‘Beach City Baby’ Flies! – WWII Combat Vet C-53 Airborne Again

Jason Capra grinning from the right seat in Beach City Baby on the combat veteran C-53's ferry flight from Beach City, Ohio to her new home in Franklin, Pennsylvania. Following her first flight, the aircraft will now begin a marathon effort to bring her back to authentic wartime configuration. (photo by Greg Morehead)
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A historic, combat-veteran Douglas C-53 Skytrooper (41-20095) took to the skies again for the first time in several decades in Beach City, Ohio on Saturday October 6th, 2018 following a remarkable three-year effort by Jason Capra and his team of volunteers at Vintage Wings Inc. We were there on the ground and in the air with Warbird Digest’s very own Greg Morehead, whom supplied us with some of the beautiful images of her first flight herein. We have been following this project since shortly after it started. Jason Capra has provided us (below) with a nice summary of Vintage Wings efforts so far, and what the plans are now for her future…

The Story of Beach City Baby, Restoration Update

by Jason Capra

Three years ago, Vintage Wings, Inc. President & Founder Jason Capra was driving through Ohio and stumbled upon what appeared to be an abandoned Douglas C-53DO Skytrooper at a grass airfield in Beach City, Ohio. Most who passed by this large warbird in a small field never gave much thought about what she had done in her past.   Some who knew the significance of a DC-3 would stop by and take photographs, but avid historical aviation enthusiast and pilot Jason Capra knew something needed to be done, and fast. He took down the tail number, began researching and discovered an amazing history. He came to find that not only was she a storied war veteran that served in the European and Mediterranean theater for the entire duration of World War II, she also had an amazing post-war history.  

With Construction starting in late 1941, Vintage Wings Inc.’s Douglas C-53DO Skytrooper was on the factory floor in Santa Monica, California when Pearl Harbor was attacked and was accepted by the Army Air Corps weeks later in January 1942 and sent to Bolling Field, Washington DC. The aircraft was then assigned to the Army Air Corps Ferry Command shortly thereafter where it flew under the command of pilots from “Northeast Airlines” as at the time army pilots were in short supply. “Beach City Baby” flew some of the very first survey routes and ferry flights to and from England laying the ground work for what would become known as the North Atlantic Routes used by thousands of aircraft to deliver supplies and personnel to England.

A wartime shot of Beach City Baby in her Northeast Airlines colors. (photo via Vintage Wings Inc.)

In July 1942, it was then transferred to the North Atlantic Wing of the Air Transport Command where she shuttled troops and VIPs over many theaters of operation. In November 1942 “Beach City Baby” was then transferred to North Africa to fly with the North African ATC Wing where it supported the war against the Germans and eventually took place in the Invasion of Sicily and Italy. The aircraft was last assigned to FEA, Cairo Division until May 12th, 1945.

After flying for Danish Airlines and SAS, immediately after the war, the airplane became known in Ohio as “Buckeye One,” the Governor of Ohio’s aircraft. Governor James Rhodes arranged to purchase this historic aircraft in 1964 not only as official transportation of the State of Ohio, but also as an outreach and platform for development of General Aviation in his state.  This particular DC-3 had apparently done it all. 

With the discovery of such an important and historic aircraft, Jason began to gather a group of like-minded aviation professionals and enthusiasts with the goal of saving this aircraft from succumbing to the elements and ravages of time. He formed the non-profit “Vintage Wings Inc” and began negotiations with the owner to purchase her. A deal was struck and during the next year, the newly formed organization built up a strong and talented membership and the process of fundraising began. When the fundraising and awareness programs began to show real results, the owner agreed to allow the team to begin restoration and preservation efforts while the remainder of the funds to finalize the purchase were secured.   After being left outdoors for so long, it was important for the team to begin work immediately to prevent further damage. 

Fast forward to February of 2017 and the “Save Beach City Baby” campaign was successful and Douglas DC-3/C-53 41-20095 became property of Vintage Wings, Inc. While that incredibly challenging goal has been met, her safety was far from guaranteed as she remained outside and too big for any hangar at the small airfield. The process of getting her airworthy was accelerated and a deal was made at the Franklin-Venango Regional Airport in Western Pennsylvania for a climate-controlled hangar for her full restoration and safe storage into the future while partnering with the local EAA Chapter.

After working for an average of 2 days a week since February 2017 in all types of weather and temperatures in an open field in rural Ohio, Vintage Wings Inc. with the help of local EAA Sport Aviation Chapter 988 of Franklin was able to resurrect this sleeping warbird back to life. Thousands of man hours, dollars, and blood sweat and tears later the 1942 Douglas C-53 was finally ready to take flight to her new home in Franklin. Having recently completed many engine runs and taxi test, the Federal Aviation Administration had given “Beach City Baby” the go for her first flight in almost 25 years with its first destination being the site of its new home, Franklin – Venango Regional Airport.

Vintage Wings Inc. has come a long way in just under three years. Some of the more major milestones already accomplished include removal of the aging corporate interior and full restoration of cockpit instrumentation, radios and control panels. All control surfaces have been removed, rebuilt and recovered by our very talented members at Franklin-Venango Regional Airport.  The entire aircraft has been completely rewired and saw the removal of yards upon yards of old and rotting wire. Both engines have been completely inspected thoroughly with compression checks and bore-scoped while replacing almost every component associated with them. Vintage Carburetors, Preferred Airparts, Champion Aerospace, Dynamic Aviation and Sun Air Parts have been instrumental in the restoration of our C-53’s engines. 

Her flaps and all of its components have been completely rebuilt and refurbished. Vintage Wings has also purchased all three new tires for the aircraft and has already rebuilt the tailwheel and replaced the tire, with the main tires and brakes being replaced and rebuilt this spring.  The original nose was put back on the aircraft with the former fiberglass corporate radome being taken off and traded for more parts. The entire tail area has essentially been rebuilt and all cables inspected and replaced as necessary.  

The interior has stripped of all old paint and adhesive which our members have been painstakingly at for some time now and all windows have been replaced with new ones as well as new window frames.  Both navigator and radio operator stations are being completely rebuilt and both will be restored to honor our C-53’s wartime occupants whom we’ve located and have been communicating with. 

A shot of Beach City Baby’s fully restored cockpit showing just how meticulous this restoration has been! (photo via Vintage Wings Inc.)

[Editor] On October 6th, Douglas C-53 Skytrooper 41-20095 ‘Beach City Baby’ made her successful ferry flight from her long-term home in Beach City, Ohio to Franklin-Venango Regional Airport where her restoration to full wartime configuration will continue. On landing, a small reception took place inside her new hangar, and Jason Capra spoke about his experiences with the project. We thought our readers would like to hear his description of both his experiences getting the aircraft to this point, and what the flight was like…

Jason Capra speaking at the reception following Beach City Baby’s arrival at her new home in Franklin, Pennsylvania. (photo by Greg Morehead)

“It’s pretty surreal. I can’t believe we’re here right now with the airplane sitting in front of the hangar. 

It was really a combination of the right people at the right time…

Once the airplane was officially ours, we started working on it full tilt. I personally, and most everyone else that’s here with the C-53 shirts on that you see here have been out in Ohio two days a week for two years straight. I put almost 55,000 miles on my truck to make this thing work. I always knew it could be done, and the only thing that holds you back in life that you want to go after is yourself. It was the scariest most overwhelming thing that I’ve ever looked at in my life. The first answer to, ‘how do you eat an elephant?’ is, ‘one bite at a time.’ And that’s basically what we did. We broke this project down into twenty some smaller projects and just one by one went through the check list. And every milestone we made sure we put on social media so everyone could see it. And it has been a dream come true for me. I used to build models of DC-3s when I was a kid – and never thought in my life I’d have one by the time I was 34 – [tearing up] – I always wanted to save a warbird and just wanted someone to give me a chance and they never did – I went to every museum in the area, and no one would give me the time of day. I was just a stupid kid. I bet you they are kicking themselves… right now, because I could have done wonders for them – but there she is!

One thing I like about this airport and the people that we have in our organization and the EAA Chapter in Franklin is that we assume nothing, and we are welcoming of everybody. I will never ever, as long as I’m running Vintage Wings and we have this airplane, turn anybody away that wants to help. I don’t care if you don’t know anything about airplanes – Our job is to teach, and that’s what the EAA is really good with. I am proud to partner with them. So whether you want to sweep the floor or wipe the airplane down, or if you know how to bend sheet metal (which we are very appreciative of) you’re welcome. If you don’t know, we’re gonna teach you, because that’s what we do. For aviation to continue, we’ve got to keep passing the torch on to the next generation. I’m giving us a year and a half to two years for that plane to be completely finished, and we’ll start doing airshows with her, but she’ll be pretty amazing when she does!

We are still trying to find the two pilots. I’ve been on facebook for two years trying to find any living family members, but we’ve been unsuccessful so far. My goal is to get the original crew and all their family members together because of this airplane. It’s the least I can do for that generation. 

The flight was pretty good. Ian Hengst was the captain for the flight and it was honored to get fly with him. 5,000 hours of DC-3 time under his belt and he still flies them every day for a living out of Florida…

Like I said, the take off out of Beach City was pretty good. When we were doing our engine run up, we sank into the ground a good five or six inches. It took a little juice to get her to move, but we decided on the roll there that we were going to have to just gun it and go, and I’m glad that we did, because I think we would have sunk into the mud even more. But it’s kind of a blur from the time we put in power to when the gear came into the wells. We heard a little pop on take off and Ian and I both thought that maybe one of the engines burped, but it ended up being a bird. We have a massive dent in the tail right now from a buzzard or something that we cracked on take off, which is now going to have to be fixed… The low pass in Beach City was amazing… that was actually all Ian. That was a beautiful job, and he made it look real easy. And once we got up in the air and started on our way here – Ian looked at me and said, ‘Your controls’, and I got to fly the airplane for the first time, which was awesome. But it was like a dream come true – it was surreal – I kept looking out the window at that big radial engine out there purring away and everything was doing what it was supposed to do, which was scary! [laughing] – and it flew perfectly all the way over here – just skimming the clouds – just Ian and I talking… and the airplane. It was perfect. So coming in here I had to do a low pass for you guys. I wanted to let you all know we were all here. And then the landing was pretty good…. Ian took over the controls again for the landing, and he did a beautiful job getting her down soft on the runway. Though [Beach City Baby] not having flown in 25 plus years, she did just fine… I’d love to get back in her right now and go up again, but I don’t think the FAA is going to like it! [laughing]. But anyway, it was an incredible joy to fly!” 

Vintage Wings Inc’s goal is to create a flying classroom; A mobile living history museum inside the aircraft’s cabin. Static aircraft in museums serve a distinct and valuable purpose, but a flying aircraft with all its sights, sounds and smells simply cannot be replicated in a museum. The cabin and cockpit will become a classroom with learning modules using key points in its distinct history that align with key points in aviation history. Guests will see the significance of its role as a military C-53 in winning the war and as a DC-3A creating the model for the modern air transportation system. Flying into airshows, fly-in’s and other aviation related events, it will offer more than just a silent and empty cabin. Our core goal is to inspire future generations by telling the amazing history of 41-20095 as only it can do.

Now it is our turn to write this amazing airplane’s next chapter. With your help we can bring “BEACH CITY BABY” back to life. Don’t let this beautiful piece of American aviation history fade away or worse, be cut by the scrapper’s torch. With your contribution and help we can put our C-53 back where it belongs, in the air. To learn more, please visit our website at: www.vintagewingsinc.com


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