From North Africa to Franklin: Historic ‘Beach Baby’ a Symbol of Our Past

| March 7, 2019

beachbaby3FRANKLIN, Pa. – While festival goers moved from tent to tent and vendor to vendor enjoying the festivities at Franklin’s annual Apple Festival on October 6, 2018, a low rumble could be heard echoing off the steep hillsides of the town.

Slowly the low rumble became louder and gave way to the iconic chant of WWII era radial engines. By now most in attendance were starting to look upward to see just where that beautiful roar was coming from. From over a hilltop appeared the iconic lines of one of the most elegant aircraft ever built, a 1942 Douglas DC-3, Venango Regional Airport’s newest tenant. From the cockpit seats, pilots Jason Capra & Ian Hengst circled the new home of this historic warbird as they prepared to bring the fabled war hero and icon of aviation in to land at its new home, right here in Franklin, Pennsylvania. The aircraft, known as “Beach City Baby,” belongs to the area’s newest residents and Historical Foundation, Vintage Wings Inc.

With construction starting in the fall of 1941, “Beach City Baby,” a Douglas C-53DO Skytrooper, was pushed into war when our country was attacked at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. Like so many men and women of the era, she turned in her promise of civilian flying and friendly skies to answer the call to duty. Accepted by the Army Air Corps in January 1942, “Beach City Baby” was rushed off to war by heading to Washington DC and then onto the Ferry Command of the Army where the aircraft was instrumental in laying the ground work and navigation routes to and from England via the North Atlantic. These routes would become the backbone of the aerial supply routes to the war in Europe from the United States. By the fall of 1942, the United States was poised and ready to strike the Germans on the ground in the European War’s first Campaign, North Africa. It was here that “Beach City Baby” took part in some of the Army’s first ever paratroop drops into combat. Having taken part in Operation Torch, Husky, the invasion of Sicily and the Invasion of Italy, the Douglas C-53 was a well worn and tried veteran by 1944. Having been moved to the back of the lines by the end of WWII, “Beach City Baby” spent the remaining days of combat as a VIP transport when the war in Europe came to an end in spring of 1945.

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Sold off to Danish Airlines as surplus, the airplane began its life long career of civilian flying. After retiring from the airlines by the mid-1950s, the airplane was converted into a corporate DC-3 and soon became the governor’s airplane for the state of Ohio in 1963 and remained as such until 1981. It was donated to the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio where it sat outside in storage until purchased by Ken Joseph of Ohio in 1993. The aircraft was made flyable and made one flight to a small town in Eastern Ohio known as Beach City. It was there that the airplane would become a permanent fixture for almost 25 years at the small airstrip as weather, creatures and time started to get the best of her. It wasn’t until a chance encounter in 2014 that Vintage Wings Inc. President & Founder Jason Capra stumbled upon the derelict C-53 while driving home to Pittsburgh.

So how did this iconic aircraft come to call Venango Reginal Airport its new home? After the purchase of the aircraft was made, Jim Aaron of Franklin and an early Vintage Wings Inc. member, suggested letting the local EAA Chapter 988 at Venango Airport help in the restoration of the aircraft’s flight controls in order to get the aircraft airworthy. A decision hadn’t been made yet as to exactly where the new home of this aircraft would be, although several options had come up. However, Jim felt it was important that Franklin & the EAA be a part of this airplanes amazing story. As restoration moved forward on the aircraft to airworthiness in Ohio, the local Franklin chapter members of the EAA 988 worked diligently to bring the flying surfaces back to life. It was at this time that Airport Manager Bill Buchna was made aware of the project and became incredibly interested in helping and learning more. More meetings took place between Jason Capra and Mr. Buchna and eventually a tentative deal was made to make the airport the new home of this incredible warbird and its organization, Vintage Wings Inc. with the full support of County Commissioner Albert “Chip” Abramovic, had the paperwork signed to lease half of the large hangar at the Venango Regional Airport to house the C-53 “Beach City Baby.” This would ensure its full restoration and a future home once finished to house for maintenance and display purposes when not flying on tour around the country and at airshows.

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After 3 years of solid work – 2 to 3 days per week in all kinds of weather conditions – “Beach City Baby” was airborne for the first time in 25 years on October 6th, 2018 at 12pm. With less than a day’s notice, hundreds of people attended Beach City, Ohio to wave goodbye to an old friend. The flight itself was remarkably unforgettable, with all systems performing admirably as expected. Almost 1 hour after taking off from Ohio, hundreds of excited onlookers at Venango Regional Airport heard the iconic rumble of the aircrafts two radial engines and cheerfully greeted it’s landing in Franklin with a great reception in the hangar. Volunteers of Vintage Wings Inc. spent the rest of the day recounting the experience, unable to wipe the smiles from their faces. But this incredible day was just the ending of one chapter of this organization and the amazing start of another.

The challenge of returning this war hero to duty on a standard airworthiness certificate has meant absolutely no corners can be cut and no expense spared. The group of dedicated volunteers battle the ravages of neglect and corrosion and have spent a small fortune replacing fasteners and fabricating replacement aluminum panels and fitted doublers. These dedicated army of volunteers include a vast array of skillsets, backgrounds and experience levels. The hungry enthusiasm among their youngest members to learn these archaic skills pairs perfectly with the steady confidence of older hands. Vintage Wings Inc. is particularly proud of their hardworking young people and look forward to encouraging many more to pursue careers in the various fields within aviation.

While they are wealthy in areas like ingenuity, mechanical skill, passion and dogged perseverance, the capital requirements of a project this size often slow their work pace unnecessarily. There is always the unending search for funding. However, Vintage Wings Inc. hasn’t been without good fortunes. Without the support of PPG Aerospace, Republic Airways, Concorde Battery, Champion Aerospace, Specialty Hose Aerospace, Skyward Aviation, and many others, their rapid success would not be so close to a certainty. Once finished, “Beach City Baby” will tour the country at airshows and Fly- Ins operated by Vintage Wings Inc. telling its story and the lessons of its past.

As the restoration continues and work progresses, the opportunity to become a part of this amazing story is possible. The organization is always looking for skilled and passionate people who want to help preserve and save our nations important historic treasures. If you would like to learn more about the organization Vintage Wings Inc. and their C-53 “Beach City Baby” and how you may be able to help, please visit their website at www.vintagewingsinc.com of follow them on Facebook or Instagram @ Vintage Wings Inc.


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