The Aircraft

Douglas DC-3 Dakota (N877MG)

  • Aircraft Type: Douglas DC-3 Dakota
  • Operator: Historic Flight Foundation
  • Year of Manufacture: 1944
  • Powered by: X2 Pratt & Whitney 1830-92’s
  • Colour Scheme: 1949 Pan American World Airways.

Originally a C-47BC-47B was designed specifically for the ‘Hump’ route, with extra fuel tanks, supercharged engines, and de-icing equipment. Like all C-47s they had a cargo floor, big cargo doors, and fold-down seats along the side of the fuselage. Delivered from Long Beach assembly line 31st July 1944, only 300 C-47Bs were made there but over 3,000 total were built. It had standard U.S. Army Air Corps markings, although it was destined for CNAC Long Beach to Miami by the 6th Ferrying Group (they did have a WASP contingent, unsure if WASPs test flew or delivered her to India 15th August to 29th August 1944, flown by CNAC pilot Pete Goutiere, Pete recalls it was fitted with a 75 gallon fuel tank behind the co-pilot’s seat for the Atlantic crossing. Miami – Porto Rico – Georgetown – Belem – Natal – Ascension Island – Accra – Maiduguri – Khartaum – Aden – Karachi – Calcutta. (Early spellings of some of those destinations, from Pete’s logbook)

Pete had been raised in India and spent a year flying around northern Africa, so they “buzzed” many interesting landmarks Pete recounted that there were sometimes German U-Boats near Ascension Island, broadcasting false radio signals to try to lead aircraft astray Painted as CNAC #100 in Calcutta, Air Corps stars painted over by CNAC “Chung” symbol, engines upgraded to -94 model Flew “the Hump” for the remainder of the war, Pete Goutiere recalls flying it many times over that route At some point it ran off the runway and ended up balancing on its nose and main gear. The pilot in command was Sam Belief, his son has been in touch and states that according to his Dad (now deceased) it was flying again the next day. We have a photo of the incident. Engines were probably pulled and replaced on the spot. Stayed with CNAC post-war, was re-numbered to XT-T-20. According to CNAC aircraft lists it flew cargo, so was probably still a stock C-47B.In 1948 re-numbered to XT-119 and flew as an “Air Bus” with 32 seats on the route from Canton to Hong Kong and back, this was a short hop but very busy, 4-5 flights per day some say.

Unsure to what extent it was modified to do this, seats were added of course but not sure what else. It probably got a post-war silver CNAC livery around this time as well, very similar to the Pan Am paint it has now. In 1949 all CNAC aircraft were flown to Kai Tak and then held at that airport pending resolution of the dispute of ownership between the Nationalist and Communist governments.

Many of the aircraft were stripped for long-term storage with their wings removed, but this one and several others remained airworthy. Most of the other airworthy aircraft were taken by pro-Communist ground crew and pilots and flown to Communist China (defected) To prevent this happening again, the Nationalist government in exile sent secret agents to Kai Tak to sabotage the remaining airworthy airplanes.

On April 2, 1950 this aircraft was among 7 damaged by bombs. A timed charge went off in its right engine nacelle. The legal dispute and subsequent sale of the aircraft to Claire Chennault and CAT in 1952 are complicated, but the short version is that it was an effort supported by the U.S. government (CIA), with the cooperation of the British, to keep the aircraft out of Communist hands. When it was listed for the sale to CAT it was listed as XT-119 (37-34) but was given an incorrect serial number: because of the sabotage by Nationalist agents, the aircraft were being guarded by Communist ground crew 24/7, who were themselves being guarded by Hong Kong police. In order to retrieve the serial numbers of the aircraft for sale and registration in the United States, Claire Chennault hired a Communist ground crew member who had access to the aircraft to read the serial numbers off of their data plates. When he went looking for the serial on this aircraft, he came back with the Long Beach Line Number 4193. This is the “serial number” it is registered under to this day.

In 1952 the CAT aircraft were transported by ship back to the U.S. Most travelled on an aircraft carrier, the only time a U.S. Carrier has transported civilian aircraft, but ours was on a cargo ship. This may be the key to its survival, the cargo ship made it back first and our aircraft was modified and sold quickly… the other aircraft on the carrier became embroiled in yet another legal case on return to the U.S. when Chiang Kai Shek sued Claire Chennault alleging he was not paid a fair price for them. Following this legal case, most or all of those aircraft became ‘Air America’ and were subsequently scattered around the globe and lost.

In 1953 this aircraft was back in the States and went to Grand Central Aircraft Co. for conversion to the VIP DC-3 configuration. On leaving Grand Central few would have been able to recognize it. It had a huge radome on the nose from a DC-4, a new cockpit windshield, no pilot escape door, upgraded avionics, a fuel jettison system, panoramic windows, an air-stair style passenger door rather than cargo doors, a plush VIP interior. Stainless steel galley, full lavatory, rear baggage compartment, clamshell landing gear doors, and a retractable tail wheel. Following conversion it was sold to Johnson & Johnson in October of 1953, registered at N800J, and flew with them until 1959.

For the following organizations it was either a VIP/Executive transport or an aerial sightseeing platform: Re-registered as N8009 with View master Windows in June of 1959S.A. Tampos -July 1969 Tiburzi Tours Inc -April 1971Club Passport Inc -May 1971Air Nashua Corp -1975 International Shoe Machine Corp. July 6th, 1978 Foster McEdward flew the aircraft with International Shoe Machine Corporation as their chief pilot. He flew all over the world in the aircraft for 18 years. ISMC used the DC-3 for flights throughout North and South America, Africa, and Europe, and then also a DC-4 for use across the Pacific to Asia. Foster McEdward was a former CNAC pilot and had flown C-54s for them across the Pacific, he somehow found out about the CNAC service of this DC-3 and had a CNAC “Chung” painted under one wing. On one memorable trip he left New Hampshire, flew down to South America, across the Atlantic just like Pete had, then up into Europe and back to the U.S. On another trip, when departing out of Europe back to the U.S. he lost an engine during the climb out. Fully loaded with fuel he couldn’t return to land. The aircraft lost altitude but then eventually stabilized itself at a few hundred feet on one engine. He made it to his scheduled stop in Iceland. The bad engine was pulled and replaced, but on the test flight the replacement engine failed also. Another was shipped in and he was finally able to get home. Re-registered as N877MG by Victoria Forest & Scout in January of 1996. Put up for sale in 2005, Historic Flight bought the aircraft in 2006, spent 6 years in restoration. During this time its history was unknown, the rumour was that it had flown for Pan Am since it had much of the equipment that was standard for a Pan Am aircraft. One of the mechanics at Sealand began to dig deeper and discovered its true serial number and origin, but its life story from 1944-1953 was still a blank. Arrived at Historic Flight at Paine Field on November 7 2012. Historical research began shortly thereafter, and is still ongoing. First HFF passenger flight was March 2, 2013.

Photo credit: James Polivka