Volunteers with the Estrella Warbirds Museum in Paso Robles have been working together over the last three weeks to bring new life to a World War II-era airplane.
“All the volunteers are donating their time to keep this old airplane going,” Estrella Warbirds Museum member Hector Camacho said.
Built in 1944, the Douglas C-47 was one of about 11,000 airplanes the U.S. Army Air Corps used in World War II. It’s been stored at the museum for a number of years after the Paso Robles-based nonprofit Gooney Bird Group acquired it.
Every year, the planes at the museum receive annual inspections as required by the FAA to keep them flyable, Camacho, 73, said.
“This is a 71-year-old airplane, so it’s just a matter of taking things apart and taking a look,” Camacho said.
About 10 volunteers have been working on it for this year’s inspection — and so far they’re fixing a cracked rudder and fuel leak and also had to change out a cylinder.
Such maintenance takes time and care, Camacho said, because you have to uninstall large pieces, order parts, take some parts to specialists that will customize them for old planes, and then put it all back together.
Many of the volunteers have day jobs and family commitments so they arrive to work on the C-47 whenever they have a free moment, even nights and weekends.
Camacho, a 1973 Cal Poly graduate in industrial technology, traveled from his home in Kansas to work on the plane. He’s a licensed airplane mechanic and pilot and also served in the U.S. Air Force as an airman from 1960 to 1964.
Camacho likes to work alongside his son when he can. Nick Camacho, 29, lives in Arroyo Grande and is a 2011 Cal Poly graduate in manufacturing engineering.
“It’s great — he wants to learn these old airplanes from his dad, and he’s got the same passion I do to keep them flying,” the elder Camacho said.
Nick Camacho, also a pilot, comes on the weekends to help out.
“From a recreational standpoint, it’s a hobby I enjoy doing,” the younger Camacho said. “And I sure appreciate everything our military has done for us, and I like to keep these planes available to the public so everyone knows what our veterans did in World War II.”
They had planned to show the plane in the Planes of Fame 2015 Air Show this weekend in Chino, but on Friday the Camachos said the plane likely wouldn’t be ready in time.
When used in the war, the Douglas C-47s were designed to haul 28 fully loaded combat paratroopers or about six tons of cargo, including rations, ammunition and medical supplies.
The Paso Robles C-47 took part in most of the World War II parachute and supply drops in Europe, except in Normandy. It made drops in Belgium’s Battle of the Bulge, the Battle of Arnhem and on the Drop on the Rhine.
After the war, the Paso Robles plane changed ownership many times, with stints in Belgium, France and then Israel, where it sat in the desert for 32 years as part of the Israeli Defense Forces war-ready stock.
In 1999, it was sold to Canada and later purchased for $90,000 by the late Glen Thompson and donated to the Gooney Bird Group, of which he was president.
In June 2008, the group brought the plane back to the United States, and after a two-year revamp and a fresh coat of the U.S. Army's olive green, it was renamed "Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber."
The C-47 was also shown to the public in a large event at the museum in 2010.