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EAA AirVenture Oshkosh RSS FeedCinderella at the Anniversary Ball
By James Wynbrandt
 

This Normandy 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 years.

"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 pumpkin.

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 said.

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 happen."

"There was no logbook," Edwards said. "We had to comply with every service bulletin, every AD (airworthiness directive).

"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," Helton said.

"So he gave me the dirtiest jobs."

But after being assigned to degreasing duties, Helton was tasked with critical mechanical work on aircraft systems.

"It would not be here without his help," Edwards said. "And to have someone local helping is fantastic."

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 engine purchase.

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 replaced.

"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 Wednesday.

"The flight up was fantastic," said Dodd. "We came up [at an altitude] between 500 and 6,000 feet."

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 AirVenture.

"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.'"

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