How Does One Get a Piece of History Airborne?

Posted by at 16:28

How cool would it be to see one of the grand old ladies of the sky, the Douglas DC-4 Skymaster, flying over Europe again? Maybe even all over the world?

This has long been a dream of mine. Initially, KLM used the Douglas DC-4 to restore its network after World War II, but the aircraft is best known for operating the first scheduled service between Europe and the United States, flying from Amsterdam to New York.

The Skymaster is comparable in size to the latest addition to the KLM fleet, the Embraer E175+, although it is approximately 8 meters wider, with all 50 passengers travelling in 1950s business-class style and comfort. Powered by four Pratt & Whitney R2000 propeller engines, the Skymaster has a range of 16 hours, which means it can take passengers just a bit further than the Embraer.

In late 2013, I teamed up with three friends and bought a DC-4 that had been sitting idle in an aviation museum near Johannesburg, South Africa. Here and here are my previous blog about the purchase. After many hours of frustration, which almost saw us giving up on our plans several times, we are now finally at the point where restoration can begin!

Buying a vintage plane is almost as simple as buying vintage car. The real challenge lies in getting it airborne. Our Skymaster needed a D check, which is one of the biggest maintenance overhauls there is. What it boils down to is that the entire aircraft has to be taken apart and put back together again, as new. The engines have to be dismounted, the flight controls have to be removed and checked, and the whole cabin has to be stripped so that the entire plane can be checked for defects and corrosion.

As you can imagine, a six-month check of this magnitude is rather expensive. Unfortunately, our bank accounts were empty after buying the plane, so we had to go in search of alternative funding. We spoke to family and friends, we met with sponsors and we tried crowd-funding, but their enthusiasm and support just wasn’t enough to commit to the maintenance required. In fact, I was on the verge of selling the DC-4 again and walking away from my dream, when I clutched at one last straw…

Everyone understood that the DC-4 is special, but we hadn’t really explained what we planned to do with her once she was airworthy. And so we came up with the idea of organising “air cruises” along the old routes of the 1950s, when a flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg lasted a lot longer than the current 10.5 hours. In short, the DC-4 will be used to bring passengers to all corners of the globe once more. Imagine a three-week tour from Amsterdam to Jakarta, re-enacting the old flight to the Dutch colonies in the East Indies, with intermediate stops at all of KLM’s former stations, making the journey just as much an experience as the destination itself!

Our concept of using the DC-4 for air cruises attracted a small group of investors. Their support combined with that of the many other enthusiasts – family, friends, crowd-funders – meant we could start planning maintenance!

And so we finally towed the Skymaster out of the museum. For the first time in 10 years, I saw the plane in motion! And Johannesburg proved to be a blessing of disguise, because it is home to Skyclass, a company based at the airport where the museum is located, which has a long history of DC-4 maintenance. They’ll be helping us to carry out the D check.

And so you find me aboard a KLM Boeing 777 on my way to Johannesburg, where our Skymaster is waiting out on the apron beside several other DC-4s and a Dakota. By the time you read this, we’ll have pulled her into the hangar to start maintenance, and our first volunteer engineer will have arrived to offer assistance, learning all the tricks and intricacies of DC-4 engineering. A new chapter in our adventure has begun!

You can follow maintenance progress on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/flyingdutchmanfoundation.

14 Responses to How Does One Get a Piece of History Airborne?

  1. Tom Beudeker

    I wish you all the luck.
    We did the same with a Lockheed Constellation.
    Due to lack of funds and lack of cooperation of KLM it is now gathering dust in the Aviodrome

    • Lars den Hartigh

      Thanks Tom! We’ll keep you posted!

  2. Paul Evans

    Hi really am so pleased you have taken this beauty out mothballs to do what she can do also to tell you my uncle was a pilot for KLM after the War and I know he flew Dakotas In the War So he may have also Flown Dc4 s too his name was Alan Evans

  3. Bob moot

    It was my baby in th Neterlands.
    Good luck girl.

    • Lars den Hartigh

      hi Bob!
      still remember you and the work you’ve done back then, from my time in hgr 3!

      best,
      Lars

  4. walter

    Prachtig avontuur, veel succes!

  5. Hans Van Beerschoten

    My father travelled from Amsterdam, via New York to Curacao with the DC 4 , in January 1947
    Exact day I do not know but was before January 7 1947.
    maybe KLM has a passenger list of that flight.

  6. Hans van Beerschoten

    the plane was PH-TAR

    • Lars den Hartigh

      hi Hans,

      the -TAR was indeed the original DC-4 from the opening flight to NYC. Our DC-4 is a sister ship of the TAR

  7. Rob Coenen

    Excellent idea! BA has a great documentary (old black and white) on the British old air routes to India and all the stops in-between. KLM has a history even richer than BA. Such s documentary would be great marketing material to promote your air cruises to Batavia!

  8. Roberto Limon lason

    Great!!!!!!!

    • Lars den Hartigh

      : ))

  9. Lorcan Young

    Truly inspiring stuff gents! I am a fellow aviator with a shared passion for the romance of the golden age of aviation which has all but disappeared from modern commercial aviation.

    I (and I’m positive many others) will be thrilled to see your wonderful project come to fruition. I will be very interested in witnessing her maiden flight and becoming a future customer of yours! If I can contribute in any way please let me know – always willing to support a worthy cause!

    Also as a side note, you can safely market the seats on the flight as First Class as Business Class was coined by Qantas in 1979.

    L

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