|Detail of the D-day markings on the C-47, restored by Clive Edwards of Edwards Brothers Aviation in Welling Kent, England. Photo by Tyson V. Rininger
Last year AirVenture attendees were captivated with the Cinderella story of a derelict DC-3 that was restored to airworthy condition in time to attend the 2010 commemoration of the type’s 75th anniversary. But with little attention paid to the aircraft’s cosmetics during the restoration, N74589 hardly looked like the belle of the ball.
“The original plan was to get an old, ratty plane and show we could get it to Oshkosh,” said Eric Zipkin of Oxford, Connecticut, who currently pilots the DC-3.
Owner James Lyle, an Englishman living in New York City, planned to offer the aircraft for sale after the fly in.
But DC-3s, as their 76 years of history attests, have a way of sticking around, and the same holds true for N74589—which, as the restorers’ research found, is a true warbird.
“During World War II it did fly on D-Day with the 74th TCS Squadron, which towed gliders,” Zipkin said. [Author’s note: My father, Ralph Wynbrandt, was towed into D-Day on glider as a member of the 101st Screaming Eagles. His glider crashed shortly after takeoff; the soldiers were loaded aboard another glider and successfully towed across the English Channel. I wish he were around to see this airplane!]
“The airplane turned out to be in such good condition, and when we found out it had a genuine war history, James decided to keep it and paint it as close as possible to the markings it had on D-Day,” Zipkin said.
So this year the Cinderella DC-3/C-47 (C-47 is a military designation for the DC-3) is back, dressed in all her historic olive drab finery.
Lyle plans to restore the interior to an authentic wartime configuration, with benches along either side of the fuselage and navigator and radio operator’s station in the front.
“The challenge is going to be to find the little bits and pieces” for the interior, Zipkin said.
From basket case to airworthy
Future plans notwithstanding, the story of her improbable attendance last year bears recounting.
Two months before AirVenture 2010, N74589 was sitting in a field at the Covington Municipal Airport (9A1) in Georgia, vegetation growing through holes in the engineless airframe.
“It had been there as long as I’d been there,” said Richard Helton, a flight instructor in Covington who helped with the restoration.
“I knew it would be soft drink cans eventually. Somebody would have cut it up for scrap.”
Instead, Clive Edwards of London, proprietor of Edwards Brothers Aviation in Welling Kent, United Kingdom, decided to rescue the aircraft.
In April 2010, he and fellow Londoner John Dodd, a pilot for British Midland International Airlines, traveled to Covington to perform a pre-purchase inspection.
But by the time the sale was completed, AirVenture was less than eight weeks away.
With no logbooks, “We had to comply with every service bulletin, and every AD (Airworthiness Directive),” Edwards recalled.
“We had the wings off, the fuel tanks out, we replaced all the hoses…we completely rebuilt it.”
Helton joined the restoration effort after seeing the activity around the DC-3.
“The second week, I just kept standing in front of Clive until he gave me something to do,” Helton said. “So he gave me the dirtiest jobs.”
One step forward, one engine back…
On the first test flight, seven weeks after restoration began, an engine suffered a catastrophic failure.
“We were all disillusioned,” Edwards said, “and then we thought, ‘If we get another engine, we can still get to Oshkosh.’”
Lyle okayed the purchase, and four hours after the failure a new zero-time engine was on the ramp, the crew working furiously to repair the oil lines and other plumbing trashed in the engine failure.
Forty hours later, after one quick test flight, the crew took off for Oshkosh and their well-deserved heroes’ welcome.
This year’s journey to AirVenture may have involved less drama, but for Zipkin, who piloted the C-47 and has been coming to the fly-in since the 1980s, the arrival was still an emotional highpoint.
“This is the first time I’ve actually flown into Oshkosh proper,” said Zipkin.
“It’s really exciting. With everybody watching, you just hope you make a reasonable landing.”
For those who want to learn more, Richard Helton will be at the aircraft, located in the Warbirds area, to show attendees the airplane and explain the restoration.
His thoughts about having the aircraft he first knew as an abandoned hulk back at Oshkosh in her wartime livery?
“This brings us full circle,” Helton said.