“A dream is deserving of nothing less than 110%.” It’s a simple line that Jason Capra, president and founder of Vintage Wings Inc., lives by. If you’ve not heard of Vintage Wings Inc. yet, that shouldn’t really be a surprise, as they’ve only been officially in existence for a few months. However, you should expect to hear much more about this up-and-coming warbird organization in the future. So who are these guys? The following piece should fill you in a little about their mission…
Vintage Wings Inc. is the result of a lifelong dream held by Jason Capra. With a love of airplanes dating back to the age of 5, there wasn’t a day in Jason’s life where he wasn’t thinking about airplanes. Unlike other aviation buffs at a young age, Jason wasn’t all that interested in fast and thundering jets. His attention always favored the glamorous aircraft of the 1940s and 1950s. Starting with his first job as a 15-year old at the Washington County Airport in Pennsylvania, Jason’s drive to one day own a vintage airplane began. Working throughout high school, Capra obtained all of his pilot ratings, except for the ATP, by the age of 19. Now at the age of 32, he has logged close to 10,000 flight hours, received his ATP, and is a captain for a US airline. But Jason’s heart has always been with those vintage wings. His mentor’s group, The Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation, has exposed Douglas to prop-liners since those early teenage years, and he has found himself falling more and more in love with these classic aircraft. To date, Jason has flown the DC-4, DC-3, PBY-5 Catalina, AT-6 Texan, and the legendary Piper Cub. Deciding finally that it was time to branch out on his own, Jason founded Vintage Wings Inc. on February 5th, 2016.
It is a guarantee that every surviving DC-3 has an amazing history. Any given variant probably had a distinguished career as a civilian transport or cargo hauler some time before or after the Second World War. It is arguably the most significant transport aircraft in history. General, and later President Dwight D. Eisenhower listed it as one of the four tools that won World War II. But Capra has had his eyes on one specific DC-3. His love affair with DC-3A/C-53 41-20095 began with a chance encounter two years ago and has evolved into something beyond easy description. It was the beginning of turning a dream into reality.
Vintage Wings Inc. Douglas C-53 Skytrooper was on the factory floor in Santa Monica, California when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December, 1941. and was accepted by the USAAC weeks later in January 1942. She was originally intended to fly for an airline as a DC-3A but, with the advent of war, the US Army Air Corps impressed her into service as a C-53 (the official designation for all DC-3As in military uniform). She was now a citizen-soldier like so many young Americans were about to become. The newly-minted cargo plane received the military serial number 41-20095 when the Army officially accepted her on January 29th, 1942. Her first destination was Bolling Field in Washington DC. The Army Air Corps assigned the C-53 to Ferry Command and on March 16th, 1942, based out of Presque Isle Field in Maine.
In July 1942, 41-20095 moved on to the North Atlantic Wing of Air Transport Command where she shuttled troops and VIPs to many operational theaters. The C-53 may have moved to the Pacific during its time with the ATC, as there is some evidence that she served as General Douglas MacArthur’s personal transport for a two month stint. Stories handed down with the aircraft tie it to other American greats including General Jimmy Doolittle, Glenn Miller, and Eddie Rickenbacker, but we may never know for sure. The aircraft was last assigned to FEA, Cairo Division until May 12th, 1945.
After the war, its C-53 airline type configuration made the transport a valuable commodity in the post-war rebirth of the worldwide airline transport system. Danish Airlines bought her from the US War Assets Administration where she flew the name Gorm Viking on the famous Danish/SAS Flying Viking service. The airline operated her until their merger with SAS who sold the airplane on in 1952.
After her European airline career, the C-53 found herself headed back to the United States for conversion into a corporate DC-3. In October 1952, Rampo Foundry & Wheel Works of New York registered the aircraft as N9959F. From here she passed on to Air Carrier’s Corp., becoming N34D on the US civil registry.
In 1963, the aircraft made one of her most significant transitions, moving to Ohio where she became the governor’s official state transport. She served as Buckeye One from 1963 to 1983. The airplane participated in the opening of many General Aviation Airports in the state of Ohio. Governor Rhodes was a champion of aviation and the C-53 was his pride and joy. His Director of Aviation and DC-3 pilot, Norm Crabtree, is famously quoted as saying that “the airport runway is the most important main street in any town.” They recognized the value of General Aviation and their goal was to open an airport in every county in Ohio. After retirement, the C-53 flew to the US Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, where she sat until 1990.
Re-registered by Ohio University of Athens, Ohio as N34DF, the school bought the aircraft for her engines alone to keep their own DC-3 flying. Left engineless at Dayton, Ohio the aircraft faced an uncertain fate until Ken Joseph entered the picture. Ken bought engines for the airplane and had it brought to a condition in which the FAA issued a ferry permit so the airplane could fly to Beach City, Ohio. After its ferry flight in 1992, she again faced an uncertain fate. It was through pure chance while driving through the Ohio countryside in the summer of 2015 that Jason Capra stumbled across the C-53, now named Beach City Baby.
So why did Capra choose 41-20095? It was because the C-53 is representative of the men and women of the Greatest Generation and the rich legacy of the DC-3 in every way. A civilian drafted into service weeks after the US entered the war, it has served in multiple theaters under multiple commands and worked under legends of the era. After the war it went back to a peaceful job doing what it knew best, flying passengers in luxurious service. In its golden years the C-53 became a politician of sorts, and an ambassador of aviation spreading the word to children around the State of Ohio. Vintage Wings Inc. wants to continue that final educational mission, while paying homage to its entire career.
Their goal is to create a mobile living-history museum. While static display aircraft serve a distinct and valuable purpose, the drama associated with a flying example… the sights, sounds and even the smells… simply cannot be replicated within the dry confines of a museum building. The cabin and cockpit will become a classroom with learning modules illustrated using key points in the aircraft’s distinct service that align with key points in aviation history. Guests will see the significance of its role as a C-53 in winning the war and as a DC-3A creating the model for the modern air transportation system. Flying into airshows, fly-ins and other aviation related events, the historic aircraft will offer more than just a silent and empty cabin. Its core goal is to inspire future generations by telling the amazing history of 41-20095 as only it can do.
Now it is our turn to write this amazing airplane’s next chapter. With your help we can bring “BEACH CITY BABY” back to life. Don’t let this beautiful piece of American aviation history fade away or again feel the threat of the scrapper’s torch. With your help we can put this C-53 back where she belongs, in the air. Beach City Baby’s next mission will be to fulfill her duty of education, history, and remembrance.