WHAT’S HAPPENING AT THE DOVER AIR MUSEUM?

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Story and photos by Bill Sarama

So, it was February 23rd of this year and I was taking another ride south on US-13 on the DelMarVa heading for a short winter vacation in the northern Outer Banks. My flight plan, as always when I’m heading south, was to do a quick stop at the AMC Museum at Dover AFB just off of 13, and see what was going on. It was one of those cold, crisp days with a total blue sky and 25% humidity, a perfect day for getting some super-clear shots on the museum ramp and their 35 heavy metal transport plane warbirds. Because it was such a totally clear CAVU day, this day was going to be different, even though I shot these guys many times before.

I usually just hit the ramp for a quick “Hit-And-Run” photo shoot, but this time I actually went into the museum’s hanger where I paid more attention to what they had on the floor and hanging from the roof truss supports. The first plane you see on the floor when you walk in is the B-17G Flying Fortress “Sleepy Time Gal” (44-83624). Its display is set up in a WW2 ramp support diorama, complete with mannequins in WW2 uniforms. Right next to it on the floor is their C-47A Skytrain “Turf Sport Special” (52-92841) also with mannequins dressed as mechanics doing an engine change. Nearby is the CG-4A Hadrian troop cargo glider of D-Day fame (45-15009) that could carry 13 troops or cargo loads that could include a Jeep with a crew of 4 plus equipment or a 75mm howitzer with its gun crew of 3, ammunition and supplies. The gliders were one-way flights and were expendable. The museum’s glider had the panels on one side removed so you could see with mannequins how the troops were seated. There were mannequins on the outside that made the display very realistic. The C-47 was the usual tow plane. Of 14,000 gliders built for WW2 less than a dozen remain. Next to the glider is the HH-43 Huskie (62-4532), called “The Flying Mixmaster”, a rescue helicopter of the 1960’s that was used primarily for crash rescue and aircraft firefighting. It had two rotors placed side-by-side. This one was assigned to Dover from 1959 to 1962 for crash rescue work. This helo was also used extensively in Viet Nam for early SAR duties.

Hanging from the ceiling roof trusses are: the blue and yellow TG-4A Laister-Kauffman Training Glider; the blue and yellow BT-13 Valiant Basic Trainer; the blue and yellow PT-17 Kaydet Primary Trainer and the olive drab Taylorcraft L-2 “Grasshopper” observation and liaison aircraft. Some time ago the Museum had to give up its P-51D Mustang to another museum due to an ownership dispute. For years that P-51D was the first plane you saw on the floor as you entered the hanger display area. The hanger floor also has a number of floor exhibits on the following: refueling, the Air Transport Command, POW/MIA’s, the Berlin Airlift, and a good one on the Cold War, and some smaller ones on the floor.

Outside, on the Museum Ramp, a lot of heavy metal action has been happening recently: The KC-10A “Extender” tanker, acquired last year from the 305th AMW and the 514th AMW at McGuire, was moved in April from its temporary parking spot near the Museum’s north fence line, onto the museum proper existing and newly vacated ramp parking spot directly behind the the KC-135E Strarotanker, acquired from the 108th ARW at McGuire. This was no easy task. In order to make this move happen, the giant C-5A Galaxy was moved west on to a newly constructed reinforced concrete and asphalt new ramp extension built on the previous grass area to the west of the C-5’s original parking spot. Once everything dried, it was an easy job to move the C-5 on to its new parking spot on the new ramp. When the C-5 was moved west on to the new ramp, it created a new existing parking spot behind the KC-135E tanker for the KC-10A to be moved to. Now the fun began. Well, not really! It was very hard detailed work with exact planning needed to make the KC-10A relocation move happen through an existing ramp that was filled with museum aircraft. Moving the KC-10 on to the museum ramp was a 3-day Herculean task that required temporarily moving 10 other aircraft to get enough space clearance to safely move the giant KC-10 from its spot outside the fence line, through a newly created large opening in the chain link fence and the concrete “Jersey” security barriers and past newly moved aircraft to its new parking spot just behind the KC-135E. This required a lot of pre-move detailed planning to make sure there would in-fact be enough clear space to move the KC-10 through without colliding with any aircraft. That move must have been a sight to see and I’m sure some Dover base in personnel were involved to assist. The Museum got what it wanted — getting all the old and “new” refueling aircraft together in one display group and moving the C-5 to its new spot on the new ramp. A future “Hanger Digest” – the Museum”s color newsletter- will have a detailed story on this move in the next newsletter issue.

As if moving the KC-10A wasn’t a big enough deal, at the same time in April, the Museum also acquired a vintage Curtis C-46 “Commando” WW2 transport aircraft from the backyard at the U.S. Navy Air Museum at NAS Pensacola, Florida. The AMC Museum contracted with a vintage aircraft restoration and aircraft moving company that dismantled the plane and transported the C-46 pieces from NAS Pensacola by truck up to the AMC Museum at Dover AFB in May. The C-46 fuselage is now located in front of the C-131D in front of the Museum control tower. To do this the Museum had to move their two fighters – the F-106A and the F-101B – to where the A-26C was. The A-26 was moved closer to between the two C-119’s. Yes, some planes had to be moved to make this move happen also. Unfortunately, moving the two fighters does not allow for good photography of the two fighters any longer. You have to see all this to believe it and then compare the new plane locations to the original plane locations on the museum ramp site plan (attached).

Now, back to the C-46. All the other pieces of the C-46 – wings, tail, props, engines – were deposited in front of the Restoration Barn near the KB-50J tanker at the northwest corner of the Museum ramp where they will be individually restored by the Museum’s restoration experts. As I understand it from a knowledgeable docent last week, when all of the rusted pieces and the rusted fuselage are fully restored by the Museum restorers, the original aircraft moving company will return to the AMC Museum to put all the restored pieces back together again to the C-46 in front of the museum control tower. And “Walla”, you will then have a fully restored C-46 “Commando” sitting in front of the control tower! (We hope.) The docent said this will be a major restoration effort and may take as long as 10 years! (We hope not!) The good thing is apparently the restoration process will take place fully in the open to allow the public to see the process and not hidden away in some hanger somewhere. The current ongoing restoration of the KB-50J tanker has been also taking place in the open in front of the Restoration Barn for all to see.

Interestingly, looking closely at the C-46 fuselage, as delivered, some information has been hand-written on the left side of the tail: “R5C”, which was the Navy version of the C-46 Commando, probably because it came from the Navy Air Museum back lot, and even an “N” number – “N611Z”, probably because after it left the USAF, it flew as a private cargo plane before the Navy Museum in NAS Pensacola somehow got it.

For the curious, go to “Aerial Visuals” Airplane Dossier (aerial visuals.ca) under “N611Z”, then see “Airframes Database” for an interesting detailed history of this C-46 / R5C. The last bit of history listed was that in 1989 it was sold to the Pensacola Naval Air Station museum and was last seen on display at the Museum on January 31, 2016.

Finally, the AMC Museum’s KB-50J Superfortress tanker continues the slow process of being fully restored, ongoing since its arrival at Dover on 2016. The engine cowlings are still off, the engines are exposed, the two General Electric J-47-GE- 23 turbojet engines on the wing tips are also open and exposed, and the two probe and drogue housings and the third one in the tail are also exposed to reveal the rolled up refueling hose compartments, and the nose is still being worked on. It’s a slow process. A restoration workmen told me that the restored aircraft will be completed in 2025……Maybe! Stand By.

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