Beach City Baby – Progress Update – September 2021

Beach City Baby is approaching the finishing line of her restoration effort. With almost all of the items on the punch list completed, the first flight should be just a month or two away. (image via Jason Capra)
United Fuel Cells

As regular readers will know, we have been following the remarkable efforts of Jason Capra and Vintage Wings Inc.  over the past few years as they have successfully pursued the resurrection of combat-veteran Douglas C-53 Skytrooper 41-20095. This once-tired and forlorn airframe now looks magnificent following a whirlwind, in-depth restoration which is racing towards the final furlong ahead of the first post-restoration flight. We thought it high-time that we published an update on their recent efforts.

After completing the airframe’s structural restoration, and fully-outfitting the cockpit and cargo-bay with an authentic WWII interior, the team are presently focusing on the engines and instrumentation. However, after a recent engine run, they reported a couple of issues which need resolving. We will let Vintage Wings boss, and the energy-engine behind this entire endeavor, Jason Capra, pick up the discussion here:

After all of our “Squawk List” was checked off for both engines, the final engine run produced two issues which now need addressing.

Issue number one:
Our left engine’s 3-in-1 Gauge has a frozen Oil Temperature needle that failed to move after the engine run. After troubleshooting it, we faced the music and removed the gauge; it will need an overhaul. At roughly $300, we should have the instrument back in a month. However this puts a stop to running the left engine, obviously, until the gauge returns.

Issue Number two:
Our right engine’s left magneto decided to stop working; such things can happen on radial engined aircraft from time-to-time. The C-53’s Pratt&Whitney 1830-94 powerplants have their mags’ mounted to the engine’s nose-casing which is, of course, a high vibration area, and one which also houses the associated wiring leads for both magnetos too. Although the right engine’s mags are running great as well as the right engine’s right mag, we need to do two things…

  1. Replace the “set” of two magnetos for the right engine.
  2. Procure a “Standby Set” of magnetos for next year to have on hand in case the other side decides to give us trouble too.
Even when these aircraft were new, magnetos were an area of constant maintenance and upkeep. Indeed, most multi-engined warbirds flying today usually have a “Standby Set“ on hand to prevent their warbird from being stranded on the road once the flying season begins; it is a responsible and safe habit to keep.

While it might be expedient to simply rely on the still-functioning right engine’s right-hand magneto, this is not safe practice. Even on small airplanes like the Piper J3 Cub, when you have to change one mag, you always change the “set” because if one magneto goes, then the chances are that the other one won’t be far behind. Losing an engine in flight over a preventative issue is the height of recklessness; our responsibilities to our guests, our crew, and our airplane are safety and consistency. Therefore, we now need to send out four magnetos for overhaul, at a cost of around $1,000 each. This also comes, unfortunately, with a turn around time of 4 to 6 weeks.
As much as we wanted to get our airplane flying by early October, safety has to come first, so these issues must be addressed – nothing is worth rushing if it means it won’t be done right. From day one, we have been thorough and focused on doing this right. So if it means waiting longer for that sweet, sweet, end goal, then so be it. She will fly soon enough…

While the magnetos are out for overhaul, the team has continued to work on the engines. We successfully removed both generators and both regulators from the electrical system to be sent out for overhaul. It’s just one of those things… We’ve replaced everything, so why stop now? Even though they work just fine, and show very little sign of wear, we will know they are fresh when they return – just like everything else. This was also a good opportunity to teach our student member, Jacob Fordyce, in the correct procedures for how to remove them. We figured that since we expect to be waiting four to six weeks for the magnetos to come back, we may as well send these units out as well.

Aero Accessories Inc. in San Antonio, Texas is now hard at work overhauling the C-53’s two generators, regulators, and two sets of magnetos. In Lock Haven, Pennsylvania the left engine’s 3-in-1 gauge is having its oil temperature element fixed. The gauge is slated to return in another week, while Aero Accessories have given us a 3-5 week turn around time on the components we’ve sent to them. Unfortunately, this prohibits any further engine runs and further testing until these components return. This was a must and necessary to give the airplane a truly fresh start for next season and remove any doubt about components in the electrical system.

Jerry E. Sass & Jim Aaron fabricated a new trim tab cover (seen here in pale green paint) for the right aileron. This cover reduces parasite drag from the leading edge of the right aileron. Beach City Baby was missing this cover from the start of this project, and needed a replacement to enable airworthiness. . (image via Jason Capra)

We also finished installing and testing all of the cowl flaps for the right engine. Once our engine components return, the engines will be re-cowled, with the cowl flaps hooked up for system testing. Right now, the left cowling is being cleaned and prepared for paint while all of its hardware is out being Cadmium plated, painted, and/or replaced. Hopefully within the next week or two, it will be finished and ready to be installed on the airplane.

Avionics and the last of the wiring remains to be finished. We essentially have two guys, Joe Matz & John Breitenbach who are tackling our wiring issue, and only so much can be done on the two days during the weekend. Consistency is the key here, and soon enough it will be finished. With the C-53 undergoing a corporate conversion during the 50s, our electrical system is a bit different to a normal DC-3/C-47, but happily, we finally found the wiring diagram for the airplane from the Part 337 paperwork, as completed by Bohling Aircraft Corps in Miami, Florida during 1964!

The electrical diagram for the C-53 which reflects the modifications made during the 1960s. This was an important discovery in the aircraft’s files, and will make working on the aircraft’s electrical wiring a lot less complicated. (image via Jason Capra)

Working on the cockpit wiring. (image via Jason Capra)

As we approach October, we will be preparing to move from our current hangar to the new hangar at the airport which will better suit our needs as a museum and living history experience. This alone will require much time and effort moving things from one location to the other and doing it all in a way which fits our needs as both a museum and an active maintenance hangar for our C-53. There’s more to come on this, so please stay tuned…

And finally, as of last week, I have officially received my pilot-in-command type-rating on the DC-3. This effort had me absent from the organization all last week while completing my training in Topeka, Kansas. I want to convey a very sincere thank you to the American Flight Museum, Inc. and Brooks Pettit for their amazing hospitality in hosting me on behalf of Vintage Wings Inc. and for allowing me to use their AC-47 to receive my training and type-rating. It’s this kind of cooperation which is vital to the ongoing operation of these grand old ladies. I also want to thank Doug Rozendaal for making the time to come and give the check-ride for the type rating. We look forwards, as well, to working with Doug in the future with collaboration regarding our Standard Operating Procedures as well as our normal and non-normal checklists.

The American Flight Museum’s C-47D 43-16369, which Jason Capra earned his pilot-in-command DC-3 type-rating in. (image via Jason Capra)

Jason Capra looking jubilant after completing his pilot-in-command type-rating in the C-47. (image via Jason Capra)

This weekend we will be back at it in the hangar continuing our mission to get Beach City Baby flying soon. Stay tuned as always for updates and news. Thank you all for all the support you give. We couldn’t do it without you!

Beach City Baby on the ramp looking almost ready to fly, barring the missing port engine cowlings. (image via Jason Capra)

And that’s all for this issue of the Beach City Baby restoration update. That being said, Vintage Wings Inc. has started a  “DRIVE FOR 5!” fundraiser to help raise the $5,000 to cover the costs of the magneto rebuilds. If you can help, please do visit their website and click the PayPal button to contribute!


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