January 2019 Visit to Shell Creek Airport – March 7, 2019
If you’re in the area and like DC-3’s, stop by the airport…there are no fences and plenty of interesting aircraft to explore and photograph. If you’re lucky, Frank or son’s Glen or Charlie might even be around. They're a very friendly bunch and always welcome enthusiasts.
Tony Merton Jones and I visited Shell Creek Airport on January 25, 2019. The airport is five miles east of Punta Gorda Airport and is home to Propliner icon Frank Moss and his family. The airport has a 2,600 x 110 foot turf runway and is also home to an aerial application operation and a very active skydiving club. Frank has a hangar at the north end of the field and another hangar, home to a spraying operation is at the south end. Until recently former Monroe County Mosquito Control District DC-3s N213GB and N220GB were parked at the south end of the field. N213GB departed for a museum in Holland in the fall of 2018 and N220GB moved north and is currently parked adjacent to Frank’s hangar. Frank and family live on the airport in a house at the south end and are currently building a modern hangar nearby to support their various aviation endeavors. In addition DST N133D, DC-3 N130D and the disassembled remains of DST XA-RPD and DC-3 N7500A are parked in and around the Moss hangar. N7500A was once owned by John Travolta and was damaged by a hurricane at Opa-locka Airport a number of years ago. During its days with Academy Airlines, N130D was painted with an animal mural and was nicknamed ‘Animal Crackers’. If you look hard enough, you can still see the remnants of the mural. In addition to the aircraft at Shell Creek, Frank and his son Glen rescued DC-3 N408D 'Lady Luck' from a small airport in Illinois and ferried it to Punta Gorda Airport, where they are currently restoring it. The aircraft was used for skydiving for many years before being retired and put out to pasture.
Conquest Air Cargo Acquires a Turboprop YS-11 – February 10, 2019 (March 5, 2019 Update)
Former Aero JBR YS-11 XA-UFJ was recently acquired by Conquest Air Cargo and arrived at Opa-locka Airport on December 29, 2018. The airplane had been stored in Hondo, Texas and was advertised for sale with "lots of spares" for $175K in the August 21, 2018 issue of Trade-A- Plane. While the Convairs have served Conquest well, management decided it was time to upgrade to turboprop equipment and the YS-11 was chosen due to its low acquisition cost and availability.
A second YS-11 is expected to arrive at Opa-locka in early 2019 with two additional aircraft later in 2019. The YS-11’s will be operated on Conquest’s Part 135 certificate with flights to the Bahamas and other destinations in the Caribbean and continental United States. Fields Airmotive in South Africa is currently overhauling RR Dart engines and has made assurances that they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. While the aircraft was registered N775GS in January, maintenance and operation manuals have to be written and approved by the FAA so the aircraft will probably not enter service for six to nine months. While this is an exciting development, the sad truth is that it probably spells the end of Conquest’s Convair operations. (March 5, 2019 Update: Johan Starrenburg forwarded a March 3, 2019 photo of the YS-11 with N775GS markings.)
TMF Super DC-3 Departs Opa-locka Airport – March 3, 2019
TMF Aircraft surrendered its Part 135 certificate in early 2017 and ceased operations. The company’s two polished Super DC-3s had operated out of Opa-locka Airport for many years flying freight to the Bahamas and other Caribbean destinations. The company hadn't been active for at least a year prior to the shutdown with N587MB parked at Opa-locka and N32TN parked engineless at LaBelle, Florida. Sadly, N32TN was destroyed by Hurricane Irma when it struck LaBelle on September 11, 2017. Sometime in 2018, N587MB was flown from Opa-locka to LaBelle, where Michael Kelly photographed her on February 21, 2019. Let’s hope she fares better at LaBelle than her sister!
Conquest Air Cargo Convair Ditches in Atlantic - February 10, 2019
Conquest Air Cargo C-131B (CV340) N145GT ditched in the Atlantic Ocean at 12:15pm on February 8, 2019 about 19 miles east of its destination Opa-locka Airport (OPF). The aircraft had completed a routine cargo flight to the Bahamas and was returning to OPF when the pilots declared an emergency. As luck would have it, a US Coast Guard helicopter was in the vicinity and the co-pilot, Rolland Silva, was quickly located in a small inflatable life raft and rescued. Additional rescue boats arrived shortly and the search continued for 21 hours for the missing pilot but no signs of Captain Robert Hopkins were found and the search was called off. The aircraft apparently broke up while attempting the water landing as the left wing was found floating in the ocean. The Convair was delivered to the USAF in 1955 and had been operated by Conquest since 2013.
Missionary Flights International Restoration Project – February 10, 2019
Work is progressing well on the restoration of DC-3C-65TP N300MF at Missionary Flights International (MFI) headquarters in Fort Pierce, Florida. Prior to being acquired by MFI, the aircraft had been stored for a number of years partially disassembled in Lanseria, South Africa. After being reassembled and made airworthy, an MFI flightcrew ferried the aircraft 9,800 miles back to MFI headquarters, where it arrived on May 16, 2017.
The aircraft is undergoing a complete restoration by MFI mechanics and volunteers at Fort Pierce prior to entering service alongside the organizations other DC-3C-65TP aircraft, N200MF and N500MF. Ian Hengst is MFI’s Director of Operations and is the project lead on the restoration. He estimates that it will take about two years to complete the project, which will bring the aircraft to the same configuration as N200MF and N500MF. While most of the DC-3C-65TP turboprop conversions were performed in South Africa for that country’s air force, N300MF was the first of its type and was converted by Fort Worth, Texas based AMI in 1986. Preferred Turbine 3 of Kidron, Ohio currently holds the certificate for the conversion and is providing technical support.
Initially efforts focused on inspecting the aircraft’s structure and performing sheet metal repairs. Inspection has shown the aircraft to be in good condition with minimal corrosion. Once the sheet metal work is complete, techs will move on to the wiring, plumbing, cabin insulation, landing gear, engines, radios/avionics and instruments. In addition, a mod kit will be installed increasing the aircraft’s gross weight to 29,000 pounds. This involves reinforcing the wings and the wing attachment points and will allow the aircraft to carry an 8,500 pound and five hours of fuel. This modification will allow non-stop flights to Haiti with a full load and has already been incorporated on N200MF.
Skilled techs are always in demand and MFI is currently looking for volunteers to work on their aircraft. Housing is available to volunteers on an as-available basis. If you’ve got the skills and would like to work on some iconic aircraft, give the folks at MFI a call on 772-462-2395. For additional information about MFI, check out their website at http://www.missionaryflights.org.
Fourth Convair Joins the Conquest Air Cargo Fleet – February 10, 2019
In August 2016 Carlos Gomez and a small crew of mechanics rescued two C-131F aircraft from a Tucson boneyard, where they had been stored since the mid-1980s. In less than three weeks, both aircraft were airworthy and the FAA had issued ferry permits authorizing flights to Conquest Air Cargo headquarters at Opa-locka Airport in Miami. N343GS/BuNo 141022 was restored first and entered service with Conquest on February 24, 2017 when it joined C-131’s N145GT and N345GS on regular cargo flights out of Opa-locka to the Bahamas and other Caribbean destinations.
The second aircraft, N342GS/BuNo 141016, was a bit special in that it flew former U.S. president Harry S. Truman on a roundtrip flight from Kansas City to Las Vegas in 1961 for a speaking engagement. When it arrived at Opa-locka Airport on August 26, 2016 the Convair still retained its original U.S. Navy VIP interior with a small executive seating area in the front of the cabin and regular 4-across seating in the rear. It was a time capsule but none of it could be saved when the aircraft was converted to a freighter. By August 2017 the restoration of the airframe was nearing completion but Hurricane Irma delayed this with her September 11, 2017 visit to Miami. Conquest’s other three Convairs were evacuated but N342GS wasn’t airworthy and, although chained down, the hurricane winds tossed the airplane on its tail causing damage to the rear fuselage. Luckily, Conquest had two more C-131F’s stored at the Tucson scrapyard and the damaged section was replaced. With the replacement of 1950’s era avionics with modern equipment, the restoration was complete. Appropriately named “Truman,” the aircraft made its first test flight on April 4, 2018 joined Conquest’s Convair’s fleet when it made its first revenue flight on April 23rd.
In an effort to increase the versatility of the Convair fleet, a number of the aircraft, including “Truman,” have been fitted with a quick change spray dispersant systems allowing them to rapidly respond to ocean oil spills. (See far right photo above) Hopefully this will allow at least some of the Convairs to be retained once the YS-11s have entered service.
----Created 10 February 2019------Updated 7 March 2019----