Douglas C-53 Skytrooper Beach City Baby – Restoration Update (Oct. 2019)
by Jason Capra
Almost exactly a year ago, our Douglas C-53-DO Skytrooper 41-20095, better known as Beach City Baby, took to the air again for the first time in almost 26 years. Warbird Digest was on hand that incredible day, reporting live from the scene. But a lot has taken place since then, so it’s time to check in again with the team at Vintage Wings Inc. for an update on this historic aircraft – a veteran of Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa.
Over 400 people witnessed her departure from Beach City, Ohio on October 6th, 2018, with a further 200 or so awaiting the C-53’s arrival at her new home at Franklin Venango Regional Airport just north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There was much to celebrate! It took well over two years of intense effort to finally get Beach City Baby to Franklin. But this first flight was made under a ferry permit from the FAA. She still needed a substantial amount of work to qualify her for a Standard Airworthiness Certificate as a Transport Category Aircraft under Bulletin 7A. While the restoration team members in Beach City, Ohio had already got the aircraft to the point where all but one AD (Airworthiness Directive) was complied with, the ferry permit allowed for the flight to Pennsylvania, where the necessary work could be more easily completed on this last AD.
After a two-week break for the whole team, work commenced on the remaining hurdle in front of them. The C-53 needed to have her outer wing panels removed, the fuel tanks removed and doublers installed on the main spars as per the FAA-mandated AD. Along with this significant undertaking, the team also needed to replace and/or repair sections of aircraft skin, fluid lines, and various components and other parts which needed attention. They also needed to remove and replace all of the aircraft’s hardware, to complete the aircraft’s interior, not to mention continue their efforts to clean the aircraft, strip away old paint and finally repaint her into the same livery she wore back in 1942. This was a massive to-do list, to say the least, but the crew buckled down and got cracking!
Before the team could even think of removing the outer wing panels, they first had to build a set of cradles and ‘rotisserie’ jigs to hold the unwieldy panels once they were off the aircraft. These fixtures would allow for remedial work to take place in a safe and efficient manner. Jim Aaron took this challenge head on. With help from the well-known parts supplier and DC-3 modification specialists at Preferred Airparts, as well as assistance from local businesses in Franklin, Jim successfully fabricated all of the necessary equipment.
Work on complying with the Airworthiness Directive soon began, but unfortunately, as often happens with such projects, this exposed unforeseen corrosion issues with some of the stringers and spar caps in the left and right wings. Thankfully the good folks at Basler Turbo Conversions came to the rescue. Basler, who manufactures essentially brand-new turbine-powered DC-3s, has the Parts Manufacturing Authority to reproduce all structural components for the DC-3. Luckily for our team, and Beach City Baby, we were able to purchase newly manufactured material from Basler that we required to start replacing the defective parts.
Once the wing spar doublers were completed, our team began the task of stripping the aircraft of its faded corporate livery, taking the airframe down to bare metal and then treating the exposed surfaces with Alumi-prep and then Alodine conversion coating to protect the metal until repainting takes place. Through the help of Ward Lapaglia, an employee at PPG Aerospace, Vintage Wings received all paint remover, surface prep and paint from the Fortune 500 (US) aerospace giant.
Once painted, the team at Vintage Wings Inc. wants to make sure that the aircraft’s original Operation Torch paint scheme and markings are as authentic as possible. As a result, we went to the best in the business, getting AirCorps Aviation to research and design all of the markings, paint masks, and stenciling for our Douglas C-53.
While the surface prep was wrapping up, other members of Vintage Wings Inc. began the task of replacing sections of damaged sheet metal and repairing anything else that needed attention. Jerry Sass, our sheet metal expert, led the way. He not only produced beautiful replacement parts, but also taught younger team members along the way. It is this kind of passion and dedication, something that Jerry always displays, that will keep these airplanes flying well into the future and help engage America’s youth to continue in our footsteps.
Another task taking place has been the complete overhaul of all fluid lines in Beach City Baby. We have been replacing the earlier, much harder to find AC standard fittings with their AN standard equivalents. This has been a chore and a half, but Vintage Wings Inc. members, led by Joe Matz, have taken on this immense task with elan. The new lines make the airplane look brand new! Another difficult task has been the rebuild of Beach City Baby’s Airstair Door, which had seen better days. John Breitenbach dived head first into this difficult job, and he is now deep into the project restoring the door to better-than-new condition.
As 2019 draws to a close, the team at Vintage Wings Inc. continues to hammer away at getting the aircraft fully finished and airworthy. We are targeting 2021 for Beach City Baby’s inaugural air show season.
Our aim for Beach City Baby is for her to become a flying classroom; essentially a mobile living history museum. While static aircraft in museums serve a distinct and valuable purpose, there is no real substitute for the educational value of an actual flying aircraft, complete with its authentic sights, sounds – and smells – confronting the senses and inspiring the imagination. The C-53’s cabin will come complete with learning modules for school children (and adults!) that use key points in the airframe’s distinguished history that align with key points in aviation history as a whole. Visitors will see the significance of her role as a military C-53 and how she helped to win WWII, and then they will learn about her time as a DC-3A, the aircraft design that became the model for our modern air transportation system.
Touring Beach City Baby at air shows, fly-in’s and other aviation related events will offer a step back into the past – rather than a silent and empty cabin. Vintage Wings Inc’s core goal is to inspire future generations by telling 41-20095’s amazing history as only she can. To learn more about Beach City Baby, please visit the group’s website at www.vintagewingsinc.com. Vintage Wings Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit historical organization which relies on public and private donations. Please consider making a financial contribution to help keep the restoration going and to ensure she flies for years to come!