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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedRescuing one large piece of history
By Randy Dufault
 

"It was the last DC-7 in a passenger configuration with all the original interior still intact."

As is true for almost any vintage aircraft type, a very tight community exists within which all the members know just about everything there is to know about any remaining airframes and what parts might be available.

The Douglas DC-7 type is a vintage airplane, albeit a very large example of one-and it enjoys a loyal community.

"I had heard about it for years," said Carlos Gomez, who operates another DC-7 as a freighter out of Opa Locka, Florida.

He was speaking about N836D, the gleaming example on display here at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, its historic Eastern Airlines livery graphic testament to a time long past.

Before making the trip from derelict through renewal to vibrant revival and its parking spot on AeroShell Square, the large four-engine airliner sat for just under 33 years-much of that time outside in Minnesota weather, at Holman Field, St. Paul's downtown airport.

Six years ago word came through the community that the DC-7B N836D was available.

"It was the last DC-7 in a passenger configuration with all the original interior still intact," Gomez said

"So we made a decision to go out after it.

"I started talking to Joe Koucor, the owner, bought an airline ticket and the next day it was ours."

Starting in May 2004, Gomez and a few helpers started preparing the long-dormant bird for a ferry trip to Florida.

Eight weeks and two engine changes later, the craft was in its new home.

And then, according to Gomez, the fun began.

"Basically we took all of our personal finances and sunk it into this," Gomez said. "There were times when we didn't work on the airplane for three months, not because we didn't want to, but because we needed to raise the next thousand."

The next thousand dollars.

"With airplanes it always seems to be thousands."

Other than money, corrosion was the biggest issue during the restoration.

The outer wing panels were good enough for the ferry trip, but were removed immediately upon arrival in Florida. A better set was located in Arizona and Gomez was able to secure their donation to the project.

Overall some 65% of the sheet metal on the airplane had to be repaired or replaced.

A non-profit entity, the Historic Flight Foundation (HFF) was set up to own and operate the plane. The HFF's plan is to offset costs and keep N836D flying by conducting flying tours in the airplane, something not typical for a historic craft like this DC-7B.

In order to fly tours all current airliner safety requirements had to be met. The original interior was removed and replaced with seats out of a DC-10 and lavatories from a DC-9.

All other interior materials were also upgraded to meet current fire standards and the doors have been equipped with emergency egress slides.
The original interior seats and hat shelves, which did not meet current regulations, are in protective storage and can be reinstalled if the plane is placed on permanent static display.

The cockpit did not require the same treatment.

"We wanted to keep everything original," Gomez said when showing off N836D's completely intact, 1958 set of gauges and controls. "We aren't using any of the electronics, but it all is still in place."

A modern moving map GPS is necessarily in plain sight, but the balance of the modern avionics-including the Traffic Collision and Avoidance System (TCAS) required for all operational airliners-are hidden away in corners.

The plane came off the Douglas assembly line in January 1958, configured with all first-class seats. Eastern operated it until 1966 when it was sold to the Nomads travel club. Nomads operated it until 1971 when Koucor purchased the craft with the intent of starting a similar travel club in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

The club never got off the ground and as a result, neither did the plane. Koucor continued to pay parking fees for the 33 years it remained idle and turned away all offers to salvage the airplane for its parts or for its scrap value.

Gomez believes that current FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt's father, an Eastern DC-7 captain during the period the airline operated N836D, flew the airplane on more than one occasion.

Three airline veterans will sample the magic of piloting a 1950s airliner Thursday (July 29) when FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt - a second-generation airline pilot - joins EAA Young Eagles co-chairmen Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles in a flight aboard N836D.

FUTURE AIRVENTURE DATES: 2014: July 28-Aug. 3; 2015: July 20-26; 2016: July 25-31; 2017: July 24-30
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