New life for historic plane: DC3 that ‘cut the ribbon’ at county airport dedication headed for PA with the promise of a new life as a history teacher
By Carol McIntire
Carroll Countians on hand for the dedication of the new Carroll County Airport Oct. 8, 1967, remember well the fanfare associated with the ribbon cutting.
A Douglas C-53 (often called a DC3) plane carrying Governor James A. Rhodes, the featured speaker that day, was afforded the privilege of cutting the ribbon as it landed on the new runway surface.
The event is well documented in the pages of the Oct. 12, 1967, issue of The Free Press Standard (FPS). Longtime FPS employee Don Rutledge stood at the end of the runway, camera in hand, as the DC3 made its landing and “cut” the ribbon. The shutter on Rutledge’s camera clicked as the plane landed and the resulting photo appeared on the front page of that week’s paper.
“It was a big day,” Rutledge called. “About 5,000 people were on hand for the event. I was lucky enough to be the one to take the picture of the plane landing.”
At that time, few people knew the storied history of the aircraft, its military service during World War II, its career as a commercial plane in the Danish Airlines or its stint as a corporate plane. That history recently came to life when Jason Capra, a commercial airline pilot from Washington, PA, found the plane, tarnished and aged, sitting at an airport in Beach City, OH.
“I was on my way back to Pittsburgh one day and decided to take the back roads instead of the main highway,” he said while waiting to leave an airport on a commercial flight. That was in December 2015 or January 2016. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I pulled off the side of the road and went to check it out. I wrote down the serial number so I could search for the owner.”
Capra, who spends the time he is not flying commercial jets, restoring and flying vintage aircraft, began his search. Ironically, it led him to Ken W. Joseph of Canton, father of Ken Joseph of Carrollton.
“I knew I wanted to find a way to restore the plane,” he said.
He struck a deal with Joseph to purchase the plane for $100,000. He was given one year to raise the funds. That year ends March 7, 2017.
Capra set up a non-profit organization known as Vintage Wing, Inc. whose mission is to procure, restore, operate and display historical aircraft nationwide, presenting them as living history.
“Our goal is to restore the plane to its World War II configuration,” he said, “but we need funds. We have raised the $100,000 to purchase the plane, but I anticipate it will take about $100,000 to restore it.”
Capra’s goal is for the plane to tell its own history.
“I want to create a museum inside the plane, offer tours and give rides; even visit the airports in Ohio where the plane landed as part of Governor Rhodes’ plan to have an airport in every county of Ohio,” said Capra.
For now Capra and a crew of volunteers spend about every weekend the weather allows at the Beach City Airport working on the plane.
“The plane sat at the airport since 1992, so its exposure to the elements has been hard on it, but mechanically, it’s still pretty good. We hope to have it running by June so we can fly it to Washington, PA, to begin restoration work,” said Capra.
The group has fondly named the plane “Beach City Baby.”
Capra and Jay Haapala compiled an extensive history of Beach City Baby dating back to its manufacture in California.
Capra said the plane was under construction in a facility at Santa Monica, CA, Dec. 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked and rolled off the assembly line in early 1942.
It was accepted by the Air Corps Jan. 29, 1942, and sent to Boling Field in Washington, D.C, according to Haapala’s research. The aircraft was assigned to the Air Corps Ferrying Command March 16, 1942, and sent to Palm Beach AAF in Florida. From there, it flew to Africa and took place in Operation Torch.
In July 1943, the plane was transferred to the North Atlantic Wing of the Air Transport Command where it shuttled troops and VIPs over many theaters of operation. Capra said the plane was reported be have been General Douglas McArthur’s personal transport for a couple months.
Haapala said stories handed down with the aircraft tie it to other American greats including General Jimmy Doolittle, Glenn Miller and Eddie Rickenbacker. He said the aircraft was last assigned to FEA, Cairo Division, until May 12, 1945.
After the war, the plane was sold to the Danish Airlines and flew as the Gorm Viking on the Danish/SAS famous Flying Viking service. SAS sold the plane in 1952 when it headed back to the United States where it was outfitted as a corporate plane.
In 1963 the plane became the property of the state of Ohio and embarked on a career that spanned 20 years and took it to some the smallest airports in the state. Known as Buckeye One, the plane was the official state transport of Gov. Rhodes was a champion of aviation in the state and his goal was to build a 3,000 foot runway in each of Ohio’s 88 counties, thus the plane’s visit to Carroll County in 1967.
After its retirement, the plane was flown to the U.S. Air Force Museum at Dayton, where it sat until 1990.
Joseph, a pilot and aviation enthusiast, saw a listing on a government bid listing site.
“I figured the plane was going to be wacked into pieces so I bought it,” he told the FPS via a phone interview last week.
“We spent much to license it and get it ready to fly again,” he said. “FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) inspectors were there every Friday to check the plane,” he said. “Fridays became a work day for them and they helped us get the plane going.”
His son, Ken J. Joseph of Carrollton, told the FPS the airport where the plane was located did not have a control tower so there was no way to fly the plane out to another airport.
“We had to go to the White House to get special permission for the staff to man the control tower so the plane could be flown out. It was a lot of work and a lot of red tape, but we made it happen. Oddly enough, as it was flying out, it lose an engine, yet continued to climb and was flown to another airport (Middletown, OH) where it was repaired and then flown to Beach City,” Ken J. Joseph explained.
It was Ken W. Joseph’s plan to fly the plane to Beach City for paint and interior (cosmetic) repairs.
“It was my intention to restore the plane,” he said. “I expanded my business and the plane project stalled. It sat there until Jason contacted me.”
HOW TO HELP
Capra said the effort to restore the plane and create a mobile museum is only possible through donations. The organization funded a five-minute video which can be viewed on the web page, www.vintagewingsinc.com. The page includes a button where donations can be made to the project, or donations can be made by sending a check to Vintage Wings, Inc., P.O. Box 414, Washington, PA 15301.