The Douglas DC-3 or C-47 (military designation) still plays an important role in the Caribbean. As a hard working freighter it still flies daily with Four Star Aviation, which is based at San Juan Puerto Rico International airport. In between flights the Four Star fleet take time out on the hot & humid ramp. The prop unit on a right-hand Pratt and Whitney R1830 engine has just been replaced and the mechanic is using a special tool to fix the dome nut and oiling up the unit.
The airport of Villavicencio, Colombia ‘La Vanguardia’ is still considered the DC-3 capitol of the world. Sadelca Colombia is based at Villavicencio. When we visited the small airport back in September 1999 many DC-3s were still flying cargo and passengers to remote villages in the jungle. HK-3199 La Uva was being readied on the rain soaked ramp; the flight was eventually cancelled due to bad weather at the destination.
Further down the ramp at Villavicencio airport, I found this sharp looking DC-3 HK-1503 of Aerovanquardia Colombia receiving some attention. There are no fancy hangers at Villavicencio and most maintenance is done outside. This DC-3 was originally built as C-47B-50-DK model for the USAF in 1945 (Note: the extra features, such the clamshell landing gear doors, which is part of the original speed-pack installation)
At Opa Locka Airport Florida (September 1999), I caught up with these two mechanic’s working on an engine replacement. The 1200 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-92 Twin Wasp radial is almost ready to go. At the time of my visit Florida Air Cargo was operating several bare metal Beech 18s and 2 DC-3s on daily cargo flights to and from the Bahamas. Several years later it went out of business.
Cochabamba Bolivia is home to Lineas Aereas Canedo (LAC) with its fleet of single Super DC-3 and a single converted passenger C-46. LAC is one of the last surviving piston prop operator since the closure of the meat hauling business from La Paz to the low-lands province Beni. The dedicated LAC mechanics’ were busy replacing the HK-2421 Wright Cyclone 1820-C9 Single row. The engine failed due to contaminated fuel.
The mighty C-119 Flying Boxcar is a rare bird. Several can still be found in Alaska. When we visited Palmer airport we received the red carpet treatment by the folks of C119 owners. Both N1394N and N8501W have been stationary for some years now due to paperwork and financial problems. I was lucky to witness a ground-run and a short taxi of N8501W back in 2003. After the trill off fire and smoke the crew treated us with a typical Alaskan hamburger BBQ inside the bulbous C119 aft fuselage.
The Curtiss C-46 Commando is one of my favourite piston engine aircraft. Alaska is the last place where you can find them in regular fuel hauling and cargo service. Super C-46 N1837M developed some engine trouble on the Kenai ramp, so the engine cowling had to be raised in order to have the engine checked. Everts Air Fuel and Fuel have a total of 4 C-46s still in flying trim.
This ex Ken Borek Super DC-3 (C-117D) N28TN arrived at Anchorage Airport during the summer of 2007 and is now part of the Trans Northern (TN) fleet. TN uses it Super DC-3s on weekly cargo and hunting flights to and from the numerous lodges within the state of Alaska. Trans Northern doesn’t own a hanger so their DC-3s receive mechanical checks out on the oil soaked ramp.
This is the scene at Northern Air Cargo NAC maintenance hanger located at Anchorage International airport. Douglas DC-6 (C-118) N2907F was in for a regular D- inspection. All four Pratt & Whitney R-2800 BD17 Double Wasp radial engines received a detailed inspection before declared fit for flying. NAC was once the dominating force at Anchorage operating a fleet of 15 DC-6s. During the fall of 2008 the last flight with a NAC DC-6 took place and thus ended another chapter on this four engined freighter. Only two other DC-6 operator remain active in Alaska
Another icon in the world of piston engine freighters was Trans-Air-Link (TAL) out of Miami International Airport. In its heydays TAL operated many DC-6s and a single DC-7C within the Caribbean Islands. Known as ‘Sky Truck’ the DC-6s flew daily from Miami to San Juan and St Thomas. In its final days TAL moved to Opa Locka airport with 2 DC-6s. This was the ramp scene at Opa Locka in between flights as both DC-6s receive mechanical attention. The DC-6C is powered by four 2500 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800-CB17 radial engines giving it a cruising speed of 316 mph. sadly a few years later TAL went out of business. Another famous name disappeared into the history books.
Swartkop SAAM museum Pretoria used to be the home of the SA Historic Flight. I visited them during the winter of 2004. SA Historic Flight has now been relocated to Rand Airport, south-west of Johannesburg and has changed its name. At the time they operated a single Ju-52, DC-3 and two Douglas DC-4 Sky masters for local pleasure flights. Inside the huge hanger I came across DC-4-1009 ZS-BMH which underwent an engine change on the number 3 position.
Large number of surplus military Douglas C-54s (DC-4) found work as sprayers, borate bombers and freighters. Buffalo Airways of Yellowknife Northwest Territories Canada is a big user of the faithful Skymaster. Even today they are used as fuel and cargo haulers. We visited Yellowknife back in the summer of 1998. Buffalo’s DC-4 C-GPSH ‘freightliner’, one-time American Airlines flagship N90414, was used in daily service. At the time she was the oldest surviving DC-4 still in service. During Dec 2006 she was involved in a near fatal accident at Carat Lake mine, damaging hear forward fuselage. She was repaired and flown back to Yellowknife where C-GPSH now enjoys some piece and quiet.
South African Phoebus Apollo operates a mixed fleet from Johannesburg Rand Airport. Currently they still operated a single DC-3 and DC-4 freighter as well as a DC-9F. Additionally they also own a single ATL-98 Carvair, but it has been grounded for many years. Here is smart looking C-54E ZS-PAI being readied for a cargo flight to Lusaka.
Currently the biggest player in the heavy piston engine freighter scene is Everst Air Cargo. Based in Fairbanks and Anchorage International airport, Alaska it has the biggest operational C-46 and DC-6 fleet in the world. During the morning rush-hours Everst will have 2-3 DC-6 departures and a single C-46. During the short ground time the Everts loading crew and mechanic’s swarm over the a/c and correct any technical engine snags, refuel and even wash the bug splattered windows. The classic lines of the big Doug are evident in this frontal pose of Everts DC-6A/C N888DG.
Old American Airlines DC-7B(F) N381AA still going strong operating as a freighter out of Opa Locka (FL) airport. This one time La Mancha Air Inc (N101LM) DC-7 now flies with Florida Air Transport-Turks Air Ltd. Owner Carlos Gomez and his family of dedicated pilots and mechanics were working on the troublesome DC-7B Wright R-3350 18-cylinder radial engine. During my visit November 2006 the DC-7 was out of action due to some cylinder changes on engine number 4#. For the benefit of the photographer both engine number 1 & 2 where fired up and we were treated with the customary flames and smoky start up from the blackened exhausts.
Avra-Valley airport Arizona was the scene for this picture. We visited the home of the USA Constellation group back in August 2001 who operated a pristine C-121A Connie. This mechanic was working on one of the Connie’s Wright R3350 radial engines. Dutch C-121A Connie N749NL an ex Conifair Aviation budworm sprayer was also being worked on. The C-121A was a special short version model Connie build for the MATS and featured a extended nose radome, including radar and Curtiss electric propellers. Sharing the hot & dusty desert were a lone P2 Neptune and a bunch of unwanted Douglas C-54 Skymaster’s.
Another interesting cargo outfit operating from Opa-Locka airport is TMF Aircraft Inc. Currently operating two Super DC-3s (C-117D) freighters on daily cargo flights to the Bahamas Islands. During my visit only N32TN (ex Trans Northern from Alaska) was active. Sistership bare metal N587MB was parked on the TMF oil soaked ramp due to an unforeseen engine change. Under the hot and humid South Florida sky (35 degrees Celsius) the TMF Latino crew worked had to replace the Wright R1820 radial engine.
While strolling around the Brooks Fuel aircraft ramp, which is packed with a/c components and assorted junk I came across a interesting item; a dented and burned out Pratt & Whitney R-2000 Twin Wasp radial engine lying in a pool of water. Not sure why it was placed there? It apparently came of an unlucky Douglas DC-4 fuel hauler registered N82FA. The rest of the aircraft lay nearby Nenana airport where it had been brought after its gear up landing, when engine no #2 had caught fire. The crew attempted to divert of Nenena but failed and forced landed in the snow covered tundra. The poor old Skymaster is a write and now serves as parts donor.