Our March aircraft operator member spotlight is Jason Capra and C-53 "Beach City Baby" based in Franklin, PA. A current DC-3 Restoration project.
Feature Story written by: Henry Simpson, founding member, young historians program photos provided by Jason Capra
“I couldn’t believe a DC-3 was left basically rotting in a field in 2015! I didn’t know anything about its history when I found it, but I had an instant connection with it and needed to save it.” That’s what Jason Capra thought when he accidentally drove past C-53 41-20095 six years ago. Now after years of hard work and fundraising, "Beach City Baby" is on the cusp of returning to flight and has become the latest member of the DC-3 Society.
Originally under construction as a civilian DC-3 when Pearl Harbor was attacked, it was accepted by the US Army Air Corps on January 21, 1942 straight out of the Douglas Santa Monica factory. Designated a C-53 (lacking the reinforced floor and large cargo door of the purpose-built C-47’s), after a brief assignment to Bolling Field, the aircraft was transferred to Ferry Command in early 1942.
From its base in Prescott, Maine, 41-20095 pioneered the North Atlantic ferry routes to England, becoming one of the first aircraft to fly the route that the “mighty 15” of the D-Day Squadron would recreate in 2019. The aircraft was flown by both military and civilian pilots, the latter from Northeast Airlines as, being essentially a DC-3, experienced civilian crews were used for the long flights. During this time the aircraft had “Northeast Airlines” painted on it as a joke as so many of the airline’s crews flew it, though the aircraft was military operated.
In the fall of 1942 the C-53 was transferred to the North African wing of Air Transport Command. “Our aircraft was more of a behind the scenes aircraft,” Jason explains. “Its biggest mission in that time was medical evacuation.” It is here that the aircraft becomes involved with the story of the Army Air Nurses. The urgent requirement for medical evacuation squadrons resulted in a training program being set up for air nurses and flight surgeons at Bowman Field, Kentucky. However, none of the first class of nurses had finished training when Operation Torch required them to be posted to North Africa, arriving in the theatre on Christmas day 1942 to commence the first all-female nurse evacuation flights.
Two years later the aircraft blew a tyre on landing at Casablanca in Egypt ending up on its nose, but it was repaired and assigned to the FEA, (Foreign Economic Administration), Cairo division in late 1944 where it remained until the end of the war in Europe. After the war the aircraft was sold as surplus and purchased by Danish Airlines alongside its sister ship, 43-30732, which still flies today having been part of the European contingent in 2019.
In 1952 after 10 years in Europe the aircraft returned to the United States being outfitted as an executive transport, most notably being operated by the State of Ohio as the Governor’s airplane “Buckeye one” from 1963 to 1983. Upon its retirement it was flown to the USAF museum at Dayton where it would remain until 1992. It was then purchased by Ken Joseph who put new engines on it, (after the originals where used to keep the Ohio University of Athens’s example flying), and flew it to Beach City, Ohio where it remained until 2015.
It is here that Jason Capra and the Vintage Wings, Inc. team enter the story.
Having been obsessed with airplanes his whole life, Jason started flying at 15 years old and got his first job flying freight at 19. He is fortunate to have been involved in warbirds since he was 14 when he worked on the C-54E “Spirit of Freedom” of the Berlin Airlift Historical Foundation. He then had his first experience flying warbirds as the co-pilot of “Spirit of Freedom” at just 19! Today Jason still regularly flies a Piper Cub and captains Embraer 175’s for a living.
Having discovered the C-53 in 2015 Jason contacted Ken; “When we bought it, nothing worked on it. I put $20,000 down to hold the airplane and had one year to get the remaining balance, $80,000, that we fundraised.”
It would then take Jason and his team two and a half years of three days a week working to get the now christened “Beach City Baby” ready for a ferry flight. Jason fondly recalls the 45 minute ferry flight to Venango Regional Airport, Franklin, Pennsylvania. “With all my flying experience it was the most memorable flight of my life, knowing that it was getting out of there and going somewhere to be saved, it was magic, pure magic.”
Since then the aircraft has been undergoing a major restoration, this has included work to comply with the main spar Airworthiness Directive by adding a doubler to the main spar behind the landing gear. In order to do this both wings had to be removed and the landing gear had to come off. “It was then that we found a decent amount of corrosion in the wings.” Jason adds