Photos © Ruud Leeuw
Propliners on the Last Frontier, 2003
After 8 years it was high time I revisited Alaska.... I knew a lot of things had changed, but a lot of those things which hadn't changed were worthy of a revisit too !
TransNorthern kicked off the aviation part of my trip, being a family holiday not every day saw planes for our lenses.
While we had landed at 02:00 a.m. we had noticed it had recently rained and it reminded us how fickle the weather can be in Alaska; the next few days would prove that, but today (Aug.23rd) the weather-gods smiled upon us: it was a bright and sunny day!
N32TN is a Douglas C-117D (c/n 43301), a Super DC-3 and it looked immaculate, in "Super" condition !
So how did it get here ? This airframe was built as a regular C-47 c/n 12779 and delivered to the USAAF as 42-92924, from where it was transferred to the US Marine Corps as 17175, designated R4D-5Z. It's postings varied from San Diego in Mar44, operating with VMR 253 (Aug44), later with VMR 152 (Jun45). It served on the Eastcoast, at Quonset Point (15Oct46), it was at Pearl Harbor in Nov46, back to San Diego in Feb47, Quonset Pt again in Jun47, to the Westcoast again at Alameda (Nov47), made up some good milage in those days !
It was converted to R4D-8Z "Super DC-3" with a new manufacturer's serial number (c/n, construction number) 43301. It performed its valued services, still as BuNo 17175, but it's type designation changed from R4D-8Z to VC-117 in 1962. But all things good must come to an end and it was reported stored at Davis Monthan AFB in Arizona in Apr77. It was bought on 25Jan83 by Hawkins & Powers Aviation Inc of Greybull, WY and registered it as N21270. They did not see much use to it: it went to the Naval Air Museum on 19Sep83. Too much life remained in her for a museum and it was bought by Lan-Dale Company (Oct85) and reregistered as N175TD 02Oct86. It may or may have not been registered as N30000 after that, my records are vague on this.
It was reported as XA-TMR at Laredo,TX in March 1999; it may have flown for a Mexican owner, but it had been stored for some time like that at the Bahamas. It was registered on 12Feb02 as N32TN Northern 3 LLC, so a relative newcomer on the Last Frontier.
Nick Oppergard is one of the three owners of TransNorthern, which operates 3 Beech 99s for transporting guests to lodges in remote parts of Alaska and the Super DC-3 N32TN for a UPS contract, but is available for other (cargo) charters as well.
TransNorthern is certified to operate passenger flights with N32TN, but the insurance fee is too much at the moment, but contracts with the lodges could reach a point that the Super DC-3 would take to the skies again with passengers on board; let's hope so !
Nick has flown with Wien Alaska, Pan Am and wanted to return to Alaska, this enterprise with TransNorthern was an excellent opportunity. He is co-owner, together with Alan Larson and his wife Andrea.
In 2005 Alan Larson and Nick Oppergard severed their business links; Alan and his wife Andrea continue TransNorthern. N32TN was sold in 2005 to TMF of Florida.
In 2012 I revisted Andrea & Alan, their fleet including 4 C-117D's at that time.
Click on the image to see TransNorthern's ad on the C-117:
It is a copy of the ad Douglas Aircraft Company ran on the introduction of the C-117 Super DC-3; just as N32TN is painted in the colours the prototype was painted in.
A glimpse in the cabin of N32TN and cockpit; click on the image on the right for a larger image
N32TN was sold early 2005 and ferried to Florida during March/April 2005; it made an emergency landing at Holbrook,AZ due problems with the rh-engine.
I have a page on the "Super Three" background info
Some of these stories you hear are quite unbelievable... and true ! This wing was sheared off when N32TN was landing at Port Alsworth, AK 03Nov02. Alan Larson was in the driving seat, with Nick Oppergard in the rh-seat. When they had a cleared runway in front of them, they put N32TN in for the landing. Nick thought N32TN landed a bit heavy on the left maingear and considered making a remark about it, but knew something was wrong when he noticed Alan had turned "a whiter shade of pale"...
Someone had left a piece of caterpillar equipment near the runway and an upraised pole, camouflaged by a layer of rust, went thru the wing like a knife through butter ! Alan had seen it happening, but was too late to do anything about it.
N32TN taxied to the stand with most of the wing left behind, next to the runway. Must have looked really weird ! At some point repairs were completed to bring the Douglas C-117D home. On the photo can be seen how much was torn off, notice the metal patchwork.
The next is just as remarkable: a replacement wing was found in Florida. Nick and Alan drove it all the way to Anchorage; they drove for a week, taking turns driving, crossed the icy passes in Canada and Alaska (adjusted the brakes of the flatbed trailer from hydraulics to electric, to prevent it from jack-knifing on the slippery roads) and N32TN was as good as new !
This reminded me of something I recently read and it struck a cord with me:
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan "press on" has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race"
(From: Rebels and Reformers of the Airways, by R.E.G. Davies, chapter on Reginald M. Ansett).
The ramp is shared with Desert Air, also a DC-3 operator. N44587 is a Douglas C-47A (c/n 12857), a very fine looking vintage transport and the "money-maker" for this company.
Dennis Gladwin is the owner of DesertAir Alaska and he started hauling cargo to Alaska's remote sites in the Spring of 2001. He expects to succeed in Alaska, which has more than 200 runways that are 3,000 feet long or less. About 2.200 feet is a good distance for the "Gooney Bird", but giving the right circumstances (angle, obstacles, wind, load, etc) a mere 1.000 feet of runway could get the DC-3 airborne as well. The small, primitive (gravel) strips prohibit large planes from visiting remote communities and the smaller aircraft that can land there can't handle difficult or heavy cargo.
It is great to see these old tail-draggers, first built in 1935, moving cargo about. "There is nothing out there that can do what this airplane can do, and that is bringing a big load into a small strip,'' Gladwin said. "The drawback is..,'' he admitted, "..she's a bit slow.'' But in a country where the weather often dictates when a destination can be flown to, that's hardly a commercial drawback on the Last Frontier.
A word on this aircraft's history: C/n 12857 was delivered as 42-92995 to the USAAF on 27Mar44. It was posted in North Africa on 24Apr44, but returned to the USA on 20Aug45. It was signed to RFC 05Jun46 (Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), former U.S. government agency, created in 1932 by the administration of Herbert Hoover. Its purpose was to facilitate economic activity). It was assigned tailnumber NC44587 for West Coast Airlines on 06Nov46, and leased as CF-ONH for Pacific
Western A/L from 17Apr62; then back to W Coast A/L on 06Aug63 as N44587; Pacific Western must have liked it, because they bought CF-ONH on 15Mar64.
At some point Air West bought it and registered it as N44587. This lasted until Aerodyne Corp, from Renton, WA bought it 28Jan69 (registered it on 09Apr69). Aerodyne went out of business.
In January 1980 it was seen in derelict condition, apparently inactive since May74. It was reregistered as N353SA for Salair in Jan88. It was reported at Nanaimo,B.C. in Jan97 as N44587.The inactivity lasted until 10Jan92 when it was bought by RF Aircraft Services Inc., but did it go anywhere ?
It was registered for Alta Leasing of Salt Lake City, UT on 08Dec97 as a DC-3C.
In 2006 I received some photos from Martin Prince Jr of N44587 in flight.
See also my ANCHORAGE 2012 page.
C-47 N19906 (c/n 4747) is seen here in front of N32TN, the former is stored amidst cargo and/or spareparts for the time being. Sad to say the other DC-3 operators in Alaska are no longer active.
When I asked Mr Gladwin about the status of N19906, he told me: "it's for sale, like anything is for sale for the right price; I don't advertise it as such, but business is slow at the moment and it does not warrant to have 2 DC-3s operational right now; but if things turn for the better, we'll put it in the air in no time".
C/n 4747 is a real veteran of Alaska: delivered to the USAAF as 41-38644 on 27Sep42, operated with the 11thAF in Alaska in 1943. Assigned to Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) on 05Nov45, but was bought by Reeve Aleutian in Jan46 as NC19906 and Reeve's DC-3 spent more than 20 years flying in the Aleutian Chain, known for some of the worst weather in the world - a testament to the airplane's toughness.
Much later it was registered to R.G. Sholton, trading as Northern Air Cargo, in Sep78. It was reregistered a few times: to R G Sholton, trustees(Jun79) and R D Gerhardt of Seattle, WA (05Feb80). It was leased for a while to Small Aero Transit (Jul80) and by Salair. It was present at Abbotsford's (British Columbia) Fly in 1986
It was registered at some point to Majestic Airlines of Salt Lake City and seen stored, with its wings removed in Sep96. It was seen again in Dayton, OH on 24Nov2001, stored again. And now it's back in Alaska, awaiting its chance to work as a substitute perhaps.
But things won't be easy, with Woods Air folding a few years ago (2 C-47s still for sale) and Abbe Air Cargo not able to get business off the ground, that's a sad sign of the times.
Click on the image for a larger image:
I saw it again in 2006, looking not much better.
In May 2007 I contacted Desert Air, with disappointing results.. My first call came at an incovenient time (I picked up a clear signal he did not want to talk to me) and when I tried 2 weeks later I was told "...not interested to talk about my business with you" and he hung up on me!
Who is this: a struggling small-time operator, frustrated with fighting the odds against economic tide or just an obnoxious asshole..?
In 2016 it even looked much worse, engines gone but also some serious damage to the tailsection; see Ian Ellington's photo: elbows-aviation-shots.co.uk/ACH(16-32)N19906.JPG
Alaska is drenched in (aviation) history and signs of days gone past are still around: Evert's Maintenance Department has found accommodation in what once was Bob Reeve's hangar. It still hurts to know that this company has gone under, that name is embedded in Alaska's aviation history.
Dennis Gladwin, is seeing to the loading of his DC-3 N44587: owner, pilot, loadmaster, mechanic... you name it !
DesertAir has 3 DC-3s to its name (leased from Alta Leasing), but only 2 were seen at Anchorage; C-47 N19906 (c/n 4747) is airworthy, more or less for sale but not operational. When I asked about the missing third Dak, I was told: "N105CA (C-47B c/n 25720) is sitting in Columbus,OH waiting for business to improve".
I had noticed that all 3 C-47s were leased from Alta Leasing Inc, based in Salt Lake City and was told he owned both companies. Gladwin worked for years in Alaska in the airline industry, mostly with Northern Air Cargo in Anchorage. A few years ago, he decided to move Outside, setting up DC-3 charter services in Salt Lake City,UT and Columbus, OH. He came back because he missed Alaska and the people there. Well, who wouldn't: writing these pages 3 weeks after my return and I wanted to go back too !
Gladwin decided not to change the name, DesertAir, because there are deserts in Alaska: "Arctic deserts". And it sticks, people notice the name.
C-133A Cargomaster N199AB (c/n 45164) of Cargomaster Corporation has been reported many times as "stored", but is in fact operational. It is only allowed to operate flights for the government (and restricted to intra-Alaskan routes, if I am not mistaken) and it is rarely seen taking off; during 2002 it took a load of schoolbusses somewhere.
Apparently the present owner got it cheap, for something like usd 1.000,- but parking fees to Anchorage IAP (PANC) are reported to amount to some 16.000 a year !!
In June 2004 I got a very nice update by Marshall Carter: "On June 19, 2004, while fishing in the Little Susitna River (across Cook Inlet from Stevens Anchorage IAP) I saw what I am positive was the C-133A Cargomaster (usually in storage at the airport) actually FLYING! I was amazed by the aircraft's size, and sound (loud, low turboprop rumble.). By the direction of it's travel, I am assuming that the C-133 was headed to either Southern Alaska or The Lower '48."
Excellent news, Marshall, thanks !
And a short while afterwards I received an email AND PHOTOS of the C-133 in flight at Fairbanks from Stu Sibitzky.
N199AB was flown to Travis Air Force base,CA for preservation in Aug08.
N9027K is a Fairchild C-119F 'Flying Boxcar' (c/n 176), owned by Brooks Fuel of Fairbanks,AK. This one has been sitting here for a number of years and could be best described as 'stored'; has been here since the early 1990s I think. It's former USAF 53-8073.
I saw it again in 2006, having only moved to the perimeter fence.
In 2018 I learned that Roger Brooks has donated it to the Alaska Aviation Museum on the shores of Lake Hood, where in due course it will be preserved and displayed.
See also my FAIRBANKS 2012 PAGE
Another stored propliner: C-47A N67588 (c/n 20536).
It knew better times: It was delivered as 43-16070 to the USAAF on 14Jun44. It joined the RFC on 16Sep46 and went to civil use as NC67588 for Southwest Airways Company in 1946. We take a leap to 1958 and see it put to use by Pacific Airlines in 1958.
Richard Ivler wrote me in July 2006: "..it was used in an episode of The Twilight Zone called “The Arrival” in 1959."
N67588 was bought by Blatz Airlines Inc on 26Feb60.
Zantop Air Transport leased it for some time and Aircraft Finance & Title Company (of Georgetown, TX) had it registered to its name on 26Feb64. Then we see it returned to F.A. Blatz in Aug70 and was nicknamed "El Capitan Casino" (a casino and resort). The registration was cancelled 5 years later, in 1975.
Next owner was J.R. Ricci of Torrance, California (18Jan79) and another leap brings us to 29Feb88, when it was registered to Majestic Leasing Inc of Salt Lake City, UT.
It was reregistered quite recently, 12Aug02, to Tammy Maxwell of Spring Creek,NV. The aircraft was also involved in an accident:
Accident occurred Sunday, May 24, 1998 in ANCHORAGE, AK
Full NTSB report: ANC98LA055
Probable Cause Approval Date: 11/17/99
Aircraft: Douglas DC-3C, registration: N67588
Injuries: 1 Minor, 2 Uninjured.
The captain/operator, the first officer and one passenger, departed on a cross-country positioning flight. The airplane contained about 300 gallons of fuel. After 3.9 hours en route, the flight was cleared for a visual approach to the destination airport. During the approach, both engines lost power about 2,000 feet mean sea level. The pilot stated the right fuel tank was empty. He estimated that 50 to 60 gallons of fuel remained in the left fuel tank. While the airplane was descending toward an area of open water, he attempted to restart the engines without success. He then lowered the landing gear, and made a right turn toward a small airstrip, located about 5 miles northwest of the destination airport. The airplane touched down in an area of soft, marsh covered, terrain. During the landing roll, the airplane nosed down and received damage to the forward, lower portion of the fuselage. An inspection of the airplane by an FAA inspector revealed the left fuel tank contained about 1 inch of fuel. The right fuel selector was positioned on the right auxiliary fuel tank. The left fuel selector was positioned between the left main, and the left auxiliary fuel tanks.
Someone sent me this in April 2006: |
"Majestic Airlines used to fly DC-3s out of Salt Lake City,UT in the 1990s.
N19906, N305SF and N67588 were the 3 planes they were operating at the time. Majestic flew the US mail in Utah, Montana and Idaho. Times were changing and the USPS decided that the good old DC-3’s were not fast enough and started contracting for bigger and faster planes, thus pretty much running Majestic out of business.
Jody Pond ended up renting N305SF and N67588 from the owner David Gillette and took them to Alaska. He crashed with N67588 one day.
He eventually crashed fatally into a mountainside in a few years later.
As for Tammy Maxwell: she is David Gillette’s girlfriend!
Have a look how I found it in 2006
Propliner magazine No.127 (Summer 2011) has an article by Karls Hayes detailing the history of Majestic Airlines, borth from the times in Utah and Jody Pond's subsequent flying and fatal crash in Alaska.
Robert Sevier sent me these photos, memories of a stay in Alaska.
They show Jody Pond and himself with Douglas C-47A N67588 of Majestic Airlines.
"I worked for Jody Pond from 1992 to 1995 at Majestic Airlines in Salt Lake City, where he was chief pilot. When Majestic A/L went out of business, I went to Anchorage with Jody plus two DC-3s (N305SF and N67588), and he started Majestic Air Cargo. Later he used the name Galaxy Air Cargo."
N281F (c/n 1079) Lockheed L.188AF Electra, in use as a ground fire trainer at Anchorage-Ted Stevens IAP; hopefully it will serve that purpose for a long while and won't go up in smoke...
This airframe was manufatured in 1959 and registered as N5005K, built as a L.188A passenger aircraft. It was delivered to National Airlines 17Aug59 and sold much later, 26Feb68, to Pan Aero Int'l Corporation and transferred that same date to Overseas Nat'l Airways, which had it reregistered N281F on 19Sep68. During 1968 it was reconfigured to cargo aircraft.
On 11Sep79 it was bought by Zantop Int'l, moving cargo from Detroit-Willow Run. It was still there during the 1990s, but was bought by Renown Aviation in Mar99 (may have been owned by Lynden Air Cargo by then). Renown ceased operations in Oct.2000 and at some point N281F moved to Anchorage.
Further details about its history will be welcomed.
N281F was moved to a remote spot on the airport, when for the use as a firetrainer a Boeing 727 took its place. For its 2005 condition see my Anchorage 2006 report.
Duane reacted to this invitation (Sep.2005): "Saw your picture of L-188 N281F up in Alaska, being used as a trainer for the Fire Dept.; it brought back memories as I flew it with Overseas National Airways as a Flight Engineer
1971 to 1973.
Duane wrote me about his career on vintage transports (Sadly, Duane passed away on 11Jan2010.)
Robert Cassube, retired Captain of Pan Am, wrote me in June 2007:
"This picture of the Electra at Anchorage, the one used as a ground fire trainer, brings back memories!
I was hired by National Airlines in the summer of 1965 as a pilot and flew the Electras for 1.100 hrs, before moving to the Boeing 727.
The Electra was a great airplane to fly, easy handling and plenty of power."
See also my USA 2012 page, with images of Alaskan propliners including this L.188 hit on hard times.
C-123J N4390E (c/n 20274), former USAF 56-4390, is seen here stored in the high grass. Compared to my previous visit in 1995, it did travel... It moved from the southern perimeter (near ERA Aviation facilities) to the northen area of the airport, probably because of a Air Cargo Express/Everts Air Cargo building put on the site there. The Fairchild C-123J Provider is owned by the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum at Lake Hood, but they haven't got the space to put it on display.
N4390E has been acquired by All West Freight for spares.
A beautiful shot or what ? And about time to see some airworthy propliners: Convair CV580 N566EA (c/n 381) of ERA Aviation. Unfortunately, some rather sad news is applicable here: ERA is ending its Convair operations ! Three (N538JA, N568JA and N569JA) were sold in May this year to Kelowna Flightcraft and the remaining two (N565EA and N566EA) will serve until end-2004...
N566EA became ZK-CIF, flying for Air Chatham in New Zealand.
Lockheed L-100-30 Hercules N403LC (c/n 4590) of Lynden Air Cargo is seen here sitting on Lynden's ramp at Anchorage-Ted Stevens IAP. It's not a former C-130 military "Herc" as it was bought by Safair of South Africa in 1975 (registered as ZS-RSF). It flew as N251SF when operating for Safair (USA) in 1983 and in that same year it also enjoyed a lease to Southern Air Transport.
From then on it went to Globe Air, in April 1984, for which it was reregistered in July 1987 as N516SJ, but kept flying for Southern Air Transport.
It was reregistered N903SJ in 1988, but found stored in Tucson,AZ in April 1994 (without any markings), at least until somewhere in 1995. This "Herc" returned to Globe Air in 1996 and was offered for sale. In 1997 Lynden Air Cargo bought it and reregistered it as N403LC in September of that year.
One would think the Hercules would see more action in Alaska and Canada, being able to operate from primitive airstrips, but it's probably still too expensive for most operators.
Douglas C-118A N351CE (c/n 44599/505) at Anchorage IAP on 23Jul03; compare its Everts Air Cargo livery with N351CE, Fairbanks 1995. History of this former USAAF 53-3228 has also been described there.
One simply must visit the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum at Lake Hood ! They have some fine aircraft on display, like this 1944 Grumman G-21 Goose N789 (c/n B-102).
N789 was in service with the US Navy until being surplused to the US Fish & Wildlife Service in 1956. It has flown all over Alaska from the Aleutian Islands to the Arctic Ocean throughout its service life. The Goose, N789, was donated to the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum by the US Department of Interior in 1997 through the efforts of Senator Ted Stevens.
It has an insigna on mid-aft fuselage and up front, with the pilots' names it also says: "This aircraft was donated by US Department of Interior courtesy of Senator Ted Stevens and staff".
This Consolidated OA-10A Catalina (N57875, c/n CV-465) has a long way to go if it is ever to be restored. Funding is probably the ever present problem.
This "survivor" is nicknamed "the Queen of Dago Lake", named after the place where she ditched and was recovered from.
The manufacturer, Canadian-Vickers, originally built this PBY as a PBV-1A for the Royal Air Force with Bureau of Aeronautics number 67918. However, it changed at the factory when the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) took delivery of it instead and designated it OA-10A with serial 44-33954. It flew for several different units until April 1947 when it transferred to 10th Air Rescue Squadron at Elmendorf Air Force Base near Anchorage.
Five months after arriving at Elmendorf AFB (30Sep47) it was forced down while en route over the Alaska Peninsula. Engine trouble forced them to land in a shallow lake. Ther was some minor hull damage and everyone onboard survived this adventure unscathed. Many unsucessful attempts were made to recover the plane. Several Noorduyn Norseman aircraft were damaged when they were used as crew ferries. A replacement engine was lost to the lake...
The military wrote it off as a loss, after having had guards initially on the site, and rendered it immobile by hydraulic lines and control cables.
It was bought for a mere usd 58,- by the Richards family in 1948. They did not know the plane had been "sabotaged". Discouraged from restoring it, they traded parts of it with Alaska Coastal Ellis Airlines for a Piper floatplane. The Catalina sat on Dago Lake for 37 years... Someone used an axe to get to the fuel cells.
On 29Sep84 a US Army CH-54 Skycrane helicopter lifted it for the Alaska Historical Aviation Society and it changed location to the shores of Lake Hood. Restoration is presently beyond the scope of the museum's ability. (Information provided by the museum).
My page Photo by Friends and Guest, page 7 has an 1988 photo of this Catalina, made by Henk Geerlings.
Douglas DC-3 by J.M.G. Gradidge (Air-Britain, 1984)
Douglas DC-3 Survivors, Vol.2 by Arthur Pearcy (Aston Publications, 1988)
Convairliners by J.M. Gradidge (in coop with John M.Davies, Douglas D.Olson, Dr.John A.Whittle) Air-Britain 1997.
Lockheed Hercules, Production List by Lars Olausson (1954-2004, 21st Edition)
Lockheed L-188 & L-1011 by Lundkvist Aviation Research (Dec.1980)
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Created: 28-08-03 Updated: 11-4-05
Last updated 9.5.2006