Editorials

January 23, 2017

The Rush To Save A Vintage C-53

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Perhaps George Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, said it best in the 2009 film, Up in the Air: “All the things you probably hate about traveling – the recycled air, the artificial lighting, the digital juice dispensers, the cheap sushi – are warm reminders that I’m home.”  While flying has unfortunately lost its appeal to some, the age of the classic aviator is far from dead. When the general public thinks of aviation they tend to think of long TSA lines and being jammed packed on a regional jet. There is an aspect of flying that all of us, even seasoned avgeeks, tend to forget. Flying was (and still is) a romance in a sense. The weekend warriors of flying, the kids hanging on the airport fences, the hangar flying.. All of the forgotten aspects that make aviation awesome. Enter Jason Capra an airline pilot by day and a man with a passion for restoring vintage airplanes by night. As the founder of Vintage Wings Inc., Jason is working to “Restore the Roar” by saving vintage airplanes from the scrapper.

At a small airport in Beach City, Ohio sits an airplane. A Douglas C-53, or as many refer to as by its civilian variant, a DC3. It is a guarantee that every DC-3 still out there has an amazing history. Any given DC-3 type airframe probably had a noble career as a civilian transport or cargo hauler some time before or after the Second World War. It is arguably the most significant airline aircraft in history, and was also named by General Eisenhower to be one of the four tools that won World War II.

The History:

IMG_53DD7A4A4E70-1Originally destined for airline service, history had other plans for this DC-3A. Conscripted as a citizen soldier soon after after war was declared, just like so many young Americans at the time, the aircraft was given serial number 41-20095 and designated as a C-53. Unlike its far more heavily produced sibling the C-47 with its large aft cargo door, the C-53 was intended to be a troop transport aircraft and was produced in far smaller numbers. 41-20095 was accepted by the US Army Air Corps on January 29th, 1942 and sent to Bolling Field in Washington DC. The aircraft was then assigned to the Air Corps Ferrying Command on March 16th, 1942 and was sent to Palm Beach AAF in Florida. It was from here that our C-53 flew to Africa and took place in Operation Torch, while still retaining her ATC (Air Transport Command, successor to the Ferrying Command) markings but receiving the British “Fin Flash” and yellow circle around it’s national insignia.

In July 1943, 41-20095 was then transferred to the North Atlantic Wing of the Air Transport Command where it shuttled troops and VIPs over many theaters of operation. It may have moved to the Pacific during its time with the ATC, as it was reported to have been General Douglas MacArthur’s personal transport for a two month stint. Stories handed down with the aircraft tie it to other American greats including General Jimmy Doolittle, Glenn Miller, and Eddie Rickenbacker. The aircraft was last assigned to FEA, Cairo Division until May 12th, 1945.

After the war, its C-53 airline type configuration made it a valuable resource in the postwar rebirth of the worldwide airline transport system. It was sold to the Danish Airlines and flew as the Gorm Viking on the Danish/SAS famous Flying Viking service. The airline operated her until its merger with SAS who sold the airplane in 1952. After its career as an airline aircraft, our C-53 found itself headed back to the United States where it became outfitted as a corporate DC-3. In October 1952, it was registered to Rampo Foundry & Wheel Works in New York as N9959F. From here it went to Air Carrier’s Corp. and was changed yet again to N34D.

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Image courtesy Bob Garrard.

In 1963, the aircraft made one of its most important moves to the State of Ohio. From 1963 TO 1983 it was known as “Buckeye One,” the official state transport aircraft of the Governor. The airplane participated in the opening of many General Aviation Airports in the state of Ohio. Governor Jim Rhodes was a champion of aviation and our C-53 was his pride and joy. His Director of Aviation and DC-3 pilot, Norm Crabtree, is famously quoted as saying that “the airport runway is the most important main street in any town.” They recognized the importance of General Aviation and their goal was to open an airport in every county in Ohio. After its retirement, it was then flown to the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio where she sat until 1990.

Reregistered by Ohio University of Athens, Ohio as N34DF, the aircraft was bought by the school for its engines alone to keep their own DC-3 flying. Left engineless at Dayton, Ohio the aircraft faced an uncertain fate until Ken Joseph entered the picture. Ken bought engines for the airplane and had it brought to a condition in which the FAA issued a Ferry Permit so the airplane could be flown to Beach City, Ohio. After its flight in 1992, it is here that our C-53 has sat awaiting fate. It was a chance encounter while driving through the Ohio countryside that Jason Capra stumbled across what we named “Beach City Baby” in the summer of 2014.

Restore the Roar:

IMG_FDE92F6A2F5A-1Beach City Baby currently sits in limbo. She is being restored by Vintage Wings Inc.; however, she is long from being safe. Capra’s organization needs $100,000 to purchase Beach City Baby by March 1, 2017. Fortunately, Vintage Wings has secured over $90000 of the required purchase cost. Unfortunately, if Vintage Wings is unable to secure these funds, Beach City baby goes to the next bidder in line… an aircraft parts company. If this happens the aircraft’s history, legacy, honor, and passion will die with it.

Vintage Wings is working to ensure this does not happen. Through generous corporate sponsorships and aviators reaching out to help, 41-20095 will be able to successfully carry out her newest and most important mission 41-20095 will be able to fulfil the duty of education, history, and remembrance. Vintage Wings Inc. needs your help to save Beach City Baby and get her back in the air where she belongs! To donate, please visit Vintage Wings’ website. You can also help by spreading the word about Beach City Baby. Those who donate $50 or more will receive a Beach City Baby vinyl sticker.

What started as a chance encounter on a backroad in Ohio has turned into a mission for Jason Capra. In the cockpit hangs a sign that affirms the dedication, passion, hard work, and love that goes into Beach City Baby, it reads:

Don’t QUIT your daydreams.

Aircraft come and go, they are written off, stored, or sent off to the desert to die. However, Jason Capra and his army behind Vintage Wings Inc. refuse to let their beloved Beach City Baby become another statistic. Instead, they want to ensure she becomes a statistic of another type. A statistic of what can be done to save vintage aircraft, share their stories, get them flying, and bring the classic ora back to aviation that so many of us have long forgotten. In the words of aviation great Eddie Rickenbacker: “Aviation is proof that given, the will, we have the capacity to achieve the impossible.”

 

Jay Haapala is a High Performance Endorsed FAA Licensed Private Pilot, an Eagle Scout, a high school senior, and a Type One Diabetic (T1D). He is currently working to convince the FAA to allow commercial flying with T1D. He resides in Charleston, WV and works as a commercial drone pilot for a startup company. Jay enjoys public speaking and sharing his story of becoming a licensed pilot despite living with T1D for over 12 years. Jay is 18 and is an avid traveler. Find him on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram, or visit his blog about flying as a diabetic.

Images courtesy Vintage Wings, Inc, unless otherwise noted.


  • Roger Williams

    Thank you Jay for a well written article. Sharing it via Facebook and email to family and friends. My Uncle (Dad’s side of the Family was in the Army air Corp and latter renamed Air Force for twenty-five years. :-)