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Steve Chiotakis: An old workhorse of an airplane is marking its 75th anniversary. The DC-3 is credited with shaping today’s commercial airline industry. The last one was made in the 1940’s. But as Patty Murray reports from Wisconsin Public Radio, the plane is still very much in demand.
Patty Murray: Thomas Weigt shows off a DC-3 at his company in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. At 75, the plane still looks sleek and modern. Because it doesn’t have front wheels, it sits tilted back on its tail — two giant propellers on each wing.
Thomas Weigt: It’s beautiful, just beautiful.
Weigt is president of Basler Turbo Conversions. It’s billed as the only company in the world to completely re-manufacture old DC-3’s.
Weigt: As you can see, they’re replacing the skin, replacing ribs.
Basler Turbo employs 65 people. They basically take a plane apart and put it back together.
Weigt: Zero accumulated fatigue damage, that’s as close to a new airplane rating as you can get.
The DC-3 debuted in 1935 and was the first commercially viable passenger airplane. Tom Tegtmeier is a retired Airline pilot and DC-3 afficionado.
Tom Tegtmeier: It’s really the first airplane that was able to make money outside the constructs of the airmail system.
The plane was “drafted” in World War Two and renamed the C-47. But at war’s end, the airplane industry was moving to jets, and the last DC-3 came off the line in 1945. But even today the plane still has its uses. At Basler Turbo, remanufacturing each DC-3 takes six months and costs $7 [million] to $8 million. A brand new plane with similar capabilities would cost nearly $30 million. And not many modern planes have similar capabilities to the DC-3. It can carry loads up to 11,000 pounds, and it can land on skis in places like the Antarctic…or Canada’s Northwest Territories.
Tom Tegtmeier: Every day the DC3’s flying with passengers, freight, and dogs.
Mikey McBryan and his family live in Yellowdog, Northwest Territories where they run Buffalo airlines. It ferries passengers and brings necessities to remote villages.
Mikey McBryan: Where we’re from, the roads are scarce so it’s everything from your daily newspaper to KFC sends their chicken with us.
And for Buffalo airlines, the DC3 has proven to be lucrative in a very modern way it, and the McBryan family star in a Canadian reality show called “Ice Pilots.”
In Oshkosh, Wisc., I’m Patty Murray for Marketplace.
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