Frozen in Time
Gloves? Check. Cockpit heater? Check. Engine insulator?
- By Tom Harpole
- Air & Space magazine, January 2006
(Page 7 of 8)
Keeping a fleet of 60-year-old airplanes flying requires a huge parts inventory. Joe McBryan could measure his cache of DC-3 and -4 parts in acres. He’s been building his inventory for 30 years, to the point that he’s had to rent several hangars in order to house it. With this accumulation of parts, McBryan would rather pay mechanics than buy new airplanes.
A few years ago Joe McBryan sent his brother, Ronnie, and mechanics Roald Sorenson and Cliff Dyson to an Aero Union airplane graveyard in California to bring back three DC-3s. Ronnie McBryan, 44, is a handsome, hefty mechanic with a reserved personality.
He has spent more than half his life maintaining his brother’s DC-3s and -4s. California didn’t suit him. “It rained a lot in California,” he says. “We were wet. I missed the frickin’ snow and being dry.”
“Ronnie and the boys amazed everyone,” recalls Rod. “Those planes had been parked for 12 to 15 years. We paid $35,000 apiece and spent another $40,000 to get another DC-3 ready to ferry home.”
Rod explains that it takes another $250,000 or so to get such aircraft ready for continuous use. “We’ve looked at Convairs and Hawkers and Dash 8s,” he says, “but you’re talking five million bucks and you can’t put skis on them, eh?”
Ronnie and fellow mechanics Sorenson and Dyson can swap engines out of a DC-3 or -4 in a couple of hours. To keep the fleet ready, they often just pull an engine and replace it with a rebuilt one, giving themselves time to rebuild the down engine in the shop.
“We’ve got 200 Pratt & Whitneys in rotation,” Rod McBryan says. “Dad’s got more parts for these old planes than the African countries that still use them.”
Buffalo’s corps of winter pilots are about the age of the first pilots to fly the stout airplanes during World War II.