When World War II started in Europe with the German
invasion of Poland on September 1st, 1939, the DC-3 was in operation with
every major U.S. airline and 18 foreign airlines. Ten days later the
U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) , which later became the Army Air Forces (USAAF),
took over ordering all DC-3s for all branches of the military services.
The basic Army designation for
the DC-3 was C-47, though there were a number of others. Over the
years, the DC-3 gained many nicknames. The most popular in WWII were
the "Gooney Bird" and "Skytrain." The Royal Air Force named it the
"Dakota." R4D is the Navy designation of the Army C-47 "Skytrain".
The nomenclature, R4D-6 breaks down as follows: R=Transport; 4=4th type
transport procured by the Navy; D=Letter designation for Douglas; 6=6th
model of the 4th type procured, hence R4D-6. Specifically, the -6
designated 157 Army Air Force C-47Bs that were transferred to the Navy
between 1944 and 1945. These differed from the R4D-5 in that they were
equipped with two-speed superchargers, provisions for auxiliary fuel tanks,
improved heaters, and the long "desert" scoops running the entire length of
the upper nacelles.
The R4D-6 belonging to the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum
was built for the Navy at Kansas City, coming off the Douglas assembly line
during November 1944.
The plane received USN Bureau number 50819
and was immediately assigned to the Naval Air Transport Service, Squadron VR-2,
at Norfolk, Va. NATS, operated 586 R4D's on airline-like schedules,
hauling troops, supplies, mail, and casualties in and out of combat zones. "819" served in the "Pool", shared by Quonset Point, RI, and
Norfolk before being outfitted as an Admiralís ship. Records indicate the
aircraft also served at Olathe; San Diego; Memphis; Barbers Point, HI, and at
Lakehurst, NJ, acquiring a low 7000 hours before being retired at the Navyís
Litchfield Park storage facility in 1959.
In 1960, the FAA undertook the
acquisition of 20 R4D aircraft for use as airways facility flight-check
aircraft. Each aircraft was outfitted with electronics in a
standardized manner and assigned to various regions of the United States to
perform airway facility flight checks. This involved checking the various beacons and
instrument landing systems within the assigned areas. For the next 17
years, while carrying the registration
numbers N60, N68, and later N68AH, "819" performed these duties at
such places as Boise, Idaho, and San Francisco, with its last assignment the FAAís NAFEC facility (National Aeronautical Facilities Evaluation Center) at Atlantic
City, New Jersey.
While assigned there, the aircraft suffered an engine failure
in the course of flight
checking the Harrisburg (Middletown) Instrument Landing System. It also narrowly
escaped destruction while parked at NAFD when a TWA Boeing 707 performing crew training
crashed and burned, coming to rest just yards away. As a result, "819"
suffered damage to a wing tip and received numerous holes in the left wing. Those patches can still be seen.
In 1976, the aircraft was declared surplus by the FAA and was
transferred to the US Department of Agriculture at Douglas, Arizona, for use in their screw worm eradication
program. Soon after departure from Atlantic City for Arizona the left engine
failed, and the crew diverted to NAS Patuxent River for repairs. After a long career with the Navy, the FAA,
and the USDA, the aircraft was offered as surplus in 1980.
When inspecting the aircraft during the fall of 1980
for possible acquisition, MAAM President Russ Strine found the last
entry in the logbook read "remember - left engine is new - 13.2 Hrs." Russ also found the aircraft in original FAA condition with
virtually all of
the specialized equipment still installed. "819" had been idle for nearly four years
since its last use by the USDA. Having accumulated just over 21 ,000 hours, the R4D was about to begin a
prestigious new life.
Museum President Russ Strine undertook to sponsor the
acquisition and subsequent restoration costs for the Douglas, which would see
"819" become the Mid Atlantic Air Museumís first
aircraft in May, 1981. The
acquisition cost was $3,000, but much more money and a great deal of work would
be required to get
the airplane home to Pennsylvania and fully restore it to its former glory as an
With the decision to acquire the plane made, Gene Strine
loaded his truck with new tires and tubes, oil drums, tools, miscellaneous parts, and two helpers
and set out for Arizona. In a week's time the R4D was
ready to come home, arriving at Harrisburg in late November 1980.
Restoration work was begun immediately. Outside, the old paint was
stripped, and inside the old flight check equipment, wiring and radio racks were
from the fuselage. In all, 4800 pounds of radios and racks, including a three-sided
console and a workbench with a vise, and 600 pounds of wire were removed.
Meanwhile, professional sheet-metal specialists removed two
"picture windows" that had been installed in the forward fuselage The cockpit and forward cabin areas
were restored to their original configuration.
A search was conducted for original passenger seats, which were procured
piece-by-piece from around the country. By May, 1981, the aircraft was
airworthy, and though still very incomplete, attended its first two airshows - York, Pa.,
and McGuire AFB, NJ. The plane had yet to be painted, and the cabin was a
bare and unfinished, except for several seats that had been fitted to allow the
MAAM members who had worked so hard on the restoration to come along.
The next challenge was to paint the R4D authentically
in the ten-day period between the McGuire show and the Canadian Warplane
Heritage show at Hamilton, Ontario. Dedicated and enthusiastic members met
the challenge. During a number of late night shifts they cleaned, masked,
and papered the airplane. Gene Strine applied 32 gallons of a
specially mixed flat-silver polyurethane paint and the authentic markings were
added - all in time for Hamilton...
During the R4D's second winter at MAAM, the interior was completed in the style of the
'40's, including overhead racks, flooring, the baggage area, radio racks, lavatory,
and the headliner. The
exterior was further upgraded with the installation of historically correct antennas, an original nose, and other
details. An "airline" style radio package was installed and
disguised under WWII style controls, making a big improvement over the first
year's arrangement - a single portable radio plugged into a cigarette lighter receptacle!
With its restoration complete, the R4D attended the 1982 Experimental
Aircraft Association Convention at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. All of the hard
work paid off when
the "Best Transport" Award was bestowed on the R4D by the EAA Warbirds
The following year at the same event, after two years of "working restoration",
the R4D reached the pinnacle, being named "Grand Champion Warbird".
MAAM was awarded the prestigious Lindbergh Trophy for the achievement , and
received a citation
from the Pennsylvania Senate, and a congratulatory merit letter from the
||Two Pratt and Whitney R-1830-94 radial
||987 Square Feet
63 Feet, 3 Inches
FLY OUR R4D-6