Paine Field (KPAE) in Everett, WA is home to a variety of both modern and vintage aircraft. Though brand spanking new Boeing planes are built there and delivered to around the world, the vintage aircraft hopefully come to stay around for a while.
At the Historic Flight Foundation (HFF) there are some glorious classic aircraft that have been painstakingly restored and are much loved by not only their owner, but also the volunteers who look after them. One such recent arrival joining the collection is a beautifully restored Douglas DC-3, in Pan American Airways [PanAm] livery, that has a checkered past. I was recently invited to check out the aircraft and was able to learn a bit more about its history.
Although N877MG now lives out its life parked on the ramp at HFF, its history began 1200 miles away in Long Beach California when it was rolled out as a C-47B on the 31st of July 1944 and delivered to the China National Aviation Company (CNAC).
At the time, the CNAC was part owned by Pan American Airways but was also part owned by the Chinese government (still in existence today as the parent company to Air China). Destined to fly “The Hump” from the CNAC base in Calcutta India, over the Eastern Himalayas and into China. The aircraft was picked up in Miami by Pete Goutiere and began it’s long journey around the world.
Why did they choose the long way? Well it was war time, so that meant the would flying from Miami to Calcutta via Puerto Rico, Georgetown (Guyana), Belem (Brazil), Natal (Brazil), Ascension Island, Accra (Ghana), Maiduguri (Nigeria), Khartoum (Sudan), Aden (Oman) and Karachi (Pakistan). The flight took almost two weeks before it arrived and was registered as aircraft #100 for the CNAC.
C-47B number 100 began its time in the “Far East” by flying over the hump for a number of years. A non-pressurized aircraft flying over the Himalayas would have been tough on the crew, as these aircraft had little creature comforts.
It continued to fly the same area until a number of years after the war, it was renumbered XT-119 and flew an “air bus” route from Shanghai to Canton (now Guangzhou) and Hong Kong.
I would image that the 32 passengers crammed inside a DC-3 designed to hold, on average, 20 people did not make for a comfortable flight. The aircraft continued to fly until all the CNAC aircraft were grounded at Hong Kong’s Kai Tak airport due to disputes over who was the actual government of China: the communists or the nationalists.
As the situation went back and forth between governments, the plane was eventually sold to Claire Chennault, founder of the famous Flying Tigers from World War II. To be registered every aircraft needs a serial number. This a challenge since the plane was under armed guard in Hong Kong. Instead, it was registered using its Douglas’ Manufacturing Line number.
Now sold, it was destined for its new home back in the US, but instead of being flown, it was placed on a cargo ship. Other DC-3s that were in a similar situation were ferried on-board a US Navy Aircraft Carrier, the only time civilian aircraft has been transported on a naval vessel of that kind.
Now in the US with Grand Central Aircraft company, the history gets a little bit fuzzy. Before the sale the aircraft was likely given its upgrades to the “Super DC-3” status. It was given larger, more powerful engines, longer range fuel tanks, even a weather radar which made it became a unique aircraft. At some point it was even upgraded to replace the nose with that of a DC-4.
The DC-3 was eventually sold to Johnson & Johnson and it became their VIP transport. The new owners outfitted it as their luxurious private transport. The interior still remains today with seating that can accommodate 12, the fully original galley in the rear, the phones installed to connect the passengers to the pilot and even an original Johnson & Johnson first aid kit in the cockpit.
After service with Johnson & Johnson it flicked around between a number of different owners, until 2006 when the aircraft was bought by the Historic Flight Foundation. The DC-3 looked very different from how it rolled off the factory in Long Beach some 62 years prior, but after six years of work it started to look familiar again.
The weather radar and and additional upgrades were removed, DC3 instruments were re-installed and the nose was returned back to that of a DC-3. However the more powerful engines and fuel tanks were kept. The interior was immaculately restored but still kept as original as possible and in 2012 the plane emerged to the friendly skies over Everett wearing a Pan Am paint scheme — which has its own story.
Originally during the restoration process much of the history of the aircraft had not yet been uncovered. It was assumed that as a Grand Central Aircraft that had been sold to a private buyer and the fact that it was a Super DC-3, it had flown with Pan Am at some point. With this assumption the aircraft was painted in the traditional Pan Am scheme (a beautiful one at that mind you) and then it was too late once the full history of the aircraft had been revealed.
As with all of Historic Flight’s aircraft, this beauty doesn’t just sit on the ground — but still actually flies. Although I have tried to share what I could about the plane, you really need to get out to HFF and explore this one for yourself.
A huge thanks to Liz Matzelle with the Historic Flight Foundation for providing me with a tour and all the amazing information.
|This story written by…Malcolm Muir, Lead Correspondent.
Mal is an Australian Avgeek now living and working in Seattle. With a passion for aircraft photography, traveling and the fun that combining the two can bring. Insights into the aviation world with a bit of a perspective thanks to working in the travel industry.