TVRPhotography – If it moves, Shoot It!
Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the DC-3
For many of us, the DC-3 is seen as a tired workhorse of the skies, a third world answer for passenger and cargo transport. A fuselage full of chickens and wooden boxes might be high on the list of stereotypical thoughts. The gathering of DC-3’s and C-47’s in Rock Falls, Illinois quickly grounded that mindset and illustrated to everyone that the DC-3 is strong, active and still filling a void within the aviation community.
On the weekend of July 23-25, a record number of airworthy DC-3’s and military C-47 variants came together at Whiteside Airport in Rock Falls, Illinois for what would be called ‘The Last Time’. Although the original goal was to have 40 DC-3’s on the tarmac, due to weather and other complications, 27 made it to Whiteside. Of the aircraft gathered, 8 were military C-47 variants, 15 were DC-3’s with 10 of them being former C-47’s. Additionally the world’s only C-41 and C-41A were present along with an AC-47 gunship and one of only two flying DC-2’s in the world.
My entry into the world of the ‘Dakota’ began earlier in the year with a call to a good friend. Brooks Pettit, one of the operators of the American Flight Museum in Topeka, Kansas and pilot of the AC-47 gunship, ‘Spooky’, was working with the organizer of the The Last Time, Dan Gryder.
The plan was to divert from going straight to Oshkosh for the annual Airventure Fly-In and head to Kansas City instead. From there I would join up with the AC-47 crew and fly the short trip from Topeka to Whiteside in the gunship. Sounded like a great plan!
Stepping into a DC-3, the first thing most people notice is the steep floor and the slight workout necessary to reach the cockpit. With the start of each engine, a puff of smoke and a world of vibrations, ‘Spooky’ quickly took to the skies. There’s no doubt this plane was built to fly as the floor would conveniently level off once airborne. Once over Whiteside, we could see we’d be number four on the ramp. The party was just starting.
Although the local weather at Whiteside was excellent, a storm band was closing in preventing many of the aircraft from arriving Thursday afternoon and through the following morning. The aircraft that had touched down quickly became the subject of many photographers as lightning strikes and rolling storm clouds made for impressive backgrounds.
The storm continued on through the night and into the morning enabling most aircraft to make it in by late Friday afternoon. By Saturday morning, whatever aircraft could make it were either parked on the tarmac or occupied giving rides.
It was decided the night before that Saturday morning would prove to be perfect for a three-ship DC-3 flight showcasing the various models. Dan Gryder would lead the pack in his DC-3, the 2nd oldest airframe flying today, followed by Brooks Pettit and Robert Rice in one of the few modified AC-47 gunships currently touring the country, and Scott Glover in a very historic C-47 having served in multiple WWII air operations including D-Day. Flying the Cessna 210 photoship was Tucker Nelson in addition to a second photoship with Greg Morehead in a T-6 ‘Texan’.
Each evening, Dan Gryder and the band would rock out with the visiting DC-3 pilots and crew. Before long, the band moved to the tarmac playing under a wing amongst more than two dozen DC-3’s and continued to jam into the early morning hours.
During the day, the tarmac was filled with spectators who were given unique opportunities to tour the various airframes. This gave some of the museum aircraft a chance to raise the funds necessary to keep ‘em flying. The gathering was not only recognized by media and aviation enthusiasts from around the world, but was probably one of the largest events the local community had seen in some time.
While some spectators toured the aircraft, others meandered through the maze of food and souvenir vendors located near the parking lot. For those looking for more of an adventure, C-47’s ‘Tico Belle’, ‘Southern Cross’ and ‘Sky King’ were offering a limited number of rides.
Sunday night marked the the eve of “The Last Supper”. All members of the flight crew from each aircraft were treated to a wonderful dinner hosted by the local eatery, Long Shot. Throughout the weekend, locals from Rock Falls provided free transportation, discounted hotel rates and more.
On Monday, July 26th, the dream of Dan Gryder was about to come true with a massive number of DC-3’s taking to the skies. Their destination was the Experimental Aviation Association’s annual Airventure Fly-In at Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
Throughout the course of the weekend, only one aircraft had prior obligations at Oshkosh requiring an early departure from Rock Falls, so the number of participating DC-3’s fell to 26. Still an amazing number!
One issue that remained unresolved was the use of a photoship for the mass arrival at Oshkosh. Originally Dan Gryder had enlisted the assistance of a CJ-6 Nanchang, but due to mechanical difficulties the aircraft was not able to make it. Saving the day was Mike Filucci who got in touch with good friend, Jim ‘Pappy’ Goolsby who was on his way to Oshkosh in a similar aircraft. I had the fortune of flying with ‘Pappy’ during the 50th Anniversary of the CJ-6 Nanchang a couple years prior as well as during a special assignment at his home airport. I couldn’t have asked for a better stick!
Shortly before noon, engines began to turn. Sitting on the tarmac in the back of ‘Pappy’s’ CJ gave me a panoramic view of two dozen DC-3’s in motion. One by one, they began launching out of Whiteside airport. Unfortunately, not everything went perfectly. During run-up, ‘Tiger Lady‘ (C-47 N47060 / AF 42-100603) had issues and removed herself from the line-up and C-41A (N341A / AF 40-070) aborted take-off for mechanical reasons. A third DC-3 returned to Whiteside due to oil temperature problems.
Those that made it into the air gathered in groups of three with a fourth in a disjointed position. It was similar to a standard fingertip formation with the number four aircraft flying further on the outside than normal. During the course of the trip each group of four would slowly creep up on the group ahead of them until a single mass formation could be achieved.
Circling the gaggle of DC-3’s was a Bonanza, a B-25 photoship and our CJ-6 with Nelson Tucker taking up the lead in his Cessna 210.
About 30 miles from Oshkosh, the mass formation began to take shape. Twenty-three DC-3’s, or forty-six radials, approached from the West blanketing the skies in metal. Not since World War II had this many of this airframe type come together for such an impressive sight.
After flying over Wittman Field, the formation separated into individual aircraft. One by one they landed on RWY18 taking only sixteen minutes for all to touch down.
The experience was one that defied the name. For most, the hopes that there will be “Another Time” lingers on the horizon. But for now, “The Last Time” simply proved the determination and passion in keeping the workhorse of the skies alive, is a dream held by many and will be for some time to come.