Didi & Sigi’s Excellent Collection

How do you align your brand with energy, superiority, and effervescence? Build the best private airplane collection in Europe

(Caroline Sheen)
Air & Space Magazine | Subscribe

(Continued from page 2)

But the Douglas DC-6B is the centerpiece of the collection, not so much because of its size as because of the effort it took to get it into the near-perfect condition it's in today. The airplane has an interesting provenance: It was the second to last one off the production line in 1958, and it was delivered-along with its sister aircraft, the last DC-6 ever produced-to the national Yugoslavian airline, JAT.

Head of state Marshal Josip Tito had other plans, however, and converted them both into luxurious private transports for his own use. In 1975, Tito sold the DC-6s to the Zambian air force, which stored them at a remote airport for about 12 years, then used them to fly sightseers over west Africa until 1999.

In March 2000, Angerer read in an airline magazine that the aircraft were for sale, and he and Harald Reiter, the Flying Bulls' general manager, set out to buy one. They chose the penultimate one off the production line, and on July 7, 2000, they ferried their new DC-6 home, a trip that took them 26 hours.

"We didn't have a hangar yet, so we started to disassemble the airplane outside in the field, in the grass," says Thomas Muigg, now Flying Bulls' maintenance and technical manager as well as the DC-6's flight engineer. In 2000 he was hired to head up the restoration. The maintenance team ended up replacing 78 percent of the aircraft's structure. The airframe had only 6,000 hours, but was plagued with corrosion. In addition, as team members started to take apart the inner walls of the aircraft, they discovered hundreds of African wasps' nests. The entire restoration took about 30 men four years.

A few months prior to the DC-6 project's completion, a Flying Bulls crew was sent to Alaska to check out Northern Air Cargo, the operator of the world's largest DC-6 fleet and home to a huge training and simulator facility.

"Word trickled down to me about the restoration they'd done on the aircraft and the fact that a green crew was going to fly the airplane on its certification flight," says Doug Lee, a DC-6 pilot of 52 years, then with Northern Air Cargo. "I told them they needed someone with experience to fly the plane, and I offered to do the certification flights for them." Angerer agreed, inviting Lee to Salzburg to helm the DC-6 as chief pilot and to make the certification flights. Lee is now a permanent fixture at Flying Bulls.

Nearly every aircraft in the collection has its own interesting history-and maintenance peculiarities. A specialist is assigned to each airplane. On aircraft like the B-25 and the DC-6, one flight hour equals about 50 maintenance hours. Although parts can be found relatively easily and cheaply, it's hard to predict what condition they'll be in when they arrive. Recent parts purchased from the military are usually in pretty good shape, but often parts require intensive and time-consuming labor to get them in working order.

The facilities at Hangar-8 are approved by the European Aviation Safety Agency (the equivalent of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration).

"With the DC-6 project, we learned we had to do everything in-house," says Muigg. "We couldn't rely on other maintenance facilities. No one [we talked to about restoration] wanted to take the risk of restoring an old airplane."

There's also a complex hierarchy involved in keeping so many pilots current on so many different airplanes. "Every airplane has one pilot assigned to take care of it," Angerer explains. "They fly that aircraft mostly, but they are also current in at least two kinds of airplanes. The rule is, you can fly your airplane once every two weeks without asking."

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus