Published in Midwest Flyer – February/March 2017
A North Central Airlines DC-3 will soon return to the skies, thanks to the Aviation Heritage Center of Wisconsin. The non-profit aviation museum located at Sheboygan County Memorial Airport in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, has acquired one of the only remaining DC-3 aircraft that actually flew for the airline from 1953-1964. The museum plans to paint the aircraft in North Central Airlines colors and if sufficient funds are raised, put her on tour to select cities in 2017.
The airline, with its recognizable flying duck logo, was a predominant air carrier in the Great Lakes region from 1941-1979. Founded in Clintonville, Wisconsin by executives of the Four Wheel Drive Corporation, North Central Airlines served many small cities throughout the region, including seasonal flight to Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin, the smallest community ever served by a commercial airline.
The town of Clintonville donated $25,000 to name the DC-3 (N33632) “The City of Clintonville.” Other donors contributed funds to help the museum acquire the aircraft. Additional funds are still needed for painting and maintenance before the aircraft can be brought home to Wisconsin.
“North Central Airlines needs to be commemorated as one of Wisconsin’s great aviation success stories,” noted Jon Helminiak, executive director of the Aviation Heritage Center of Wisconsin, and founder of the North Central Airlines Commemorative Exhibit. “The airline had a very personal touch – her employees and passengers were like a big family in the days when airline travel was a privilege. They started small, but by the 1970s, North Central was serving cities across the nation.”
Almost every airline in the 1940s through the 1960s flew the DC-3, and the military configuration was widely used as a transport aircraft during World War II. At one time, North Central had 32 Douglas DC-3 aircraft in its fleet and for a time, N33632 was conscripted during World War II and saw action in Guadalcanal.
Helminiak noted that N33632 is in excellent condition: “For a 75 year old aircraft, much of it looks new. There is no corrosion, the engines are low time, and the cockpit and interior are very clean.”
Board President and air show performer, Paul Walter, added: “This DC-3 has flown more than 81,300 hours and transported thousands of people all over the nation. We’re happy to bring this aviation treasure back home and hopefully return her to service.”
For the past 21 years, the former owners of N33632 kept the aircraft in the dry desert environment near Victorville, Calif. They took good care of the aircraft and spent thousands of dollars to maintain it.
Helminiak noted: “The former owners are thrilled that the aircraft will return to Wisconsin and fly as North Central Airlines.” If sufficient funds can be raised in the next six months, the aircraft will be painted in the colors of North Central Airlines when it flew for the airline in the 1950s, and then put on tour in the summer of 2017 to visit the small towns it once served.
Former North Central Airlines employees, most in their twilight years, are gratified that “their” airline will be remembered. Retired North Central Airlines pilot Harry Alton of Minneapolis, Minn., who actually flew the purchased DC-3, said “Most of us worked for the company for our entire careers. Many met their spouses there. North Central was a wonderful airline to be a part of.”
Every third tuesday, former North Central Airlines pilots gather for breakfast at Denny’s in Apple Valley, Minn. At least three of the pilots that gather flew North Central DC-3 aircraft between 1953 and 1964, including Bill Hunchiss, Randy Sohn, and Carroll Hemming.
For volunteer Roger Hallingstad, 83, of Sheboygan, Wis., the North Central Airlines exhibit is his passion. He acquired a motor home, had it painted with the North Central Airlines and Aviation Heritage Center logos, and is traveling the Great Lakes region talking about the aircraft and collecting memorabilia.
“People come up to me everywhere and tell me stories about their memories of North Central Airlines,” said Hallingstad. “They’re always smiling as they talk because they’re so excited that North Central will fly again in their lifetimes.”
Tax-deductible donations are being sought to bring the aircraft home to Wisconsin and put her on tour the summer of 2017. Donors can name a seat, window, or even the cockpit.
For more information on how you can participate and support the North Central Airlines DC-3 restoration project, contact Jon Helminiak at email@example.com or 262-893-5500. The center’s website is www.ahcw.org.