Avra Valley DC-4s

End of the Line for Avra Valley DC-4s

August 2021

Propliner Haven
Due to its large collection of Propliners, Marana Regional Airport has long been a must stop for enthusiasts . Until recently, the airport was home to Constellations, DC-4/C-54s, a P2V and an occasional Convair or DC-3. The Constellations are long gone and soon Bill Dempsay’s four remaining DC-4/C-54s will also be gone. During my first visit to the airport in 1997, Dempsay had six DC-4/C-54s and a P2V parked at the airport. All were former Central Air Service firebombers that had been flown to the airport to await their next firefighting assignment. They included N6816D #109, N96451 #111, N67040 #147, N67062 #148, N67034 #150 and N31356 along with P2V N80232.

The next assignments never happened and over the ensuing years the aircraft became airport fixtures with only two managing to escape. N67062 #148 was ferried by Dempsay to March Field Air Museum in January 2002 and is currently on display as BuNo 56514. N31356 was flown across the Atlantic to North Weald Airfield in September 2002 for a motion picture about the Berlin Airlift that never happened. Scrapped in 2015, its nose section is currently on display at the Burtonwood Heritage Center.

Dempsay Aircraft Advertised For Sale
The remaining aircraft continued to bake in the harsh desert environment racking up storage fees with little hope of escape until December 2019 when it was announced that they were for sale. Dempsay was paying $30,000 a year to store the aircraft and unfortunately, if the aircraft couldn’t be sold whole, they would be parted out. In addition to the Arizona aircraft, Dempsay also owned three DC-4/C-54s parked at his farm airport in Rantoul, Kansas. They are N816D #102, N96454 #105 and N67061 #146, which I photographed on a very cloudy and wet day in July 2006. I don’t believe they have been sold or parted out yet and, if anyone knows different, please email me at connieman@comcast.net.

Dempsay Aircraft Acquired by Alaska Air Fuel and Scroggins Aviation Mockup and Effects
By September 2020, N96451 #111 had been sold to Alaska Air Fuel (AAF) and all of the useful parts on N6816D #109, N67040 #147 and N67034 #150 had been removed, including engines and cockpit components. The tailless remains of N67040 #147 had been sold to Doug Scroggins for a motion picture project. Doug owns Scroggins Aviation Mockup & Effects a Las Vegas, Nevada based company, which is a major supplier of aircraft and helicopter studio mockups for motion picture and television productions. Doug plans on removing the wings and landing gear before transporting the fuselage to his storage yard at Mojave Air and Space Port in California in the fall of 2021 when the Arizona desert temps moderate a bit.
Scroggins also bought the remains of N6816D #109 and N67034 #150 in November 2020 and has since sold both to Alaska Air Fuel for parts reclamation. Along with N67040 #147, both N6816D #109 and N67034 #150 were sitting on their landing gear with their wings still attached. The tail of N6816D #109 had earlier been removed and shipped to Alaska, most likely used for the repair of DC-4 N3054V. The aircraft’s nose was bought by a local collector and removed in February 2021. The aircraft suffered a final indignity of having its fuselage skin removed for the production of luggage tags by Motoart. With its tail, nose and much of its fuselage skin removed, it’s a sad sight indeed! As this article goes to print, N96451 #111 has yet to be ferried to Alaska; the three other DC-4/C-54’s remain at the airport in various states of completeness; and P2V N80232 has reportedly been sold to a new owner at the airport.

Dempsay’s Mystery DC-4
Doug Scroggins contacted me in early February and told me about a mystery he had uncovered regarding the identity of N6816D #109. He had recovered the AAF data plate, which specified that the aircraft was C-54D, DAC s/n 22194, BuNo 56543 and AAF 44-9142. The only problem was that AAF 44-9142 had been assigned to C-54E, DAC s/n 27368, BuNo 90412, which last carried the civilian registration N96361. According to the NTSB report, N96361 ditched into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Washington in December 1986. The correct AAF serial number for DAC s/n 22194/BuNo 56543 is 43-17244. This aircraft was reported to have been withdrawn from use in Villavicencio, Colombia as HK-1807.
Doug kept on investigating and found numerous identification tags attached to the interior fuselage skin of N6816D #109, which confirmed that aircraft was indeed BuNo 56543. Doug also found the remnants of the Colombian registration HK-1807 on the upper right wing. These two findings confirm that N6816D #109 is indeed DAC s/n 22194 and not s/n 27368 as has been widely reported in numerous reference books and internet sites. To add to the confusion, N6816D #109 has also been reported as DAC s/n 27376, which is the serial number assigned to Dempsay’s DC-4/C-54 N816D #102.
To say the least, there has been much confusion regarding the identity of N6816D #109 and it all started when apparently someone marked the AAF data plate with the incorrect AAF seral 44-9142. This mistake was repeated on subsequent FAA paperwork that perpetuated the confusion. Some reports had N96361 being reborn as N6816D #109 after the December 1986 ditching and suggested insurance fraud was involved. Based on Doug’s investigation, he believes that N96361/27368 did indeed ditch into the Pacific Ocean in December 1986 and that HK-1807/22194 did not “die” in Villavicencio and in fact was acquired by Bill Dempsay and converted into firebomber N6168D #109.

To add just a little bit more confusion surrounding this small group of aircraft, N60740 #147 was VC-54N BuNo 90392 during its military service with the U.S. Navy. A C-54/DC-4 was on display at MCAS, El Toro and later MCAS, Miramar for a number of years in USMC markings as BuNo 90392. The actual identity of this aircraft is C-54A 42-72209, which also carried the civilian registration N74183 after retirement from military service.

Having been in the aircraft dismantling business for a number of years, this is not Doug’s first experience of finding a “mystery” airframe that he ultimately identified. I’d like to thank Doug for including me in his investigation and for providing many of the photos used for the article.

Ralph M. Pettersen
August 2021

Photo Credits: Doug Scroggins, Ralph M. Pettersen

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----Created 15 August 2021----