Save the Skymaster folds its wings

The team were attempting to return a Douglas C-54 Skymaster to flying status

North Weald-based Save the Skymaster has announced “with a heavy heart and great sadness” it is closing its “beloved” charity.

The team had been working hard on returning Douglas C-54 Skymaster 56498 (c/n 10630) to a flyable state, but announced via a statement on social media on February 16 it could no longer afford to continue operating.

Save the Skymaster

The statement read: “It’s with a heavy heart and great sadness that we as a society and charity must announce the closure of our beloved society. Despite the unwavering dedication and efforts of our members, we have come to the difficult realization that it is no longer economically feasible to continue our project.

“During the last three years and in particular during the COVID-19 pandemic all of our grants and funding which was promised was subsequently withdrawn and redirected to COVID-related causes.

“During this time the members and volunteers did their very best to keep the project alive and in fact managed to get three engines running after rebuilding the number three engine during this period.

“The extreme elements have also taken its toll on the airframe and a recent survey uncovered the need to replace the main spar and wings of our aircraft should we want to get it to flight condition. The estimated cost for this repair alone exceeds £300,000, and there is uncertainty about the extent of other potential corrosion issues that we would uncover. After careful consideration and consultation, we have determined that proceeding with such a significant financial burden would not be prudent.

Save the Skymaster

“In light of this decision, we are currently in the process of donating our ground equipment to the Sally B aircraft [Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress based at Duxford], ensuring that our resources are put to good use within the aviation community. Additionally, any remaining funds will be donated to the Veterans Foundation, in honour of the brave men and women who served our country.

“On behalf of the committee, I would like to extend our deepest gratitude to all of our members for their unwavering support throughout this journey. In particular, I want to acknowledge the dedication of our weekend engineering team, whose tireless efforts have been instrumental in our endeavours.

“While it saddens us to say goodbye, we can take pride in knowing that we gave it our best shot. The memories and camaraderie shared within our society will always hold a special place in our hearts.

 “Thank you once again for your support, and may we all continue to cherish our shared passion for aviation in whatever paths we pursue.”

56498 was built at Douglas’ facility in Chicago, USA, in 1944, and was delivered on May 20, 1945, to VR-11 Naval Air Transport Squadron in Guam. The aircraft delivered vital medical supplies to Iwo Jima and helped evacuate wounded personnel.

In February 1946, 56498 spent time with Marine Air Group 15 before moving on to Hawaii later the same year. The aircraft had a starring role repatriating surviving British prisoners of war from Burma back to the USA.

56498 saw service in the Vietnam War delivering much-needed supplies, once again from Guam but also from Japan and the Philippines.

Save the Skymaster

The aircraft was struck off in 1972, but eventually made its way to England – alongside a DC-4 – for a Steven Spielberg movie about the Berlin Airlift – something the airframe had actually missed, being stationed in the Pacific at the time. The film, however, was cancelled, and the C-54 sat at North Weald.

Purchased in 2017, it was decided the DC-4 was not feasible to repair and was cannibalised for parts – some of which were used on 56498. Its purchaser, Henry Hyde, gifted the aircraft to the society.

It was hoped the aircraft would be airworthy and able to fly as part of the 75th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift.

The fate of the aircraft following the news remains unclear at the time of writing.