Following two-and-a-half years of work by members of Vintage Wings Inc, combat veteran Douglas C-53 Sky trooper 41-20095/N34D flew for the first time in 25 years at Beach City Airport, Ohio on 6 October. Pilots Ian Hengist, who has 5,000 hours on type, and 32-year-old airline captain Jason Capra — who happened upon the near-derelict machine while driving past Beach City Airport, 40 miles south of Akron, during the summer of 2014 — then flew the machine 100 miles north-east to Franklin, western Pennsylvania, where restoration to original condition will continue. A deal has been made with the Franklin- Venango Regional Airport management for 41-20095 to go into a climate controlled hangar, where work will continue in partnership with the local Experimental Aircraft Association chapter.
This Sky trooper was on the production line at the Douglas plant in Santa Monica, California on the day of the Pearl Harbor attack, and was delivered to the US Army Air Corps in January 1942 at Bolling Field, Washington DC. After being allocated to Army Air Corps Ferry Command it became one of the pioneers of the military north Atlantic supply route to the UK, being flown initially by crews from Northeast Airlines in the absence of sufficient Army Air Corps pilots. During November 1942, ‘20095 was transferred to the North African Air Transport Command Wing, and participated in the invasion of Sicily and Italy.
Post-war it was soon declared surplus and flew with Danish Airlines and SAS as Gorm Viking. During 1964 it was acquired by the governor of Ohio, James Rhodes, as his personal transport. Named Buckeye One, the machine was also used as a platform by Rhodes to promote general aviation in Ohio, and participated in the opening of many new airports in the state. But N34A was also to go on to play a role in one of the Vietnam era’s most controversial events.
On 1 May 1970, a large anti-war rally was held at Ohio’s Kent State University, protesting against President Nixon’s decision to send troops to Cambodia.
The demonstration erupted into violence between protesters and the local police, and on 2 May the mayor of Kent asked Governor Rhodes to send in the National Guard. Rhodes agreed, but by the time the guardsmen arrived the campus Reserve Officers’ Training Corps facility was ablaze. The following morning Rhodes flew to Kent in the C-53, denouncing the protesters in no uncertain terms. A protest scheduled for 4 May was banned, with the backing of Rhodes, but protestors gathered anyway.
As the guardsmen moved in to disperse the rally some protestors began throwing rocks. A group of guardsmen opened fire, most unloading their weapons above the crowd, but some fired directly at the protestors, four of whom were killed, with another nine injured.
Jason Capra and his team at Vintage Wings plan to turn 41-20095 into a mobile living history museum, the cabin becoming a classroom with learning modules aligning significant moments in the aircraft’s career with key events in aviation history.