Opa-locka Airport Propliners
Opa-locka Airport Propliners
This article was written in March 2017 and I haven’t updated the original text. Since then, TMF Aircraft C-117D N32TN was destroyed by Hurricane Irma in September 2017; TMF Aviation C-117D N587MB was moved to LaBelle Airport in 2018; Conquest Air Cargo CV340/C-131B N145GT was lost when it ditched into the Atlantic Ocean on February 8, 2019; and CV580 N581P went to Mexican operator Air Tribe in early 2018.
I first visited OPF in 2004 shortly after Carlos Gomez began the restoration of Eastern Airlines DC-7B N836D and was fascinated by the large collection of Propliners and the laid back atmosphere of the airport. Since then, I’ve made many trips to OPF and have witnessed many changes. The Miami-Dade Aviation Department aggressively markets the airport as the premier Miami gateway for corporate aircraft and the airport hosts Signature Flight Support, Orion Jet Center and Fontainebleau Aviation. All three FBO’s cater to high end corporate jet customers and, in an effort to spruce up the airport’s image, the airport authority has overseen the removal of most of the stored and derelict Propliners. In addition to the stored aircraft, there was a major aircraft scrapping operation going on in the southeastern corner of the airport with retired jetliners arriving on a regular basis to be scrapped. Aircraft ranged in size from DC-9s to B747’s and it was sad to see them shutting down their engines for the final time. The scrapper is now gone and the only stored Propliners I saw during my most recent visit were three Ukrainian AN-12s and a CV580. Airport development also includes non-aviation uses and recently a number of buildings dating back to WW II were torn down to make way for the construction of a 900,000 square foot distribution center for Amazon.com.
While most of the stored Propliners are gone, OPF is still home to six companies operating an assortment of vintage Propliners and is a must stop on the itinerary for any serious propliner enthusiast visiting the Miami area. While visitors are not free to roam the ramps as they were in the past, OPF is not the fortress that MIA has become and most operators are friendly and will allow escorted ramp visits if they’re not too busy. Current Propliner operators on the field include Florida Air Transport (FAT); Conquest Air Cargo (CAC); Florida Air Cargo (FAC); Miami Air Lease/Charterlines; Atlantic Air Cargo (AAC); and TMF Aircraft.
Located eleven miles north of downtown Miami, Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport (OPF) traces its roots back to the mid-1920s when aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss founded the City of Opa-locka. The airport became Naval Air Station Miami and was an important training base during WW II. Reverting to civilian ownership in the early 1960’s, the airport was renamed Opa-locka Airport and, for a short time in the mid-1960’s, it was ranked as the busiest airport in the world! Today OPF is one of five airports operated by the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, which explains the 2014 name change to Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport. The airport is also home to Coast Guard Air Station Miami.
FLORIDA AIR TRANSPORT (FAT)
Founded in 1982 as a Part 125 on-demand cargo operator, FAT is a subsidiary of Aero Group Holdings, LLC and specializes in aerial dispersant services for emergency oil spill response under Part 125 and 137. The company currently bases DC-6A (C-118B) N70BF at OPF and DC-4 N460WA at Castle Airport near Merced, California. FAT began aerial dispersant services during the summer of 2012 with the Merced based DC-4 followed shortly by the DC-6A at OPF in early 2013. N406WA had been operated by ARDCO for many years as a firebomber before being acquired by FAT in 2010 and converted to a dispersant sprayer a year later. N70BF saw service with a number of U.S. and Mexican operators after being retired by the U.S. Navy. FAT acquired the DC-6A in 2000 and it was used as a freighter prior to being converted to a dispersant sprayer in 2012. Prior to entering the aerial dispersant business, the company operated an assortment of DC-4, DC-6 and DC-7 aircraft on Part 125 cargo charters around the Caribbean and continental United States. With corporate offices in nearby Miami Lakes, Marc Wolff is the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) with Carlos Gomez its Chief Operating Officer (COO) and Thomas Cooper VP of Legal Affairs.
C-118A – N70BF – active (sprayer)
DC-4 – N460WA – active (sprayer based at Castle Airport, Merced, CA)
CONQUEST AIR CARGO (CAC)
CAC was established in 2013 and began Convair freight service to the Bahamas in October 2014 with C-131B N145GT. C-131F N345GS entered service in November 2015 followed recently by C-131F N343GS on February 24, 2017. CAC provides daily service to Nassau and on-demand service to Freeport, Abaco, and other Caribbean destinations, including Cuba. A subsidiary of Aero Group Holdings, LLC, CAC assets include a 20,000 square foot receiving facility/warehouse in Miami Lakes and a warehouse in Nassau, The Bahamas. In addition to the three Convairs currently in service, the company owns two former U.S. Navy C-131F aircraft currently stored in Tucson, Arizona and C-131F N342GS undergoing restoration at OPF. With offices in nearby Miami Lakes, the company’s management includes CEO/President Marc Wolff, President Thomas Cooper and COO Carlos Gomez.
C-131B – N145GT – active
C-131F – N343GS – active
C-131F – N345GS – active
C-131F – N342GS – under restoration at OPF
C-131F – N341GS – stored in Tucson
C-131F – N344GS – stored in Tucson
Carlos Gomez’s Propliner experience goes back to the 1970’s when, at a young age, he accompanied his father Martin on his rounds at MIA’s “Corrosion Corner” maintaining Propliners flown by the myriad of small freight airlines that operated out of MIA. Working with his father and Trans Air Link throughout high school and college, he amassed considerable knowledge about these vintage aircraft, which has served him well throughout the years.
FLORIDA AIR CARGO (FAC)
Established in 1994, Florida Air Cargo is a Part 135 on-demand cargo provider operating a fleet of three DC-3 aircraft. DC-3s N15MA, N271SE and N138FS along with Cessna Caravan N701SE are kept busy with daily flights delivering cargo for customers throughout the Bahamas, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Sergio Alen is the company’s President/Director of Maintenance and corporate offices are located on the airport.
N15MA was originally acquired by FAC in 1997 and saw service with the airline for more than a decade before being sold to Monarch Air Group, which was based at nearby Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport. Never operated by Monarch, the aircraft was sold in 2012 and spent a year in Massachusetts before returning to FAC in 2013. N271SE was acquired in 2012 from Fort Pierce based Missionary Flights international (MFI), where it had been registered N300MF. The aircraft still retains the basic MFI colors with prominent “Florida Air Cargo” titles on the fuselage. N138FS is leased by FAC and flew cargo around the Caribbean for many years while in service with San Juan, PR based Four Star Air Cargo. After Four Star ceased operations in 2009, the airline’s fleet of seven DC-3s were abandoned in San Juan and, all but two, were scrapped in 2015. N138FS was one of two that escaped the scrapman and it underwent a complete restoration before entering service with FAC in 2016.
DC-3 N271SE – active
DC-3 N15MA – active
DC-3 N138FS – active
MIAMI AIR LEASE/CHARTERLINES/ULTRA AIR MANAGEMENT
Miami Air Lease, Inc. is a Part 125 charter operator flying cargo to the Bahamas and other destinations throughout the Caribbean. The company began operations in 1971 and the current OPF based fleet consists of two Convairs. Miami Air Lease is owned by the Dube family, which also owns Charterlines and Ultra Aviation Management. Mark Dube is Miami Air Lease and Charterlines President/CEO and his father Raul the President of Ultra Aviation Management. Antonio Percio is the airline’s Director of Maintenance.
C-131E N41527 first appeared at OPF with Miami Air Lease titles in November 2009. Former Air Tahoma T-29B N150PA was acquired by Charterlines about the same time and operated in anonymous white colors with small “Operated by Charterlines” titles near the front passenger door. Both aircraft fly regularly and on September 18, 2015 N150PA and another former Air Tahoma T-29B were registered to Ultra Aviation Management. N156PA has been stored at Rickenbacker International Airport in Columbus, Ohio for at least ten years. The current plan is to make the aircraft airworthy and ferry it back to Florida, where it will join N150PA and N41527.
In addition to the two active Convairs, CV580 N581P has been stored on the Miami Air Lease ramp for a number of years. Over the past five years a number of CV580s have received mechanical attention by the company before moving on to a new owner in Mexico. The Convair is missing its props and rudder but appears to be in good condition and rumor has it that it will eventually join the other Convairs in Mexico.
CV240/T-29B N150PA – active
CV440 – N41527 – active
CV580 – N581P – stored
ATLANTIC AIR CARGO (AAC)
AAC traces its roots back to J&E Aviation Leasing, which began cargo operations in the mid-1980s. The company is owned by brothers Ernesto and Julio Castrillo, with Ernesto being the company’s President and Julio its Vice President and Chief Pilot. The company operates DC-3s N705GB and N437GB on regular cargo runs to the Bahamas and other Caribbean destinations under a Part 135 certificate. N705GB was acquired by J&E in November 1985 and N437GB in April 1997, with both aircraft currently registered to AAC. In 2004 N705GB had prominent Atlantic Air Cargo titles on the fuselage but both aircraft currently carry only small titles on the vertical stabilizer. Other than that, both aircraft appear much the same as they did in 2004.
In addition to AAC, the brothers also own Miami based J&E Aircraft Company with Julio as President and Ernesto as Vice President. The company is a Part 145 FAA approved engine overhaul and repair station operation and has been in business since the late 1970’s.
DC-3 N705GB – active
DC-3 N437GB – active
TMF Aircraft, Inc. is a Part 135 cargo operator based at OPF. The company received its operating certificate in October 2003 and until recently provided on-demand cargo service with C-117D Super DC-3’s N32TN and N587MB. The company’s primary routes included the Bahamas, but many other destinations in the Caribbean and US mainland were also served. The company’s president is Jesus “Tito” Melendez.
While the aircraft have been polished to a bright sheen and sport TMF Aircraft titles, I don’t think I’ve seen both aircraft with two engines installed during the past five years. During my February 2017 visit to OPF, N587MB was parked at the airport and there was no sign of N32TN. Apparently there have been no flights by TMF Aircraft for more than a year and N32TN is reportedly stored in Labelle, Florida. The good news is that N578MB had both its engines although the bottom cowling on the #1 engine had been removed. According to FlightAware, N32TN was flown from the Bahamas to OPF on May 23, 2016 with N587MB flying the same route on November 5, 2014. These very well might be the last revenue flights operated by these aircraft. One of these days I’ll have to make a trip to Labelle and check out the report on N32TN.
It’s interesting to note that N32TN was the first of one hundred R4D/C-47 aircraft converted by Douglas Aircraft to R4D-8/C-117D’s for the U.S. Navy. After being retired by the Navy in 1977 it saw service with Hawkins and Powers and a number of other operators before being acquired by TransNorthern Aviation in Anchorage in 2002. TransNorthern operated the aircraft in Douglas Aircraft company colors until it was sold to TMF Aircraft in 2005. N587MB was retired by the Navy in 1978 and acquired by TMF in January 2002.
C-117D Super DC-3 N587MB – stored
C-117D Super DC-3 N32TN – reportedly stored in Labelle, FL
Ralph M. Pettersen
Photo Credits: Marc Hookerman, Ralph M. Pettersen
----Created 4 March 2019----