As part of a South American aviation tour through Colombia and Venezuela (August 1999), my friend and I decided to visit the small city of Villavicencio, which was and still is, the Douglas DC-3 Capitol of South America. We started out in Miami and boarded a Servivensa Boeing B-737 jet to Caracas Maiqetia ‘Simon Bolivar’ International Airport. Servivensa, which was part of Avensa, issued out an Air-passes, which enabled us to tour the country and make a cross border stop at Bogota, Colombia. Due to technical problems with our outbound B-727 jet, we arrived late at Bogota Eldorado International Airport. After an interesting taxi ride to our hotel, located in the heart of Bogota, we finally get some time to sleep. The next day we bargained for a taxi that could bring us to the city of Villavicencio, which is about a 2-3 hours drive, through the mountains. At a price of 70 dollars we managed to get a hotel taxi and headed out the next day.

Villavicencio (VVC) is the capital city of the Meta province, which is located South East of the Colombia capital city of Bogota. Villavicencio has a population of about 400.000 inhabitants and it lies next to the Guatiquia river. VVC lies between the slopes of the Andean Mountains and on the edge of the Colombian plain called Los Llanos. VVC is also called La Puerta al Llano, or the Gateway to the Llanos.

Villavicencio's proximity to huge mountains and great plains make the city an example of Colombia's geo-diversity. Because it is located on the footholds of the Andes, the early and evening breezes cool the city, which is very hot for most of the day

Villavicencio has grown from a small settlement in the 1850s to an uncontrolled and disparate city of over 400,000+ inhabitants in 2007. It is a vast modern city which has grown out of control. It does not have clean water for all of its inhabitants, its sanitary system does not exist in poor neighbours, and even its electrical grid is not sufficient to meet the needs of the city. A modern road has shortened the driving time to one and half hours to Bogotá. This road is guarded by the military for and tourist can now safely travel this route.

Cattle, agriculture and Oil, are the main ingredients for Villavicencio economy. Beer and soap are manufactured locally in Villavicencio. Exports from the surrounding area include coffee, bananas, and rice.

Colombia suffers from an internal conflict involving rebel guerrilla groups, paramilitary militias, drug trafficking and corruption. The conflict originated around 1964-1966, when the FARC and the ELN were founded and began their guerrilla insurgency campaigns against successive Colombian government administrations. Additionally Colombia has held a negative travel advisory for many years. Since the new president in power, the tourist figures have been on the rise. Because of this fact, for many years, I have been very hesitant to travel to Colombia. But due to some close friends who visited VVC the year before and have provided me with some good contacts at the airport, I decides it was time to go. We arrived at the Llanos Hotel, a 4**** International hotel located on the outskirts of Villavicencio. Despite the size of the hotel, my friend and I were the only Europeans travellers in the hotel.

Villavicencio Airport Villavicencio Airport (VVC), also known as La Vanguardia Airport is located near the Guatiquie River on the edge of the city. The airport has a single asphalt runway (05/23) which is 1,384 feet long. It serves national charter and cargo airlines as well as private sectors. The airport operations are limited between 08.00 to 18.00 hours due to no means of ramp and runway lighting. The airport has a single small terminal building which caters a small cafeteria on the first floor, which overlooks the main parking ramp. A heavy military presence surrounds the tiny terminal most of the times. The drug problem has meant that ramp security is high with police and military patrolling the active ramp.

Frequent serving airlines are Aires SA and Satena connecting VVC with the capital city of Bogota. Several small cargo companies are located on the North side, along the full length of the runway. Back in the hey-days of the big propliners Villavicencio airport was a very active place. Numerous companies with DC-4s, C-46s and DC-6s flew passengers and cargo to the many savannah and Amazon destinations. During our visit the veteran DC-3/C-47 has taken over much of that work. Several companies such as:Aerovilla, Latina, Viarco, Alliansa, Sadelca, Ades, Air Colombia and Aerovanguardia where active on mixed cargo and passenger flights to Yopal, Macarena, Mitu, Mira Flores, Carreno and Inirida.

Douglas DC-3 listing, at Villavicencio September 1999.

Sadelca – Sociedad Areas del Caqueta
Aeropuerto Vanguardia, Apartado Aerea 3151, VVC

HK-3199 (26044): built as a C-47B-5-DK September 1944 for the USAF as 43-48783. Arrived Colombia April 1976 with Satena (1123), HK-3199 with SARPA, COSTA, Aerovilla (la Uva), TCA ex Aerovanguardia (El Viego), currently with Aerovanguardia 04-2007

HK-3286 (6144): built as a C-47 December 1942 to the USAF as 41-38685, ex PAA NC22434, COPA RX-86, HP-86, HK-3286 Alas Chiricanas SA, Sadelca (Liliana)

HK-2494 ((33105): built as a TC-47B-30-DK for the USN (R4D-7) as 99826 up to 1971, ex N87611 University of Texas, SAEP Ltda 1980, Sadelca September 1999

HK-4189 (4319): built as a C-47-DL April 1942 for the USAF as 41-7820, ex TC-ALA, N53F, N2111M, left Miami Feb. 1980 to Colombia, impounded Madrid AFB (1990-1993) to Sadelca February 1995.

Aliansa Colombia – Aerolineas Andinas SA
Aeropuerto Vanguardia, Carrera 19, No34-99, VVC

HK-2581 (27006): built as a C-47B-23-DK in 1945 for the USAF as 43-49745, became civil in 1974 as N94470, HK-2581X TALA Ltd, later impounded, to Saerca 1995, to Aliansa September 1997 -crashed 10 November 1999 at high grounds near La Montanito.

HK-2820 (20171): built as a C-47A-90-DL during 1944 for the USAF as 43-15705, ex Northwest Airlines as NC79055 November 1951, Ozark Airlines, N151D, left the US 1974, impounded in Colombia, HK-2820X VIAS 1993-1990, LAN (1991) to Aliansa 1992Current with Aliansa seen at VVC 04-2007

HK-3077 (20548): built as a C-47A-90-DL during 1944 to the USAF as 43-16082, went civil in 1970, with Desert Air Parts as N17779 until1992, Jim Hankins Air Services, to Colombia with TALA Ltda as 3037, Aliansa September 1999

HK-122 (4414): built as a C-47-DL May 1942 for the USAF as 41-18376, ex NC22421 to Avianca July 1947, HK-122 LAOS, El Venado, Aeronorte (1977-1979), Selva (1980-1994), Lineas Aereas El Dorado Ltda at Bogota 1995, under rebuilt Sept 1999 with Aliansa,Current with Aliansa seen at VVC 04-2007

Viarco – Vias Aereas Colombianas
Aeropuerto Vanguardia

HK-3349 (11825): built as a C-47A-DK in 1943 for the USAF as 42-92066, ex FA Ecuatoriana January 1948 as FAE 92066/HC-AVC, TAME (1971-1974) aircraft then preserved at Guayaquil (1982-1985), TAGUA January 1993, Aerovilla November 1993, ex ALICOL, Sadelca and to Viarco September 1995

Latina – Lineas Aereas Latina
Aeropuerto Vanguardia

>HK-1212 (4987): built as a C-53-DO/DC-3-455 for Douglas aircraft Corp as NC14277, converted to a C-49J model (1942), ex TWA as NC30081, ex N76B with Baldex Corp, Grumman Corp, converted to a DC-3A model, to Colombia 1960, HK-1212 with Cessnyca Ltda, wfu Medellin, Sadelca 1977, aircraft refitted with C-47 side cargo doors during 1986, Latina 1994 (La Viga) – force landed near Carimagua 2004 – operational status ?

Aerovilla Colombia – Aerovilla Ltda
Aeropuerto Vanguardia

HK-3292 (19661): built as a C-47A-80-DL model during 1944 destined for the USAF as 43-15195. Stored at D.M. AFB 1960, entered civil life as N87645 with Aero American Corp, ex C-GABG Air Brazeau 1976, Quebec Aviation Ltd, Transfair Inc, N91015, HK-3292X with Air Colombia Bogotá 1988 to 1995, Aerovilla, Air Colombia

Aerovanguardia – Aerovias Vanguardia
Aeropuerto Vanguardia

HK-2663 (10201): built as a C-47A-60-DL September 1943 for the USAF as 42-24339, to the RCAF September 1943, ex Musat-Oman AF as 502 (1969), LN-TVA (1972), to Canada as C-GSTA with Ontario Central airlines, HK-2663X (1981), Sadelca, LA Suramericanas (1992), SAEP 1994 std Bogota, current with ARAL – Aerolineas Llaneras at VVC 04-2007

HK-1503 (34331): built as a C-47B-50-DK during 1945 to the USAF as 45-1061, stored at Davis Monthan AFB Arizona, ex NC54336 Flamingo Air Services, to Col. Petr. Corp 1947, C-1503X (C1503E), HK-1503E TEA Buelvas, HK-1503W, HK-1503P with Avesca at Bogota 1984, at VVC November 1993, was reported w/o during 2004

Police National

PNC-211 (25667): originally built as a C-47B-1-DK model during 1944 and was destined for the USAF with code: 43-48406, went to the Czech AF 1946 as OK-WZA, ex D-CABE, 4X-AOA, 1962 with French NAVY as 48406, ex Basler Flight Services N95BF September 1985, with Skycraft, converted by Basler to a BT-67 model: number 14, sold to Colombian Police as PNC-211 November 1992

ADES Colombia – Aerolineas Del Este, Ltda
Apartado Aerea 2851, Villavicencio

HK-1149 (26593): built as a C-47B-15-DK model for the USN 1944, ex CAA N3671G 1959, ex N69 CAA, to Colombia as HK-1149G with the department de aeronautical civil, Interandes 1988 – 1995, to ADES September 1997, now with Sadelca full colours white and red colours seen VVC 04-2007

Transamazonica – Transporte Aerea De La Amazonica Ltda

HK-1175 (20432): built as a C-47A-90-DL during 1944 for the USAF as 43-15966, ex NC53474 R.W.Duff Miami, NC65743, N3935C Miami Airlines, CF-DME with Montreal Air Services, N5592A, and registration cancelled 1964, HK-1175, Urraca 1964 – 1975. Now current with Air Colombia full colours 04-2007

HK-3359 (34295): built as a C-47B-45-DK during 1945 for the USAF as 45-1027, in storage 1960, ex N87637, CF-TFV Reindeer Air services, registration cancelled 1988, HK-3359X to Transamazonica December 1987, wfu at VVC 1997

TAERCO Colombia – Taxi Aerea Colombiano, Ltda

HK-1315 (4307): built as a C-47-DL during 1942 as 41-7808, ex NC50037 Lone Star Aviation, PP-DQA, PP-ANG with TAN – REAL – VARIG, HK-1315 with Avianca September 1966, Urraca, SANTA, Taxi El Venado, TAC (1987), wfu Villavicencio September 1999, airworthy with Viarco 2001

LACOL – lineas Aereas Colombianas

HK-3215 (26111): built as a C-47B-5-DK model during September 1944 to RAF as KJ938, ex G-ANTC Transair Ltd (1954), C-GOZA Kenting Aviation, Ken Borek, ex G-ANTC Air Atlantique June 1982, N4261P Sky freight Airlines Inc. N124SF, to Colombia 1985 as HK-3215X to Lacol, fuselage and wings wfu – stored VVC September 1999.

LANC – Lineas Aereas del Norte de Colombia

HK-2497 (27079): built as a C-47B-20-DK during 1945 went to RAF as KN213, went to Holland as PH-TFG with Aero Holland, as N94531 with Mallard air Services, N1C with Sears, N423MB to the American air museum 1970, to Colombia as HK-2497X with Lineas Aereas Perez (1982) at VVC, ex HK-2497P, HK-2497 Transamazonica (1993), LAN Colombia (Captain pin), fuselage stored seen September 1999, under restoration 1997 at VVC

ALCOM Colombia – Aerolineas Comerciales Del Meta, Ltda

HK- 4045 (25808): built as a C-47B-1-DK model and delivered to the RAF August 1944 as KJ869, went to the Air Power Museum 1970 as N10004. ex Air Siesta inc, Mc Allen aviation, West Indian Fruit Company, HP-1176CTH Panama Cargo three, I saw it as Eagle Wings St-Lucia at Opa-Locka 04-1990, HK-4045x with LAMA at Medellin 1991, Alcom February 1997, noted at VVC with Alcom September 1999, wfu VVC

Source - info: Air Britain DC-1-2-3, The First Seventy Years 2006


A special tribute:
When we arrived at the airport, we first visited the Air Colombia offices and where greeted by Captain Luis Hernan Wilson, also known as major Wilson. Captain Wilson, an experienced DC-3 and DC-6 pilot, welcomed us and gave us a tour of the Air Colombia ramp and facility. Several days later Major Wilson offered us a DC-3 ride to the Indian village of La Padrera (near the Brazilian border) in order to pick up a load of fresh fish. This was a once in a life time opportunity. We got to meet the crew DC-3 crew, co-pilot Pablo Mauricio Tovar and Captain Joaquin Hernan Sanclemente. We were as well very welcome on the Sadelca Ltda ramp. I remember we were greeted buy a very attractive dark haired lady, Martha Valencia Parade, the general manager who was very excited when we handed several European aviation magazines. At the time Sadelca was very active with three airworthy DC-3s.
The third major DC-3 operator was Aliansa – Aerolineas Andinas S.A. and we met up with Captain Jorge Luis Alvarez Rodriguez who was the president of Aliansa. Jorge was a really very nice man and he invited us to his office and maintenance shop. Treated in a official manner, us two Dutch photographers where shown the engine shop and we witnessed a full DC-3 engine run. For me Jorge and Aliansa are well known, because they appeared in a 1982 BBC documentary about classic engineering designs, featuring a DC-3. The BBC crew filmed at Villavicencio. Later that day we also met Jorge’s sister, Nubia a DC-3 pilot, which also starred in the BBC documentary.
At the time Aliansa had three DC-3s up and running. Two months after our visit one of his DC-3s, HK-2581 crashed into high ground at La Montanito. The following year I had received a letter from Jorge with some interesting news about this crash. He wrote: the DC-3 departed Orito at 06.40 hours for Villavicencio. At 07.20 he was above the Florencia VOR at 11.500 ft and the last message was received at the Florencia tower. Later they found the DC-3 wreckage spread out over an area of 7 kilometres. Two crew members and 2 passengers lost their lives. Acc to Jorge the events around the crash were suspicious, looking at the wreckage he believed that the HK-2581 was involved in an air to air crash…which the official Colombian investigators have not confirmed. Several years later I received most distressing news about Captain Jorge. He was killed in a shooting incident at the airport. Not sure if this was related to his personal life or to his airline company. You never know in Colombia.

These pages are dedicated to Jorge Luis Alvarez Rodriguez and the DC-3 crews of Vanguardia Airport.

Michael S. Prophet June 2007