As is true for almost any vintage aircraft
type, a very tight community exists within which all the members know
just about everything there is to know about any remaining airframes and
what parts might be available.
"It was the
last DC-7 in a passenger configuration with all the original
interior still intact."
The Douglas DC-7 type is a vintage
airplane, albeit a very large example of one-and it enjoys a loyal
"I had heard about it for
years," said Carlos Gomez, who operates another DC-7 as a freighter
out of Opa Locka, Florida.
He was speaking about N836D, the gleaming
example on display here at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, its historic Eastern
Airlines livery graphic testament to a time long past.
Before making the trip from derelict
through renewal to vibrant revival and its parking spot on AeroShell
Square, the large four-engine airliner sat for just under 33 years-much
of that time outside in Minnesota weather, at Holman Field, St. Paul's
Six years ago word came through the
community that the DC-7B N836D was available.
"It was the last DC-7 in a passenger
configuration with all the original interior still intact," Gomez
"So we made a decision to go out
"I started talking to Joe Koucor,
the owner, bought an airline ticket and the next day it was ours."
Starting in May 2004, Gomez and a few
helpers started preparing the long-dormant bird for a ferry trip to
Eight weeks and two engine changes later,
the craft was in its new home.
And then, according to Gomez, the fun
"Basically we took all of our
personal finances and sunk it into this," Gomez said. "There
were times when we didn't work on the airplane for three months, not
because we didn't want to, but because we needed to raise the next
The next thousand dollars.
"With airplanes it always seems to
Other than money, corrosion was the
biggest issue during the restoration.
The outer wing panels were good enough
for the ferry trip, but were removed immediately upon arrival in
Florida. A better set was located in Arizona and Gomez was able to
secure their donation to the project.
Overall some 65% of the sheet metal on
the airplane had to be repaired or replaced.
A non-profit entity, the Historic Flight
Foundation (HFF) was set up to own and operate the plane. The HFF's plan
is to offset costs and keep N836D flying by conducting flying tours in
the airplane, something not typical for a historic craft like this
In order to fly tours all current
airliner safety requirements had to be met. The original interior was
removed and replaced with seats out of a DC-10 and lavatories from a
All other interior materials were also
upgraded to meet current fire standards and the doors have been equipped
with emergency egress slides.
The original interior seats and hat shelves, which did not meet current
regulations, are in protective storage and can be reinstalled if the
plane is placed on permanent static display.
The cockpit did not require the same
"We wanted to keep everything
original," Gomez said when showing off N836D's completely intact,
1958 set of gauges and controls. "We aren't using any of the
electronics, but it all is still in place."
A modern moving map GPS is necessarily in
plain sight, but the balance of the modern avionics-including the
Traffic Collision and Avoidance System (TCAS) required for all
operational airliners-are hidden away in corners.
The plane came off the Douglas assembly
line in January 1958, configured with all first-class seats. Eastern operated it until 1966 when it was sold to the Nomads travel club.
Nomads operated it until 1971 when Koucor purchased the craft with the
intent of starting a similar travel club in the Minneapolis-St. Paul
The club never got off the ground and as
a result, neither did the plane. Koucor continued to pay parking fees
for the 33 years it remained idle and turned away all offers to salvage
the airplane for its parts or for its scrap value.
Gomez believes that current FAA
Administrator Randy Babbitt's father, an Eastern DC-7 captain during the
period the airline operated N836D, flew the airplane on more than one
Three airline veterans will sample the
magic of piloting a 1950s airliner Thursday (July 29) when FAA
Administrator Randy Babbitt - a second-generation airline pilot - joins
EAA Young Eagles co-chairmen Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and
Jeffrey Skiles in a flight aboard N836D.