Visiting the Photo-flying Days Fly In at the Belgium airfield of Zoersel- Malle (EBZR) on the 18 August 2012 gave me a change to get up close to a classic lady. It was the hottest weekend of 2012 with temperatures soaring up to 37 degrees C.
EBZR is an uncontrolled runway set in the middle of the woods near the town of Zoersel and used to be a former NATO reserve base with a concrete 10.000 ft runway. Currently its home to the ACPK Aero club
We arrived early in anticipation of the arrival of the 1940s vintage lady in the shape of the Breitling Douglas DC-3 HB-IRJ (c/n 2204). Several big Warbirds were parked alongside the taxiway and were slowly waking up. Amongst them a Hurricane, Spitfire, P51 Mustang, F4U Corsair, T-28 Trojan, two Grumman Avangers, Beech 18, T6 Texan, Stinson and many more. Special guest from the US was the Sikorsky S-38B ark and the Dutch DDA Classic airlines DC-3 which was giving rides. The Fly In was well organized with plenty of places to eat and drink, several aviation trade stands and stalls plus a re-enactors military village, complete with tents and jeeps.
Initially the star of the Fly In was going to be the Breitling Lockheed C-121C Super Constellation, but she was plagued with engine troubles, so Breitling send in its little sister. It was already starting to heat up so we took shelter from the burning sun at the BMW center of the a/c parking ramp. Several light aircraft started to arrive and at about 10.30 hours local a familiar DC-3 shape appeared on the horizon.
Smartly dressed blue and white DC-3 HB-IRJ roared passed the crowd and made a sharp 360 display turn in front of the early visitors and assembled photographers. Piloted by Capt. Hans Breitenmoser (A330 and Mirage, Hunter, Tiger pilot), Capt. Paul Zitzer (ex Crossair and Swiss International Airlines: plus Constellation C-121C pilot) and FA Elisabeth Zitzer, she landed smoothly on runway 23 and taxied next to our enclosure, and this location provided excellent photo conditions. The flight originated from Geneva Cointrin airport and took about 2 Hours 30 Minutes. Cruising at 125 Knots with a little tailwind with 14 passengers on board the flight lasted about 6 hours. This 3 day event was organized by the Air-to-Air Academy, Photoflying Days and the ACPK Aero-club, not as an Airshow but a special photographer Fly In. Part of the program was the opportunity to photograph the historic re-enactors and Pin up models close to the numerous aircraft. During the hot and sticky mid morning blazing sunshine I was able to capture Belgium Pin up model Laura Antonacci in and around the Breitling DC-3.
This DC-3 is a very unique example because it has been a true civil Dakota all her life. Most DC-3s (Dakotas) have been built as a C-47, militarily version with a large left-hand cargo door. HB-IRJ has its passenger door on the right-hand side an early configuration. She was built at the Santa Monica production line, as a Douglas DC-3-227B (c/n 2204) for American Airlines. Delivered as NC25658 'Cleveland' as fleet number 58, she was delivered to AA on the 12th March 1940.
Between April 1942 and April 1944 she was flown by the US Army Airforce; thereafter American Airlines took her back into its service. On February 24, 1949 she was bought by Trans Texas Airways, and installed Pratt & Whitney Twin R-1830 Wasp engines and became a DC-3A.
She next flew with Texas International during 1968.
In 1969 she was overhauled by Tradewinds Airmotive Inc, and on December 16, 1971 she began her second major airline career with Provincetown-Boston-Airlines (PBA) for which she worked as a commuter aircraft with the registration N34PB. She was at the top of her career when N34PB flew in Florida in Eastern Express colors in 1987. After the end of PBA, she was leased by Bar Harbour Airlines in 1988; this adventure however was terminated shortly thereafter.
It was not until July 1992 when she was once again taken into service, this time by a carrier named Champlain Air, which took over the 30-seater and re-registered her as N922CA and called her 'Priscilla'. In 2008 she was bought by Francisco Agullo and brought to Opa Locka airport Florida, where she received a major overhaul and new paint job by Carlos Gomez.
In the spring of 2009 she was flown from Florida to Switzerland over the North Atlantic and was registered as HB-IRJ. It is now operated by the Super Constellation Flyers Association and used by Breitling for advertising purposes.
Douglas reference-source: 1987 Douglas DC-3 Survivors – Arthur Pearcy & Super Constellation Flyers Association. And special thanks to Captain Paul Zitzer.