In early December, a historic Douglas C-47 took to the skies again for the first time in many years, flying from Keystone Heights Airport in Starke to Tampa Executive Airport in Tampa, Florida. C-47B 43-48950 served with the famous IX Troop Carrier Command, 52nd Troop Carrier Wing, 315th Troop Carrier Group, 34th Troop Carrier Squadron during WWII and participated in several combat actions, including Operation Varsity, the largest ever airborne assault to take place on the same day and location. Thousands of aircraft and over 16,000 paratroopers took part in the March 25th, 1945 Allied push across the northern Rhine River into the heart of Nazi Germany.
The aircraft belongs to the Turin Aviation Group, a multi-tier aeronautical consulting company with commercial and military expertise in a variety of different fields. The firm’s principal, Ed Franco, has a deep passion for vintage military aircraft, and is determined to get the C-47 back into stock military condition in time to take part in the 75th D-Day celebrations in France during June, 2019. The company also owns a number of other warbirds, including a pair of former Royal Air Force Percival Jet Provost Mk.5As (XW354 and XW435), Beech C-45H Expeditor 51-11602 and North American T-28A 49-1703.
While this first flight went perfectly, it was basically a positioning hop to get the aircraft from her previous home with the Wings of Dreams Museum to her new owner’s base in Tampa. Five months of intense effort was involved in getting the long-dormant WWII-troop transport-turned-bug-sprayer airworthy again. In an e-mail conversation, Ed Franco, told WarbirdsNews that this maintenance included, amongst many other details, fitting new carburetors, adjustments to the engines and fuel system, repairing the exhaust manifolds, servicing the hydraulic system, inspecting the wing and particularly the wing mating angle extrusions, repairing the fabric control surfaces, servicing the magnetos and of course replacing all 72 spark plugs on the R-1830 engines. Since the engines had not operated in several years, the restoration team first performed a “Green Run” before firing them up. This involved turning over the engines with the starter motor, with spark plugs removed from the lower pistons to prevent the potential for hydraulic lock from all the engine oil which naturally settles there after such lengthy lack of activity. This precaution helped make sure the engines didn’t incur damage during startup.
Now that the C-47 is safely at her new home in Tampa, a lot more work needs to take place to get the aircraft fully certified for flight, and then returned to her former WWII configuration. Some of the maintenance required will involve fully re-covering the control surfaces, replacing hoses where necessary, as well as pulling the wings and propellers to ensure compliance with the latest Airworthiness Directives. Once she regains her airworthiness certificate, Turin Aviation will begin refurbishing the interior, which will include rebuilding the cockpit, navigator and radio operator stations, and installing paratrooper seats, litter stations, the celestial dome, and flooring. They will repaint the fuselage interior, while preserving as many of the original WWII-era decals as possible.
They will repaint the aircraft exterior back to how she would have looked in 1944. As mentioned earlier, Ed Franco plans to fly the C-47 to Europe in late spring, 2019 to take part in the D-Day celebrations that year at Daks Over Normandy. It should be a major event, with at least twenty five C-47s expected to participate! In the meantime, members of the restoration team have also been researching the names of aircrew who flew 43-48950 during her service life. Among these men are Maj. James S. Smith (pilot), Long S. (co-pilot), Davis (Navigator), Vandernaalt (Radio Operator), and Peluso (Crew Chief). Presently, they are unsure if any of these men are still alive, but the team is just as keen to locate their family members as well, and hopefully to reunite them with the aircraft! We wish them much success in this noble endeavor.
It should be noted that in addition to their own personnel, Turin Aviation had countless hours of support in getting the Skytrain flying again from Porters Radials and the Wings of Dreams Museum.
WarbirdsNews would like to thank Ed Franco, Janel Norton and Moose Peterson for providing the details and images within this article.