Group to save old wings

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More than 200 aviation buffs will gather at Mystery Creek on Monday to launch a conservation project for a DC-3 aeroplane of historic significance.

The DC-3 in its early days

The DC-3/C47 B Aircraft ZK-AZL, on display for the last 36 years at the Agricultural Heritage Museum at Mystery Creek was the first of its type to be converted to an aerial top dresser, was originally used to train pilots in the Royal New Zealand Air Force and once carried the Queen’s luggage around the country.

Now worse for wear, the historic aircraft was gifted to the museum in 1974 by the late agricultural aviation pioneer Ossie James, who was also the first president of the NZ Fieldays Society.

Aviation pioneer Ossie James
James, who died in 2007, championed innovation in the farming sector, was the first to convert a Tiger Moth into a top dresser and did the same with the DC-3. Some of his family and associates have formed the DC-3 Trust and will launch the conservation project on Monday, November 15 which, fittingly, would have been James’ 91st birthday.

The volunteer group, including James’ daughter Lynnette, John Gallagher, Dr Jenny Cave, Chris Luoni, Wayne Green and Terry Harpe, is dedicated to conserving the DC-3 and preserving New Zealand aviation and farming history.

An independent expert’s assessment of the plane’s condition showed that conservation measures were vital to combat corrosion and to protect the aircraft. The aim is transform the DC-3 by repairing its damaged skin, inserting a new floor, upgrading the cockpit, painting the exterior in its original colours, replacing the windows, and supporting the wings.

The first move, though, will be to erect a roof over the plane so it doesn’t suffer further weather damage.

Seed funding for the project has come from the NZ National Fieldays Society ($25,000), the Lottery Grants Funding ($36,000) and the James family ($17,000) while further funding will be sought over the 2-3 year life of the conservation effort.

The DC-3 began its farm flying when James convinced the Soil Conservation Council to lease a DC-3 from the Royal NZ Air Force for experimental work as a top dressing plane. On May 14, 1954 James Aviation bought it and it underwent engineering and technical changes. Renamed the Highland Duster, the aeroplane made its first commercial flights on December 3, 1955 and James Aviation became the first New Zealand company to convert the DC-3 Dakota to carry 5 ton of fertiliser.

The DC-3 as it is today

The aircraft was retired from work in 1974 after 9959 hours of topdressing work, spreading around 100 tons of fertiliser a day.

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