It was a chaotic Start of the Congo State. Until 1960, the Congo was under Belgian Colonial rule.
On June 30 of that year, a huge new Central African Nation was installed as the independent Republic of Congo with their Government seated in the Capital Leopoldville (later Kinshasa).
Sadly, it would very soon turn out to become one of the most dramatic starts of any of the fledgling democracies, that emerged from colonial rule in Africa and Asia in the period 1945-1965.
Unexperienced with democratic values of the Western World, the Republic of Congo’s genesis turned almost from scratch into a nightmare scenario with fierce tribal/ ethnic competition that resulted in rebellion, upheaval, and the secession of the more remote provinces Katanga and South Kasai.
With their strategic mining industry, the Congo had rich natural resources, including uranium. The U.S. WW II nuclear program was built on Congolese Uranium and that simple fact attracted both the Soviet Union and the United States to this region in their Cold War geopolitical struggle for domination.
Their competing interests developed into the Congo Crisis, which started in 1960 and would rage for 5 years, costing some 100.000+ people their lives.
In the middle of all that turmoil, soon the name of Army General Joseph-Désiré Mobutu surfaced as the man who claimed to have the key to stability in the war-ridden country.
In 1961 the situation was dramatic, with many foreign powers trying to protect their existing interests, or get a larger piece of the cake from that potentially rich country.
In a situation somewhat similar to what we see now in Syria, the Russians moved in with arms supply and military advisors, invited by the leftist Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.
Their arrival complicated matters to such extent, that the UN troops, US and Belgian troops intervened in an ever-escalating leftist uproar of the Simba’s.
It must be said, the only one who survived over the years all revolts, killing parties and conspiracies, was that General with the mysterious smile.
Allegedly, he could only survive since he was more perfidious than his opponents and probably the most active organizer/ executioner in the hunt for his enemies, rebels, and communists.
After a coup d’état in 1961, he expelled all Soviet advisors and gained with that act a certain status as being “The Great Defender of Western Values on the Dark Continent”.
On the other side of the pond, JFK and his staff must have watched the antics of the General with some serious doubts about the democratic principles of the General. But the US geopolitical considerations were made at a time (1961) in which the Soviets were trying for the first time to expand their influence into Africa.
It was clear that even the “Champ of Democracy” JF Kennedy was willing to accept some minor wrinkles in the reputation of General Mobutu concerning human rights issues. (Not much seems to have changed over the years, politicians tend to follow their more pragmatic rules).
For the sake of good relations, a meeting was arranged between JFK and Mobutu in early 1963 in Washington (see the photo on top).
According to good customs and traditions, the General was offered a gift from the President of the USA, in order to underline the enduring relations between the two nations. From there, it was clear that Mobutu was considered the most powerful man in the Central African shark tank.
Though his ruling methods had a few flaws (to say the least) and that should come to expression in the special “allure” of the special Gift.
Not over the top, so to let everybody know that in spite of the good relations, there existed some reticence from the US Government over the General.
The “genius” outcome of all these political contemplation’s is shown in the gift, this DC-3 depicted below.
General Mobutu dearly wanted a Jet as personal aircraft (his Air Force nr. 1) for traveling the immense distances of the Congo in comfort and with some speed.
Surprise for him, as this vintage “Jalopy” Aircraft arrived: it was a personal gift from JFK after their meeting, and indeed Mobutu was disappointed – not that much-wanted brand new Jet, instead, he got this 18-year-old DC-3.
This aircraft is a rare post-war production plane, the last ever US-built C-47, converted to a VC-47 with a VIP interior, and maybe found somewhere in the USAF inventory in an old forgotten hangar of an Idaho Air Force Base or so.
If it is true that there was some symbolic message to be incorporated in the “Present from the President of the USA” to a “War Lord” with limited political status and dubious moral compass, this aircraft surely was the perfect gift.
Evidently, Mobutu himself had a different opinion. Now read this , it is an excerpt from an interview with Mr. Henry Kissinger aboard Mobutu’s yacht in 1976.
Mobutu: ” Mr. Kissinger, I appreciate very much what you said earlier in front of your associates about the 1,000 colonels sitting in the Pentagon, analyzing other people’s problems so they can tell them how to solve them.
In 1963, I came to Washington to see President Kennedy and in our discussions, he said I ought to have a small jet aircraft so that I could more easily move about the country; in those days I did not even have a Piper Cub.
But there was one colonel there who explained that I did not need an executive jet. What I really needed was a DC-3. If I want to fly from here to Lubumbashi in a DC-3, it’s a five and one-half hour flight.” Kissinger: “And what did you get?” Mobutu: “The Colonel prevailed. I got a DC-3.” Kissinger: “They always like to get rid of their old equipment.” Hilarious final remark from Kissinger, but isn´t this amazing? Mobutu clearly showed here again his frustration over a JFK gift of 13 years earlier!
An outright disappointment, but the General had not much to complain. He had become head of the State in 1965 with yet another Coup d’ état, thanks to his Western allies and the US weapons support.
In 1971, he renamed his country Zaire and became one of the richest rulers in human history, staying in power until 1997.
In the 32 years of his administration, he gathered an immense fortune, with his family in key functions, running the state as his private corporation with monopolies and a wide spread corruption that kept him in power for so many years.
In the end, he entered the exclusive “Hall of Shame for Robbing the Nation” with other Presidents/ex-Generals like Suharto (Indonesia), Ghadaffi (Lybia) , Marcos (Philippines), Saddam Hussein (Iraq) and a few more to follow (Maduro?).
All of them had for shorter or longer periods full political (and weapons-) support from the Western Powers, for some good or not-so-good (geo-) political reasons.
Yet, with his filthy personal richness that grew over the years, the shame and offensive disgrace represented by that old DC-3 plane were never forgotten by Mobutu.
The status he so much wanted, to show the world that he, Mobutu, had JFK as his friend, that idea got an ironic twist with this gift.
The Kissinger story of that single Pentagon Colonel who had decided to swap the proposed Private Jet for a DC-3, that was probably told him as a consolation, but in reality, the consideration to do so was most likely agreed by JFK and his staff.
They had sent him the perfect gift with the correct hidden message, one that would be remembered for a lifetime: your allies are not automatically also your personal friends.
Look what I wrote in Sept. 2015: The ex- Mobutu DC-3, with Reg. nr. 9Q-CAM is still existing and found back in Goma, on the border of the Lake Kivu in Eastern Congo.
It was visited in 2009 by Brendan Odell, who was interested to buy the aircraft. But the region is reputed for frequent turmoil, very close to the Ruanda border, a lawless region where bands of armed rebels have been looting and raping for years.
The rebels were allegedly financed by the Ruanda Government, but they always denied.
Relations between the neighboring countries have remained awkward ever since. The situation seems to be rather quiet now and tourist travel to that part is open again, but that can change rapidly.
The Military is omnipresent but is not always a guarantee for a safe stay. Mobutu never flew much with the DC-3 and the aircraft was put up for sale somewhere in the early 1980s.
It came in hands of a commercial operator, who flew for many years on the domestic flight routes in Congo with the VIP interior. That lasted until the late 1990s or so and finally the aircraft ended up parked on the ramp of Goma Airport as you can see on the photos above.
The current owner sent me a sort of SOS with this email below, in which he expresses his worries for the future of the aircraft.
The Dakota is currently parked on the southern edge parking area at Goma Airport. The airport authority has required that the airframe be removed from the airport asap.
In that regard, we have removed both wings. Since Brendan’s visit and report the plane has had the interior and cockpit looted by the military so it does not correspond to the condition as in his report.
Since we are obliged to remove the airframe that most likely entails scrapping it (after so many years trying to preserve it). Very unfortunate. If I get a chance will send photos”.
And in his final email;
” I have not had the opportunity to go to the airport to obtain recent photographs of the aircraft. (Permission for photography is very awkward out here, HW).
The engines are still on the aircraft and records are partial. From what I understand the US government provided the aircraft to President Mobutu to secure his travels early in his days.
It was in a VIP configuration at that time. It subsequently was turned over to the military and later sold to a civilian operator. I do not have an area to store the airframe so we will have to scrap it as it leaves the airport.”
But the real bad news came out some days ago:
The local Airport Authorities have ordered the aircraft should be scrapped now after so many years of filling parking space and warnings to end this situation.
In that region in the heart of Africa and far away from any seaport, the owner tried hard to sell the aircraft but failed in the end to find a buyer.
Imagine, an airplane, with such a unique history, being the very last C-47 built and a personal gift from JFK to Mobutu!
According to my friend Michael Prophet, the claim of being the last ever built C-47 seems right:
Aircraft 9Q-CAM is C-47B-50-DK 17142/34409. it was the last assembled C-47 on the US Production line 23 November 1945. ( Note: Not the last built DC-3!)
Brendan Odell wrote about the same aircraft: Virunga Air Charter, Goma. I (Brendan Odell) have visited C-47B 9Q-CAM (s/n 17142/34409) in Goma DRC on 12 June 2009.
I can confirm from its logbook information, that prior to its sale to Virunga Air Charter in 1981 and re-registration to that company as 9Q-CAM, it held the identity of 9T-JDM between 1963 and 1980. The “JDM” suffix was for Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, as it was his VIP aircraft, and still retains its original VIP interior, even now (2009).
He later changed his name to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngendu Wa Za Bang. (Mobutu Sésé Seko as he was more commonly known).
Last week, around 15 Nov 2019, the inevitable happened with the JFK DC-3 that was presented to Mobutu in 1963. As you can see here, the shredding of the last C-47 ever built has started with the cutting of the cockpit, now separated from the fuselage. Could this have been prevented?
Well, very hard to say, but in my 25 years career as the Dakota Hunter, I have been in places where it was relatively easy to dismantle a non-operational C-47 airframe and put her on a couple of trailers for road transport to a harbor for shipping to its final destination.
But when the venue of such aircraft (with over-the-road-to-a-seaport transport) is in Asia or Africa, you must anticipate huge issues that will come your way.
Those problems come from the Local Authorities, Chiefs, and often worse, from the Military or (the worst), from the Para-Military/ Warlords aka Uniformed armed Gangs. (see photo below)
I was for the vintage aircraft parts/airframe search business in Madagascar, in Nigeria, in Thailand and many South and Central American countries.
My sheer presence and interest, even only for a derelict airplane, made me instantly the Million-Dollar Baby in their eyes, and they presumed I came over primarily to share my money with them, the local rulers.
You don’t have to look for them, they know how to find you in a matter of minutes. At the moment you arrive at the airport or in your hotel, all the telephones start buzzing.
From miles around, they come over and target you. The Military will first take in your passport and from there, they start ‘negotiating’ with you about the price of properties, which are not theirs.
They offer to help you with your mission to purchase that derelict aircraft, your personal security (sic) and address your transport issues.
That sounds cool but their real agenda is often not so cool. Their attitude was often intimidating or worse, even threatening. My local guides, owners, friends who came with me, in certain cases peed their pants from fear.
I saw it often like a game of chess, that was naive but it helped me save the situation.
In any case, the conclusion was clear for me. after all the weird things that happened to me in Africa and Asia, riding that Goma-trail with 3 truck/ flatbed combos with a dismantled DC-3 on top (the setup as you can see in the photo below, made in Florida Sept. 2018) to Dar-es-Salaam/Tanzania or to Boma/Western Congo, that was not a good idea, so I quit.
The result? No one ever found the money to finance this bold venture and in the end, the aircraft has been shredded, lost forever. Amen.
Over the past years, so many Dakotas have gone down the drain. Many people, including myself, try hard to salvage them, but that needs budgets from Museums, Theme Parks and Collectors.
In 2018, a Theme Park in The Hague asked me to find a DC-3 airframe for a new attraction that will be opened in 2020, I went to Florida and with help of my friends Betty and Jesse, we took a very good looking DC-3 from a Punta Gorda swamp (see photo above).
Jesse dismantled her and the trucks took her over the road on 3 flatbed-trailers to a nearby seaport, from where she was shipped to Antwerp, and from there over the road to The Hague, The Netherlands. More news and photos to follow soon!
In April 2015, I was called in by Mr. Mark Bruce to salvage parts of the DC-3 airframes that were parked on San Juan International Airport in Puerto Rico.
The aircraft were stored there for years since the bankruptcy of Four Star Aviation. The Airport Authority finally wanted to rid the derelict airframes.
See my facebook report about this expedition, which describes the final salvage of the DC-3 Cockpits, before the scrapper moved in. Click San Juan DC-3 Graveyard
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