Minnesota Flyer - Serving Midwest Aviation Since 1960

Confessions of an Airshow Announcer

My first DC-3

 

October 1, 2020

Photo courtesy of Tom Lymburn

"Miss Angela" (N132BP) in 1989 with large spinners, gear doors, and pseudo pre-WWII Navy markings. Underneath the paint, it was Hap Arnold's DC-3A-253A (aka the C-41A).

An ongoing series by Tom Lymburn

"Ladies and gentlemen, to your right, on final approach, the greatest transport plane in history. Cameras ready! Please welcome, the Douglas DC-3!"

She came "over the fence" flaring for runway niner-right. Gear down, flaps down, the late morning sun sharp on her pseudo-Navy prewar two-tone blue paint scheme. Red and white tail stripes, star and meatball insignia, chrome plated prop blades flashing in the sun. Not exactly stock, she had oversized spinners, shortened exhausts, landing gear doors, modern antennas, and close cowlings. Painted on her nose was "Miss Angela."

Under the blue paint, she was a survivor – in fact, a very historic survivor. By all logic, she should not have survived. She was also the first DC-3 I'd called in an airshow. Other DC-3s would follow in the next three decades, including "Ready 4 Duty," "The Black Sparrow," "Puff," "Duggy," and "Blue Bonnet Belle." None of the others had her historical significance.

In 45 years of photographing aircraft, I've notched up over 140 DC-3s at shows, in museums, rotting away behind chain link fences, in dark hangar corners, engineless, fabric rotted away, some parked in tall grass at disused spots on remote grass strips. Some were beautifully restored, actually works of art, others, dusty museum displays, some oily workhorses with hangar rash and scarred paint, corrosion peeking out at the seams, still others outfitted for skydiving or carrying fish. A few were pampered executive aircraft with interiors designed in the 1950s for oil companies, tire manufacturers, furniture companies, and businessmen. Some, often tired looking, did missionary work or ran drugs.

Very few had historic backgrounds like Arthur Godfrey's (c/n 2102) or the Canadian Warplane Heritage's Cyclone engine C-GDAK, once based in Minnesota, having clocked an amazing 83,000 hours in the air.

This one had been the Army Air Corps' second DC-3. The flagship of General Hap Arnold (1886-1950) chief of the Air Corps (later chief of the Army Air Force) and VIP transport for the likes of Secretary of War Henry Stimson (1867-1950).

Ordered on 11 May 1938 under Army Air Corps Contract W535/AC11137 from Douglas, Santa Monica, CA, c/n 2145 was a DC-3A-253A, powered by a pair of Pratt & Whitney R-1830-S1C1G (Army R-1830-21) radials at a cost of $105,611.29. Delivered to the Army at Santa Monica on 11 September 1939, she was designated C-41A and given army serial number 40-70. She joined the Army's first DC-3, c/n 2053, a DC-3-253, designated C-41, and wearing serial number 38-502, at Bolling Field, Washington, DC, on 14 September. Both were assigned to the First Staff Squadron.

40-70 was a hybrid aircraft, having features of the Douglas DST, Sleeper Transport, and an office. Just aft of the flight deck were four berths, with upper berth windows above the first and third main cabin windows. The rear section had four comfortable swivel lounge chairs, a galley, overhead baggage storage, plush carpet, and an interphone system.

The C-41A served General Arnold, the Secretary of War, and other VIPs with the First Staff Squadron (some sources call it the First Headquarters Squadron) throughout World War II, with occasional tours at Washington National Airport, Patterson Field, Ohio, and finally, Brookley Army Air Base, Alabama. On 28 December 1945, it was struck off charge and assigned to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, Birmingham Municipal Airport, for disposal.

Based on CAA and FAA Airworthiness and Registration records, 40-70 was "rebuilt" from parts, including the C-41A fuselage, beginning in July 1951 by Standard Airlines of Long Beach, CA, and registered N4720V with the CAA on 29 December 1951. It made its first post restoration flight at Long Beach on 22 January 1952.

Over the years, it was modified to include air conditioning, a new instrument panel, large prop spinners, Pan Am gear doors, engine fire extinguishers, a buffet, radar nose, and an engine smoke system. The old Hap Arnold VIP aircraft remained a VIP bird wearing many registrations and was owned/operated by many businesses and individuals, including Superior Oil, Richfield Oil, Atlantic Refinery, Atlantic-Richfield, and Sunbelt Airlines.

It was sold to Minnesota businessman and warbird collector Bob Pond on 12 May 1989, and after being painted in a pseudo-pre-WWII Navy scheme, registered N132BP. By this time, 40-70 had amassed over 3000 hours since rebuild. Based on the Army Air Force aircraft data cards, it had over 800 hours on the clock by the time it was declared surplus and sent to the RFC. It appeared at Oshkosh and was flown in the Planes of Fame – East annual Memorial Day weekend shows at Flying Cloud. Due to its size (wing span 95 feet), it sat outside. In the spring of 1993, it was part of deal, along with a Douglas A-1E Skyraider, N188BP (Bu135188), that was swapped for B-17G, N3509G (44-85778). It went from Minnesota to Texas.

The year 2010 marked the 75th Anniversary of the first flight of the DC-3. The prototype took to the air on 17 December 1935. Number X14988, was the first in its line, destined to become the greatest transport in the world. EAA hosted part of what was called "The Last Time..." at Oshkosh, an amazing gathering of all varieties of the DC-3.

I was working ground crew for Greg Herrick's Golden Wings Flying Museum Ford Trimotor, NC1077, on the hot concrete of AeroShell Square. Parked near us was a Buffalo Airways Dakota, one still in regular scheduled service. On Monday afternoon, over 20 DC-3s made a majestic flyover of Wittman Field. From where I stood under the Ford's broad corrugated wing, I could see another half dozen, plus a DC-2. By week's end, I had photographed 32 of Donald Douglas's masterpieces and knew I had missed others that were on the east side of the field. 40-70, Bob Pond's old bird, was there. I could see it with my telephoto, but it was too far away for a usable shot.

My photo chance would come at Oshkosh in 2018. N341A reappeared, parked at the very south end, a covey of small tents huddled under her broad wings. By now, the landing gear doors had been removed and she sported a polished metal airframe. An Army Air Crops blue, white, red striped rudder was accented by a very attractive blue and gold cheat line and graceful blue cowling scallops.

While I was admiring N341A's excellent condition and looking for good sun angle for my Nikon, I was approached by Robin Tatman. Ms. Tatman, a rated 747, 757, 767 captain, was one of the pilots for 40-70. When I explained my early 1990's Flying Cloud connection and that I'd done the research with military data cards, log books, and FAA Airworthiness and Registration records to create a chronological history of 40-70, she graciously invited me into the cabin out of the sun so we could talk. Much to my surprise, the cabin's interior was still much like it was in 1992!

Would the owner and crew be interested in a copy of 40-70's history? Oh, yes! After an exchange of business cards, I agreed to copy the eleven page history, plus the data cards to send to her. I also offered to add photos from its days at Planes of Fame-East.

Photo courtesy of Tom Lymburn

AAC 40-70 at Flying Cloud in 1991. The large spinners have been removed. "Speed kits" were common in the 1950s with executive conversions.

I sent this material snail mail on 31 July and received a thank you via email two weeks later. Ms. Tatman had copied the material to send Richard Martin, the owner, and Bob Berwick, the Chief Pilot. She was especially pleased to be able to fill in the gaps in 40-70's Army career.

Nicknamed "Hap-penstance" in honor of Hap Arnold and her wartime service at Bolling Field, 40-70 flew the Atlantic in 2019 and participated in the 75th Anniversary D-Day and Berlin Airlift tributes. Still registered N341A to Aerotechnics Aviation, Inc., she is now based at Tewksbury in the United Kingdom.

Although the upper berth windows above the first and third cabin windows were covered over during her rebuild, you can still see in the metal and rivet patterns where they had been, reminding us of her Army service, the second of the Air Corps' DC-3s. Like the earlier C-41, both still fly, the first of thousands of military DC-3s that as General Dwight Eisenhower commented after World War II, joined the Jeep, the bazooka, and the atomic bomb as key to the Allies winning the war.

 

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