or at least until helicopters were finally introduced in Vice City. And so you’d persevere, crashing endlessly into the murky waters around Francis International, gaining a few more seconds with every try.

The Dodo has since appeared in other GTA games including San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto V, which pokes fun at its idiosyncratic handling. “It’s not called a Dodo because it’s killed more passengers than any other plane in its size class,” reads the Elitás Travel website. “Although that’s a sad fact, and a regrettable legacy for this otherwise splendid aircraft. It can’t turn, it can barely fly, but it will be able to float if you land it just right.” But these other iterations of the Dodo fail to match the beguiling shitness of the GTA III version. Back then, flying used to mean something. Now anyone can do it.

My reverence for the objectively crap Dodo may be slightly over the top, granted. But just seeing that red-and-white fuselage brings back so many fond memories of playing Grand Theft Auto III for the first time and having my mind blown by the fact that I was driving, and briefly flying, around such an incredible 3D city. It’s laughably primitive compared to the dazzling, detailed metropolis of Los Santos, but it still has a certain charm. And having returned to Francis International for another round with the Dodo, I can confirm that it’s still an absolute bastard to fly. But I wouldn’t want it any other way.