Turin Aviation C-47
Turin Aviation Group C-47B Restoration
A few minutes before sunset on December 2, 2017 C-47B N834M landed at Tampa Executive Airport after a 1 hour 15 minute flight from Keystone Heights Airport. The flight was the culmination of a five-month effort by the folks at the Turin Aviation Group to prepare the aircraft for the short ferry flight.
N834M was delivered to the USAAF in October 1944 as 43-48950 and assigned to the IX Troop Carrier Command in Europe. In addition to carrying cargo and evacuating wounded soldiers throughout the European Theatre of Operations, the aircraft dropped paratroopers during Operation Varsity in March 1945. Returning to the U.S. after the war, the aircraft served with the USAF until October 1968, when it was transferred to the U.S. Army. Finally retired by the military in 1975, N834M was one of a half dozen surplus C-47s acquired by the Lee County Mosquito Control District (LCMCD) in Fort Meyers, Florida. Converted to a mosquito sprayer, N834M served faithfully for 37 years with the aircraft flying its last spray mission in June 2012. The aircraft was donated to the Wings of Dreams Aviation Museum and flown to the museum at Keystone Heights Airport in Starke, Florida on January 23, 2013. It had not flown since arriving at Keystone and it appeared that it would remain permanently grounded.
Ed Franco, CEO of Turin Aviation Group, was in the market for a DC-3/C-47 when he heard that N834M might be available for repairs and potential acquisition. He contacted Bob Oehl, who is the Executive Director of the Wings of Dreams Aviation Museum and a deal was struck with Turin Aviation. While LCMCD had meticulously maintained the aircraft, four years of being parked outdoors had taken a toll on the aircraft and it took five months to get N834M ready for the ferry flight to Tampa. Ed and mechanics from Turin Aviation rebuilt the electrical system; installed two new carburetors; repaired the fabric control surfaces; repaired fuel leaks; replaced filters; serviced the hydraulic system and spent a considerable amount of time getting the engines ready for the flight.
On the morning of December 2, 2017, with ferry permit in hand, Ed, Jonathan Bennett, Bob Oehl and Aaron Poidevin along with Frank and Glen Moss arrived in Keystone Heights to make the final preps for the ferry flight. Old airplanes can be finicky and the C-47B kept the crew busy most of the day correcting a leaking Gascolator seal. By late afternoon the problem had been corrected and the aircraft finally departed Keystone Heights at 4:15pm with a Cessna 310 chase plane in tail. With Glen Moss in command, Frank Moss in the right seat (both are also A&P mechanics) and Bob Oehl acting as safety pilot, the flight was completed at a leisurely 115 knots with the landing gear extended. The flight crew reported that the veteran aircraft flew well with no significant issues encountered during the flight. The aircraft arrived at Tampa Executive Airport shortly before 5:30pm, where it was met by a large group of friends and well-wishers.
In early 2018 Turin moved its base of operations to Zephyrhills Municipal Airport and on February 22nd N834M made the short ferry flight to its new home. It’s interesting to note that, since LCMCD was considered a Public Aircraft Operator, the aircraft was never “civilianized” to a DC-3.
Zephyrhills is only about an hour drive from my home in central Florida and I’ve made a number of visits in 2018. Walking onto the Turin ramp on June 27, 2018, it was obvious that much progress had been made since the aircraft. It had been painted in WWII era olive drab colors with D-Day invasion stripes. The invasion stripes were painted on using brushes with no masking, much like it would have been done during WWII. The exact paint color was based on a panel found buried deep in the aircraft fuselage and the painting was done early in the project to allow it to weather a bit before the planned May 2019 departure for the “Daks Over Normandy” event. Final paint details needing to be completed included the stars and bars, mission panel, serial numbers and other markings.
While the aircraft had been well maintained by LCMCD, it was 75 years old and had been used as a chemical sprayer so it wasn’t too surprising that quite a bit of corrosion was found. About a month was spend repairing corrosion damage in the cockpit, passenger window frames, the belly aft of the engines, old antenna patches and the emergency exit frames. The spars were checked and luckily no corrosion was found. Each wing has 406 wing attachment bolts and these were all replaced with new hardware and torqued to the proper value. Authentic WWII era expander tube brakes replaced the more modern brakes that had been installed over the years and the wooden floor replaced with a C-47 type steel floor. 100+ pounds of spray system brackets and tubing were removed from the wings along with 8 ½ pounds of redundant wiring in the cockpit. The landing gear had not been retracted during the ferry flights for obvious reasons and, after servicing, a successful landing gear retraction test was completed. New cabin windows had been installed but they were damaged during painting and need replacement. Rifle holes will be included in the windows, and while some of the necessary parts are on hand, grommets still needed to be sourced. The aircraft interior, including the cockpit and cabin needed to be finished and an access door to the tail cone needed to be found.
Not surprisingly, eBay has been a major source of “new-old stock” parts and other hard-to-find items for the project. Some of the items sourced on eBay include.
Two Rebecca antennas for the pathfinder system used by C-47 pilots to locate drop zones.
Two red self-destruct button housings. This equipment was used to destroy sensitive radio equipment.
Control panel for dropping belly packs. This was located by the rear cargo door.
First aid kit.
Oxygen dilution system.
M8 flare pistol.
Navigator director finder.
I returned to Zephyrhills on November 16, 2018 to check how the restoration was progressing. The airplane looked great and, with the exception of missing ailerons, it appeared externally complete. Painting of the aircraft’s exterior was complete and included “Hit or Miss” nose art. A “mission panel” was painted on the left upper fuselage above the windows. These panels were used to record aircraft missions much like what was done on fighter and bomber aircraft. This particular C-47B performed many missions during the war throughout the European theatre including dropping paratroopers and cargo; evacuating wounded soldiers; transporting cargo and passengers; and towing gliders.
A Designated Airworthiness Representative (DAR) had completed his preliminary inspection of the aircraft and Ed expected to have the certificate of airworthiness in early 2019. He hoped to make the first post-restoration flight in February.
While much had been completed, the following items were still on Ed’s “to-do” list.
Manufacture paratrooper seats. A single seat was found and a full set will be built using it as a pattern.
Build eight litters.
Build navigator and radio tables.
Repair or completely rebuild the left elevator.
Address propeller AD. A company in Opa-locka will swap out the current props for props that have completed the AD.
Ed is confident that the restoration will be complete and the airplane will be ready for the trans-Atlantic flight in May 2019 to attend the 75th D-Day Anniversary gathering of DC-3s and C-47s in Europe. There are about 21 DC-3/C-47 aircraft scheduled to make the flight and they will be staging in Oxford, CT on May 19th. The route includes stops in Newfoundland; Greenland; Iceland; and Scotland with a planned arrival in Duxford, England on June 4th. Ed estimates it will take about 34 flying hours for the eastbound trip to Europe and about 41 hours for the return trip.
Ralph M. Pettersen
Photo Credits: Turin Aviation Group, Ralph M. Pettersen
----Created 27 February 2019----