Group of Volunteers Working to Restore Historic Skymaster Plane

Image courtesy of savetheskymaster.org.

A group of volunteers is working to save a Douglas C-54 Skymaster military plane from the scrap heap but COVID and lack of funding threaten to sabotage their work.

In 2017, Allan Vogel noticed two Skymasters in a scrapyard. One had already been cut up extensively but the other was still relatively intact though a bit rusty and in need of some repair.

Vogel, an aircraft broker by trade, noticed signs that this might be a historic airplane and began working to secure funding to purchase the plane and keep it from being chopped up for scrap.

Skymaster 56498 was thankfully saved by Allan Voel. Image courtesy of savetheskymaster.org.
Skymaster 56498 was thankfully saved by Allan Voel. Image courtesy of savetheskymaster.org.

It turns out that this Skymaster has a serial number of 56498. It was delivered to the US Navy on May 20, 1945. It was based in Guam and carried wounded soldiers from the front lines to safety as well as carrying supplies to Iwo Jima and Japan.

In 1946, Skymaster 56498 carried British POWs as they were repatriated after being liberated from Japanese POW camps.

In 1948,  C-54 Skymasters became famous for their role in the Berlin Airlift, though 56498 was stationed in the Pacific and not used in this mission.

After serving in the final months of WW2, Skymaster 56498 served in Korea, and then Vietnam. Image courtesy of savetheskymaster.org.
After serving in the final months of WW2, Skymaster 56498 served in Korea, and then Vietnam. Image courtesy of savetheskymaster.org.

In the 1950s, 56498 was used in the Korean War to deliver troops and cargo.

In the 1970s, she flew missions in the Vietnam War to deliver supplies and blood.

In the mid-1970s, 56498 was stored at the Davis-Monathan Air Force Base “graveyard” for obsolete military planes.

In the late 1970s, the plane was purchased by Biergart Aviation who used it for spraying forest fires and pesticides.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Atlantic Warbirds flew her in airshows around the US.

In 2002, the plane was purchased by Steven Spielberg’s movie production company and restored in order to use in a film about the Berlin Airlift. The film was never made so the plane was left in an aviation scrapyard until Vogel found her in 2017.

When no suitable buyer could be located, Vogel started a charity to raise money to restore the plane. Through donations and grants, he was able to purchase the plane and begin the repairs with the help of volunteers.

The hardest part of the restoration is the aircrafts 4 radial engines. Image courtesy of savetheskymaster.org.
The hardest part of the restoration is the aircrafts 4 radial engines. Image courtesy of savetheskymaster.org.

Work on the plane has been a blessing for veterans who have been looking for the same level of camaraderie they had in the military. It’s also been helpful for those who are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. There are even engineering students joining the team for the experience of working on real-world issues in airplane maintenance and repair.

The group has been able to work on the fuel tanks and fuselage but they lack the funds to tackle the needed repairs on the four engines. The ongoing pandemic has severely cut in to the group’s funding as they can no longer rely on donations from the airshows they attended.

For more information and donations, visit their website here.

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If they can get the funding, the group hopes to return the plane to the air and use it as a flying museum to educate people about the role of the Skymaster over the long, historic life of the iconic plane.