Volunteers who restored DC-3 get flight to remember
What better way to thank the people who have helped you restore an aircraft than giving them a ride in it? When it’s a major restoration, say that of a DC-3, it is only fitting that the ride be epic, like a trip from Flabob Airport (RIR) in Riverside, California, to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, for AirVenture.
DC-3 N103NA, also known as the “Flabob Express,” made the trek to last summer’s show carrying a load of passengers in style, circa 1950. As the airplane sat in the vintage parking area of the show, throngs of visitors approached it, cameras in hand, capturing photos of the sleek lines and the wood- and brass-appointed interior. For those who are used to the plastic interiors of today’s airliners, traveling in the “Flabob Express” is a special thrill, say those lucky enough to catch a ride.
Jon Goldenbaum, chief pilot of the Flabob Express, and Ron Alexander, who owns Poly-Fiber, as well as the Atlanta-based DC-3 “Candler Field Express,” decided that commemorative T-shirts should be made up for the passengers and crew for the trek to last summer’s Oshkosh, which included a tribute to the DC-3’s 75th anniversary. The shirts, which have a small DC-3 as seen from above on the front and a larger logo on the back, were surprisingly popular at Oshkosh.
“People have been trying to buy them right off our backs,” noted Kevin McKenzie, who is one of the co-pilots on “Flabob Express.”
“Flabob Express” and “Candler Field Express” (in front of photo) were parked next to each other in the grass at AirVenture.
Alexander’s airplane is based at Peach State Aerodrome (GA2). The airport began as an automobile racetrack in 1909 built by Asa Griggs Candler, one of the founders of the Coca-Cola Co. By 1911 air meets were being held there as well. Today the airport is the home of the Candler Field Museum, which was established to recreate the old Atlanta airport as it existed in the 1920s and 1930s. Although the museum is still being built, the restoration shop is operational and visitors can see volunteers working on vintage aircraft.
In that respect it is very similar to Flabob Airport, which is the home of EAA Chapter 1, and also has a generous share of vintage aircraft and restoration projects in the works. It is also the home of the Wathen Foundation, which is geared to the preservation of antique aircraft. The “Flabob Express” is owned by the foundation.
According to McKenzie, the “Flabob Express” is a converted C-47 that rolled off the assembly line in 1943 and was a transport for the British royal family.
“It also flew in India as the personal transport of a British general and it flew for the Pakistani Air Force,” he recounted. “It was in Canada for a while, then it was brought back to the United States in 1993. A group of us from Flabob were able to acquire it through a donation. It was pretty much in a derelict state.”
Finding someone to help with the restoration was not much of a challenge, said McKenzie. “Flabob Airport is big hub for guys with antique and classic airplanes with round engines,” he said.
One of the restoration crew, Don Newman, has the honor of being the crew chief for “Flabob Express.” He also made the trip to Oshkosh.
“It is a labor of love,” Newman said. “I get to work on it and maintain it and I get to fly it a little bit now and then.”
That might be enough for most aviation enthusiasts, but both McKenzie and Newman say the highlight of showing the aircraft off at an event like AirVenture is the reaction of the crowds.
“It’s really amazing how many people we meet who have a connection to this particular airplane,” said Newman. “Even those who don’t are fascinated by it.”
When asked what it is like to fly such a vintage machine on such a special trip, McKenzie burst out with, “It’s more fun than you ought to be able to have!”
For more information: FlabobDC3Experiences.com