Saturday, August 31, 2019

Basler Turbo Conversions: Where DC-3s Get a New Lease on Life

By Carmelo Turdo and Fred Harl
The Aero Experience continues with our current theme, the Douglas DC-3/C-47 family of aircraft, with a look at our visit to Basler Turbo Conversions following our ten days at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2019. Located on the east side of the main runway at Wittman Regional Airport within sight of the week's festivities, Basler Turbo Conversions is a special place where these classic Douglas aircraft get a new lease on life after over 80 years of civil and military service worldwide. Whole aircraft and large structures, such as wings, tails, landing gear and even skis, arrive on a regular basis to be refurbished or remanufactured into a BT-67 turboprop conversion or restored to a pristine piston-powered DC-3. During our visit, we saw a variety of aircraft before, during and after they receive the Basler treatment.

We arrived at the Basler facility on Monday morning as the airport was recovering from the nation's largest annual aviation event. Our tour was arranged by Matt Hauck (right), Director of Maintenance and Production, who met us in the lobby during a break in his work assisting the airport with moving aircraft in the aftermath of AirVenture. The tour was conducted by Wing and Flight Controls Lead Hans Wagenpfeil, seen below during our visit to the machine shop. You know you are in the world of the DC-3 as soon as you walk through the front door.

Basler Turbo Conversions graphic
Airframes 67-69 were in the production hangar undergoing re-manufacture to the new BT-67 turboprop standard. The aircraft will emerge from their original Douglas model (DC-3, C-47, C-53 etc.) to a new-build, stretched, turboprop-powered transport that can be employed as a modern air asset in any location and climate. It excels flying civil and military missions that require operating from unprepared airstrips, long range/loiter time, a useful load of up to 14,000lbs. and fuel efficiency/Jet A availability. The fuselage is stretched just forward of the wing, giving proper weight and balance for the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-67R turboprop powerplants and contributing to the 35% added interior volume. The aircraft is also equipped with a modified wing, strengthened structure, updated electrical and control systems, and the latest avionics in a modern cockpit arrangement. The aircraft can be configured with custom crew stations, cargo holds, science and survey equipment and even gunship armament for each custom order. Skis are also an option for arctic operations. The Basler Turbo Conversions website gives a comprehensive list of the missions for which the BT-67 can be employed, and their YouTube channel provides videos showing the manufacturing process.

Below are some views of the current aircraft projects, including the main production floor and the machine shop where custom parts are fabricated:

During our visit, That's All, Brother, a Douglas C-47 that served as a pathfinder for the D-Day Invasion of France in World War II, was brought into the service hangar for maintenance on its left engine. The aircraft was restored over the last several years to its original configuration for the Commemorative Air Force. The Aero Experience was there for the project rollout at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2015

Outside of the facility is the apron and grassy area where the current fleet aircraft and future project airframes are parked. The sharp green and white turboprop BT-67 conversion is a long-time Basler aircraft that was originally manufactured in 1943. Beside it is a C-47B used by Airborne Support of Houma, LA to apply dispersing agents used in oil spill clean up efforts. They also use another DC-3, a Basler BT-67 and other aircraft types in their fleet. A Commemorative Air Force C-47, painted as The Black Sparrow after another aircraft of that name that was a leading troop carrier aircraft on D-Day, can also be seen along with several others on the apron and in the grass. Our audience may recognize the blue and white North Cariboo 1943 C-47B that was the subject of our three-part series, Found! Daughter of World War II Veteran Locates His Douglas C-47 in the Midwest. The aircraft was named Miss Anabel Lee and flown by Major Thomas E. Nunn and crew in the fall of 1944. That winter, it was flown by other crews on resupply missions during the Battle of the Bulge and was redeployed to France supporting the Allied sweep through Germany. The aircraft flew in Canada for North Cariboo in the 1980s and kept her fading paint scheme until her retirement. She remained on the apron at St. Louis Downtown Airport for over ten years before being acquired by Basler at the end of 2018. This aircraft was transported to Basler in June of this year, as seen in our post, World War II Veteran Douglas DC-3 to Get New Lease on Life as Basler Turbo Conversion.   

The Aero Experience thanks Director of Maintenance and Production Matt Hauck, Hans Wagenpfeil and the management and employees of Basler Turbo Conversions for their hospitality and for the opportunity to follow the former St. Louis-based C-47 through the moving process to the Basler location. We will provide updates on this aircraft as it goes through its conversion in the years ahead.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2019: D-Day Invasion 75th Anniversary Commemoration

The Aero Experience coverage of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2019, sponsored by Elite Aviation, continues with a look at the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion of northern France at Normandy. The Allies began the largest amphibious military operation in history on June 6, 1944, and more than 160,000 troops and 11,000 aircraft would participate. Included in the invasion were over 900 C-47/C-53 variants that transported paratroopers aboard or in towed gliders to areas behind the enemy lines during the night and in support of the main landings. In recent months, 75 years later, the event was commemorated at various locations including Normandy and at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2019. 

Members of the D-Day Squadron flew to France, following the authentic ferry route from the U.S. to the U.K., to participate in D-Day commemoration flights on June 5 and June 6 of this year. In this post, we feature eight of the Douglas transports flying in formation during the Warbirds of America portion of the Thursday, Friday and Saturday airshows. But first we feature two aircraft on display in Boeing Plaza: That's All Brother, a D-Day pathfinder recently restored by Basler Turbo Conversions located on the airport grounds, was available for tours, and The Duchess of Dakota was given D-Day stripes by reenactors demonstrating how the aircraft were given the distinctive markings at the last moment using brushes, brooms and mops.

Thursday, July 25 Airshow

Friday, July 26 Airshow

Saturday, July 27 Airshow