by Bill Dougherty
No one knew what we were getting into when we decided we wanted that DC-3. We had all driven past it on Rt. 13 at New Castle County Airport; it looked magnificent from 50 yards away at 50 mph, positioned on the grass facing traffic it appeared poised to turn around and take off. Sure, it was big, sitting at an angle with the nose 16' higher than the tail wheel - that was part of the allure.
We knew that DC-3's/C-47's were considered by many to be one of the most important & historic aircraft types ever built - plus it was a beautiful design, handsome to look at.
Jim Sypherd convinced us, if it was available, we had to try to get it!
Jim Douglass got it donated to the museum and John Williamson showed us how to physically move it. This was a substantial project for a very small group of people.
Jim Sypherd had the vision of obtaining a DC-3 for Massey Aerodrome while the rest
of us had humored his "impossible dream". We kidded him about the tower too but I have to admit that the tower does look good painted orange & white - it just looks "right" up on the hill, it has that authentic airport appearance besides being a great place to overlook the entire runway. (The tower was salvaged from New Castle Co. Airport also).
Jim pushed and we got the DC-3 which with a lot of effort and considerable expense was moved to Massey. Now WE all agree that it was the perfect find, if dilapidated. It was/is in very poor condition with too many missing, bent or corroded pieces. I thought we would never find and I knew we would never be able to afford to buy all the parts needed to finish the plane or at least make it look respectable.
How wrong I was!
Jim Sypherd toured most of Florida & Georgia off & on for over four months, visiting dozens of airports, large & small, tracking down leads on DC-3's. Finally, while on a detour from Sun 'N Fun, Jim ran into the employee of a company that was being forced to dispose of a DC-3 damaged by a hurricane.
The airport authority didn't want anything that could be blown around in a hurricane causing damage to other aircraft.
We could have whatever we needed! Of course we had to disassemble it and transport it 1000 miles back home.
Our Fly-In was on Saturday the week after Sun 'N Fun with all the preparation required for that keeping everyone busy. Despite having just driven up from Florida the week before, that Sunday Jim Sypherd & John Williamson went back down south pulling a 25' trailer loaded with tools. Not believing his good fortune, Jim wanted to get the parts before the offer was withdrawn.
The two of them worked until Friday afternoon in typical Florida weather in the mid to high 90's stripping a surprisingly complete DC-3 while trying to ignore the informal airshow at the airport. It turned out that The Fort Lauderdale Air & Sea Show & Fleet Weeks was being held that weekend and a carrier full of F-18's flew into the airport plus the Thunderbirds, B-1, F-22, F-15, Warbirds (Corsair, P-51 etc.).
They were all practicing aerobatics & precision landings.
After dropping wind streamers from their C-31(1), the Golden Knights landed only a short distance away from the work area. With working DC-3's, 4's & 6's landing, loading and taking off all the while, our heroes felt guilty sneaking a peek when there was so much work to be done in a such a short time.
They only had access during business hours so the deadline was Friday @ 5 P.M.
The adventure ended when they arrived home at 2 A.M. that Sunday morning having put almost 3000 miles on John's new Toyota Tundra - which at about 9 MPG = $1000.00 in fuel alone. A while ago Jim observed one lesson learned the hard way: When it comes to the airport - Everything "FREE" seems to COST at least $3,000.00 or 10% of it's value (whichever is greater). True again!
But we're not complaining! They brought back a restorer's treasure trove - almost every piece we would need to finish the DC-3. Still, they were kicking themselves for what they had to leave behind - beside the airplane there were bins & pallets full of parts that had to be abandoned for lack of time & space.
There's a limit to how much one can sacrifice for a dream. We all owe a debt of gratitude to Jim & John for their time and exertions (under grueling conditions). If you appreciate saving the DC-3 and enjoy looking at it you should shake their hand and thank them.
Now the work begins for the rest of us, but it will be much easier and more fulfilling with the missing parts replaced by the incredible good fortune, determination and hard work of Jim & John.