veteran went from derelict to belle of the ball and on to EAA
AirVenture Oshkosh 2010 in only seven weeks.
Call N74589 the Cinderella of
AirVenture's DC-3 Anniversary Ball.
Seven and a half weeks ago the DC-3 was
sitting in a field at the Covington Municipal Airport (9A1) in
Georgia-virtually abandoned, a landmark to area pilots and some
residents, and an eyesore to others.
The elderly Douglas lacked engines, and
vegetation grew through an airframe exposed to the elements for a dozen
"It had been there as long as I'd
been there," said Richard Helton, a flight instructor in Covington.
"I knew it would be soft drink cans eventually. Somebody would have
cut it up for scrap."
But N74589 arrived at AirVenture
Wednesday morning as "probably the most up to date certificated
DC-3 here," said Clive Edwards.
Edwards, from London, England, proprietor
of Edwards Brothers Aviation in Welling Kent, just turned a doughty
stepsister into a bell of the air show, performing in seven weeks a
high-speed restoration with just a handful of helpers.
A veteran of more than 30 years of DC-3
and vintage aircraft renewals, Edwards wanted to contribute to the
celebration of 75 years of Donald Douglas' signature creation.
"The way to do it is to show
everybody why the DC-3 is a survivor after 75 years," Edwards said,
recounting his idea: "Let's find one in the bushes and drag it out
and rebuild it with no hangar, no equipment, no anything.
"We wanted to find one fairly far
from Oshkosh to prove it can go a distance."
An aircraft collector, who prefers to
remain anonymous, agreed to fund the project.
Edwards didn't immediately hit on N74589;
he first searched in the Caribbean and Texas before checking out his
The aircraft, previously owned by a
freight hauler, had arrived at Covington for some routine maintenance
and was left there following a dispute over the bill. Advertised for
sale for close to a decade with no takers, Edwards had been aware of the
aircraft for some time. In April he and fellow Londoner John Dodd, a
pilot for British Midland International Airlines, traveled to Covington
to perform a pre-purchase inspection.
"We found it to be in good
condition, though it looked dreadful from the outside," Edwards
He felt four months would be sufficient
for the restoration.
But issues over ownership delayed the
purchase, and by the time the sale was concluded, AirVenture was
scarcely eight weeks away.
"This airplane was built in
1942," Edwards said. "It served in the 8th Army Air Force in
England, flew at D-day and was involved in the Normandy landing, and
ends up dumped in the corner of an airport about to be cut up one day.
"[The owner] didn't want to see that
"There was no logbook," Edwards
said. "We had to comply with every service bulletin, every AD
"We had the wings off, the fuel
tanks out, we replaced all the hoses, we completely rebuilt it."
And the restoration was primarily done by
two people: Edwards and Gordon Gray, a self-described "hangar
rat" who was working as a forklift operator by day and a custodian
at a private warbird collection after hours, when Edwards tapped him to
assist with restorations 18 months ago.
"Clive came to help with an annual inspection (at the warbird
collection) and said, 'Drop the broom, come and help out,'" Gray
said, recounting his induction into the aircraft restoration business.
"And it just built and built." This DC-3 restoration marks the
first time Gray has left England.
Helton joined the restoration effort
after seeing the activity around the DC-3.
"The second week, I just kept
standing in front of Clive until he gave me something to do,"
"So he gave me the dirtiest
But after being assigned to degreasing
duties, Helton was tasked with critical mechanical work on aircraft
"It would not be here without his
help," Edwards said. "And to have someone local helping is
Small crowds, skeptical that their
landmark derelict could ever fly, began to gather to observe the work in
progress, slowly becoming believers themselves. But Edwards knew a
little more help was needed to make the Oshkosh deadline.
"I got an e-mail two and a half
weeks ago with [Edwards], holding a sign upside down saying, 'Send
help!'" said motor mechanic Dave Cockburn.
"I sent an e-mail saying, 'Are you
serious? I'm free.' I've been here 16 days."
Also coming across the pond to help
finish the project were pilot Dodd and Liz Higgins, who had helped clear
vegetation from the DC-3 at the beginning of the restoration.
Last Saturday, seven weeks after the
restoration began, the DC-3 was ready for her first flight.
"We got airborne and one engine
failed. It was a complete loss. We were all disillusioned, and then we
thought, 'If we get another engine, we can still get to Oshkosh.'"
The owner, who was as eager as the crew
to see the DC-3-especially this DC-3-back in the air, approved the
Four hours after the engine failure, a
new zero-time engine was sitting on the ramp, and the crew "started
tearing at the plane."
Replacing the engine wasn't simply a
matter of swapping powerplants. The failure had trashed oil lines and
other plumbing and systems, which had to be disassembled and repaired or
"Forty hours after the failure we
started the [new] engine up in the dark, took a test flight that went
really well. We got back down, walked once around the airplane, jumped
in, and flew.
"That was yesterday," he said
"The flight up was fantastic,"
said Dodd. "We came up [at an altitude] between 500 and 6,000
Also aboard was Helton, who got stick
time on the airplane he was sure would be turned into scrap, and the
owner. The aircraft landed at Fond du Lac on Tuesday evening, before
making the final short hop of its dozen-year journey from Covington.
Now with refurbished vintage radios and
brand new Pratt & Whitney R-1830 radials, and fresh annual, N74589
is ready for its next 68 years.
This is Edwards and Dodd's first visit to
"This is a real pilgrimage for
me," said Dodd.
Did Edwards ever have any doubts they
would accomplish their mission?
"Absolutely not!" he said.
"We said, 'No matter what, we're going to be here.'"