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City Owned C-46
Lumbering big Curtiss C-46 at AirVenture is a municipally owned warbird from Monroe, North Carolina. Photo courtesy of Frederick A. Johnsen.

By Frederick A. Johnsen

There's something right with the world when a city buys and flies its own warbird.

One is Monroe, North Carolina, which sent its Curtiss Commando to AirVenture 2012.

The Commando sits tall in the saddle, looming over its corner of Phillips 66 Plaza. Its scalloped camouflage gives way to the nickname The Tinker Belle applied to its figure-eight nose.

The funding comes not from taxes on local residents but is considered part of the benefits from hotel-occupancy taxes.

Pete Hovanec, Monroe's tourism director, says Monroe is the state's aerospace hub.

Companies including Goodrich Corp., ATI Allvac, Turbomeca Manufacturing, Cyril Bath Co., and Caledonian Alloys have added 3,000 jobs to the local economy during this decade.

With that environment, Monroe generates an annual Warbirds Over Monroe air show in November that further highlights vintage military aircraft. The city's tourism group partnered with the nonprofit Warriors and Warbirds organization to obtain and fly the The Tinker Belle from the Commemorative Air Force in Midland, Texas.

Pete says the CAF was pleased to see the C-46F go to an organization interested in preserving its history; the city was happy to be up and running a genuine warbird.

"The stars aligned, and the timing was right for all of us," he explains.

Although the Curtiss C-46 originally lacked a specific historical tie to Monroe, Pete says the warbird's crew soon discovered the airplane's seats were made by a company up north - that has since relocated as part of Monroe's aerospace-business development.

Monroe's Commando has represented the city at air shows for about two years. Pete figures the C-46 will attend eight to 10 events a year, mostly on the eastern seaboard.

Parked outside for now, the C-46 could be housed in a hangar in the next few years, possibly forming the nucleus of a small museum.

Pete's aware there is much more to creating a museum than painting the word on the side of a building; his background gives him the tools to devise a business plan for any such effort.

There's a learning curve any time an organism like a municipality goes into the warbird business. Some city promoters want to see the C-46 polished and shiny inside and out; Pete and the aircraft's keepers must remind them it is authentic to be a bit rough around the edges and Spartan in furnishings.

Pete Hovanec is absorbing warbird and air-show culture in his job with the city. "Up until four years ago I wasn't an air show guy." Now, as he attends events, he is impressed with the stories he hears from veterans and their families who remember the Commando.

The Curtiss C-46 is the "other" major twin-engine transport the Army Air Forces used during World War II alongside the smaller Douglas C-47.

Curtiss engineers originally conceived the C-46 as a pressurized airliner, but the C-46 went to war unpressurized, hauling troops, vehicles, and cargo in combat worldwide.

Pete Hovanec says the Monroe Commando will be at AirVenture 2012 until early Sunday morning.

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