The Warriors & Warbirds flying collection in Monroe, North Carolina has been going for almost ten years now. They have become well known for their flying displays, including paratrooper drops, from a Curtiss C-46 Commando nicknamed “Tinker Belle”. The beautiful green and grey beast of the type which once flew The Hump in the China-Burma-India theatre of operations during WWII is one of a half dozen or so still flying, and the only one currently on the air show circuit (although that is set to change hopefully).
Warriors & Warbirds has recently added another unsung transport hero to its fleet in the shape of a Fairchild C-123 Provider with the wonderful nickname ‘Ponderous Polly’. WarbirdsNews recently talked to Joseph Atkins at Warriors & Warbirds to learn more about their project, and what follows is an edited account of that conversation….
Back in 1985 a man named John Curran purchased and rescued ‘Polly’ from the Boneyard in Tucson, Arizona and after a couple of years of work, ferried the aircraft to his base in New York for more formal restoration. Sometime after she was flying again, he moved her down to New Bern, North Carolina where his team maintained the Provider for many years, flying her on the airshow circuit periodically as well.
The upkeep for any aeroplane, let alone a large transport warbird like ‘Polly’, is a huge task for any organization, but especially a volunteer one. Eventually time and age started to wear down on ‘Polly’s’ control surfaces, which are fabric covered, so she was grounded for repairs. While she was undergoing repairs, Hurricane Irene came through New Bern in late August, 2011 and damaged the Provider significantly; tearing the rudder from its mount among other things. Facing the huge task of not just upkeep but now major major repairs, interest began to wain amongst her crew, and essentially ‘Polly’ became a static display.
Even so, the team did an excellent job of keeping her from ‘dying’ by periodically running her engines and keeping her clean. They could give tours of the transport in New Bern, but getting her flying again wasn’t really a possibility with the given resources. The last thing John Curran desired was for ‘Polly’ to rot away on the ramp in New Bern. He wanted to get her back out on the show circuit so people could see this historic, rare aeroplane. He knew about Warriors & Warbirds because of ‘Tinker Belle’ so he contacted their co-founder, Bob Russell, and asked if there was interest in assuming ownership of Polly. His only stipulations were NOT to change the name and to do everything possible to get her flying again.
After several trips to New Bern to asses Polly and her condition Warriors & Warbirds agreed to take on the task of getting her airworthy. Curran signed her over to the group, and they officially began work to get her flyable again.
As far as her military history is concerned, Warriors & Warbirds don’t have a lot of specifics other than a few very key facts.
1. She was NOT a sprayer. We have all the maintenance logs going back to 1954 and they never indicate the installation of a sprayer system.
2. During the Viet Nam War she was with the 19th Air Commando Squadron. Her nose cone is painted yellow. The 19th ACS did this so they could recognize their planes when they flew into a field and go out to meet them. Sprayer planes were mostly denoted with red or orange nose cones.
3. Her unit received a Presidential Citation for the battle of Khe Sanh in 1968. She was active with the unit at this time and displays this seal above her door.
4. While Warriors & Warbirds has so far been unable to verify it, her previous owners have said ‘Polly’ was the last C-123 transport out of Vietnam when she flew to Thailand at the end of US involvement in the war.
6. Her previous owners have also said that at many airshows Veterans who visited ‘Polly’ have stated that they specifically flew on this plane, either as a passenger or crew, during the Viet Nam war.
THE FUTURE: Q&A
Warbirds News: What do you see as the primary hurdles remaining in getting the C-123 flying again?
Joseph Atkins: Currently our team is focusing on the control Surfaces. She has not flown in about four years and was originally grounded due to wear on her control surfaces (she’s has fabric on them) however soon after a hurricane came through and really did a number on her. In fact it actually tore the rudder from the plane and tossed it a few yards away. I don’t have to tell you how much force is involved in that! As of right now we’ve removed all the control surfaces and have them here with us in Monroe, they are being rebuilt by hand and at great cost. The guys are going down in the next week or so to take a closer look at the rudder mounts and the cables that control them. Obviously if something was ripped off the plane there exists a potential for damage inside of the structure.
After that we will focus on the engines. We are hopeful that they are in pretty decent shape, since the engines ran last year. We know we will need all new spark plugs and to drain the oil and such. One of the engines is most probably liquid locked.
WN: Are there any components you are looking for that you need help locating?
JA: Honestly as of right now, none that have been relayed to me, since we are just trying to get it ferryable at present. We are having to rebuild the [control] surfaces by hand, but as soon as she’s back here in Monroe when the actual restoration begins I’m sure there will be parts we will need to find. The issue is that 90% of these things were scrapped and melted down by the government for fear of Agent Orange exposure. Obviously if anyone has C-123 parts lying around we’d love to hear from them. We’ve actually heard from one or two organizations with static C-123s in good condition that have offered to swap parts with us to help get ours airworthy.
WN: Is there a specific web link or donation page that you would like readers to visit?
JA: Our website is www.warriorsandwarbirds.com or you can visit us on Facebook [click HERE] as well. I do my best to be as active as I can (without being spammy) on both sites to share pictures and info on all our planes and activities.
Warriors & Warbirds has started working towards a hangar expansion, which would allow them to have a more formal museum. You can click HERE to see how to contribute and check on progress. They are also in the process of restoring a Douglas A-4 Skyhawk to static condition. The aircraft arrived dismantled, and has only just gone back together as you can see in the photo above. Be sure to check in regularly with Warriors & Warbirds to see her progress along with work on ‘Ponderous Polly’. WarbirdsNews wishes to thank Joseph Atkins very much for helping us with this article, and to wish Warriors & Warbirds every success with their important endeavors.