Mann Gulch DC-3 to fly to Europe for 75th anniversary of D-Day

Much work has to be done on the aircraft before the event in 2019

Above: Removal of victims at the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire. USFS photo.

The aircraft that dropped the smokejumpers who attacked the Mann Gulch Fire in 1949 is scheduled to cross the Atlantic next year to take part in the 75th commemoration of D-Day. The fire in Montana on which 12 jumpers and one fire guard died in 1949 is infamous among wildland firefighters as its memory lives on when more generations read about the tragedy in Norman Maclean’s book Young Men and Fire.

The Missoulian has the story about how numerous volunteers are mobilizing to work on the 74-year old aircraft’s airworthiness and regulatory compliance — it has not been in the air since 2001.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

It seems preposterous.

Take an historic, over-the-hills smokejumper plane that was last airborne in 2001, fix it up to federal standards, and fly it to Europe next year for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Maybe even drop jumpers into France, pulling ripcords of old-fashioned round parachutes and wearing suits their grandfathers used during the Normandy invasion in France on June 6, 1944.

And while you’re there, hit Germany to take part in the 70th anniversary commemoration of the Berlin Airlift (1948-49).

A beautiful DC-3

While at Sacramento McClellan Airport last week I couldn’t take my eyes off a particular airplane. It was a DC-3 with a highly-polished bare metal finish. Built in 1939 for Major General Henry ‘Hap’ Arnold, it was used for VIP transport for himself and military command staff, as well as other high ranking officials including the Secretary of War. It was based at Bolling Army Airfield, Washington D.C.

DC-3 at McClellan
DC-3 at McClellan, March 15, 2018. Photo by Bill Gabbert
DC-3 at McClellan
DC-3 at McClellan, March 15, 2018. Photo by Bill Gabbert

In case you’re wondering, the bottom photo was not captured or converted to black & white. It’s just that virtually all that was there was black, shades of gray, or white.  The images above are low resolution. You can get your own high-res copy, framed or unframed, and without the watermark.
Photography Prints

USFS DC-3 listed on auction site

The auction closes July 22 at 11 a.m. CDT

DC-3 USFS
DC-3 in a hangar at McClellan March 23, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The last DC-3 formerly owned by the U.S. Forest Service is listed for sale on the General Services Administration auction website. Built in 1944, it retired from smokejumper duty in December of 2015.

Here is the description of the aircraft at the GSA website:

Douglas DC-3T, 1944 S/N 33567, N115U. 18800.9 hours aircraft TT. P&W PT6A-67R engines, Left 2367.7 SMOH, Right 5831. SMOH HC-B5MA-3 propellers 543.0 SPOH This is an “As is where is” sale. Attached Equipment List Further details on invitation for bid DOUGLAS DC-3T 1232TD612400011

The last bid was $1,000, but the reserve has not been met. It is currently at McClellan Air Field in California.

The 72-year old aircraft, first operated by the Royal Air Force, was manufactured as World War II was winding down. The radial piston engines were replaced 25 years ago with turbines by Basler, extending its life while providing more reliability and less maintenance. The aircraft’s sister, Jump-42, another DC-3, retired in November, 2012.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Danny.

Interesting aircraft seen at McClellan Airfield

A DC-3 and a C-27J were parked in a hanger.

Last week during the Aerial Firefighting conference there were two interesting aircraft at McClellan Airfield parked in the hangar near the static display of the 747 Supertanker and other firefighting aircraft.

One of them was a DC-3 that appeared to be the recently retired smokejumper aircraft. Instead of the registration number previously on the jump ship, N115Z, the number was N115U.

The other aircraft in the same hangar was a Coast Guard C-27J Spartan. A few years ago the U.S. Forest Service attempted to acquire a bunch of the former military aircraft to use them as air tankers. But the Coast Guard intervened, and unloaded seven of their old C-130Hs to the USFS, so they could get the C-27Js.

More information about the C-17J from the Coast Guard, December 18, 2015:

Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento is preparing to become the first permanent home of C-27J Spartan medium range surveillance aircraft, with operations expected to start in 2016.

The HC-27J Asset Project Office will assist with the transition by providing a forward-deployable maintenance team and pilot, aircrew and maintenance technician instructors, said Cmdr. Peter Beavis, APO executive officer. An aircraft to be used for training was repositioned to the air station Dec. 2.

Four aircraft will be transferred to the air station in fiscal year 2016, said Lt. Robert Hovanec, C-27J platform manager with the Office of Aviation Forces. Sacramento will have six aircraft at full capacity, with the remaining two arriving in 2017.

C-27J coast guard
C-27J in a hangar at McClellan
DC-3 USFS
DC-3 in a hangar at McClellan. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

DC-3 in a museum

DC-3 Ford Tri-motor
DC-3 and Ford Tri-Motor (in the foreground)  in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

Shortly after the U.S. Forest Service retired their last DC-3 from smokejumping duties, I ran across another one in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

It was displayed next to a Ford Tri-Motor.

The last Forest Service DC-3 retires

The last DC-3 operated by the U.S. Forest Service retired this week following a ceremony at the Missoula smokejumper base.

N115Z smokejumper DC-3
The last U.S. Forest Service DC-3 departs from Missoula December 10, 2015 after retiring from smokejumper duty. Image by Jason Junes.

Known to the jumpers it hauled as Jump 15, it took off December 10 from Missoula and a flew to McClellan Airfield in Sacramento at 16,000 feet and 200 mph, unpressurized of course. There it will await an auction and a new owner.

The 71-year old aircraft, first operated by the Royal Air Force, was manufactured as World War II was winding down. The radial piston engines were replaced 24 years ago with turbines by Basler extending its life while providing more reliability and less maintenance. The aircraft’s sister, Jump-42, another DC-3, retired in November, 2012.

Approximately 607 DC-3s were built between 1936 and 1942. At that time their cost was $79,000. Most of them had 14-cylinder Pratt and Whitney radial engines.

With the two DC-3s now gone, the smokejumpers will be using some of the 15 C-23B Sherpa aircraft they received from the Army and two De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otters. The Forest Service has been contracting for two additional Twin Otters but those will be phased out as the C-23Bs transition into the fleet after going through modifications, maintenance, and painting.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chris.

Former USFS pilots criticize the retirement of the last DC-3

C-23B Sherpa
One of the fifteen C-23B Sherpa aircraft that were transferred from the U.S. Army to the U.S. Forest Service. They will be used for hauling smokejumpers and cargo, replacing the 70-year old DC-3 and four C-23A aircraft. USFS photo.

They argue that it is no longer a DC-3 and became a BT-67 when new engines were installed, but retired pilots Barry Hicks and Dick Hulla feel strongly that the last DC-3 the U.S. Forest Service still uses for transporting smokejumpers is not too old at the age of 70 and should not be retired. This is scheduled to be the last fire season for the last remaining DC-3 in the USFS fleet. In an article in the Missoulian, Mr. Hulla said, “It’s going to be flying for 50 years.”

Below is an excerpt from the article:

…Hulla and Hicks argue that while Jump 15 was built in 1945 and has been flying for 18,800 hours, its critical parts are just 5,800 hours old. That makes it younger than most of the other smokejumper aircraft currently in service.

And they add that its larger passenger capacity, stronger airframe and longer flying range make it a better choice than the more recently built Sherpa paratrooper planes the Forest Service plans to replace Jump 15 with.

The two Missoula men bring some extensive credentials to the table. Hulla retired in 2008 as the supervisory pilot for Forest Service Region 1 after a career jumping out of and then flying the BT-67.

Hicks retired in 2003 as regional aviation officer for the Forest Service, with a smokejumping career that goes back to the Ford Tri-motor…

The USFS intends to use some of the fifteen C-23B Sherpa aircraft they recently acquired from the Army to replace the DC-3 and the four C-23As they have had for a while. Compared to the C-23A, the C-23B has a rear cargo ramp that can be opened during flight, inward-opening paratroop doors, and stronger landing gear.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Dick.

The last smokejumper DC-3 to retire this year

DC-3 smokejumper
Jump-42, a U.S. Forest Service DC-3 TP at its retirement ceremony at Ogden, Utah, October 24, 2012. USFS photo.

The last DC-3 smokejumper aircraft will retire this year, a few months after its 70th birthday. Jump-15 as it is known, came off the assembly line two months after the end of World War II but it will be making its farewell tour as it drops smokejumpers during its final fire season. The second to the last smokejumper DC-3 retired a couple of years ago.

The Missoulian has an article highlighting the history of Jump-15. Here is an excerpt from the article:

…Douglas Aircraft Co. started building the tail-dragging DC-3s in 1935. TWA director Charles Lindbergh reportedly made the requirement that it should always be able to fly with just one of its two engines. That’s a feature smokejumpers loved too.
The DC-3 was the first to be wide enough for side-by-side sleeper berths – a first-class requirement for the propeller-age jet set. It could fly across the United States in 15 hours with three refueling stops, the first commercial plane to make that trip entirely in daylight.

When America entered World War II in 1942, the civilian plane put on an Army uniform. The military redesignated it the C-47 Dakota and ordered more than 10,000 before 1945.

Dwight Eisenhower ranked it along with the Jeep, the half-ton truck and the bulldozer as the Allied Forces’ most effective tools in winning the war…

Other articles on Fire Aviation tagged “DC-3”.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Dick and Steve.