More C-47 Stories and Photo's from "ol' Sarg"

All Stories and Photo's on this page have been supplied by Bill Ewing aka "ol' Sarg" pictured below:

Straight Up – The Tale of the Missing Hammer

By "the ol' Sarg."

Way back when, I was on Dakotas with a Search & Rescue unit. The routine was that at the start of each day, the stand-by aircraft would be run up and then given a fifteen minute test-flight with the full search crew aboard. On this day, the servicing crew completed the inspection, reinstalled the engine cowlings and rolled the Dakota out for the test-flight. The flight crew did their thing and headed off for the wild blue yonder. Now it happened on that particular day that the unit Flight Safety Officer was along for the ride, in the right seat. As they were aviating around the aerodrome, he casually glanced down into the engine cowling. AND HAD A BIRD!!!

There, quietly rocking away in the bottom of the cowling was a large rubber mallet.

Sometimes the cowlings on the Dakota can be a little hard to install. Some gentle persuasion with a rubber mallet can be all that is required to get them to line up. The installer had obviously used this technique and then laid the mallet in the nearest convenient place while he locked up the cowling latches. Unfortunately, he forgot to remove it when he was done.

Now that mallet was not going anywhere – barring heavy turbulance or aerobatic flying, but…

Picture if you can the utter panic in the cockpit. This is the Flight Safety Officer we're talking about!! Without so much as a word to the pilot, he grabs the controls, screams a 'mayday' into the mic, and dives the aircraft toward the runway. The pilot figures the aircraft is about to explode so he joins in the panic. The search crew in the back is too busy trying to find something to hang onto to do anything. The tower operators seeing the aircraft dive back into the circuit and hearing the 'mayday' figure the same. They scramble the Crash Crew. The Dakota bangs onto the runway and tries for the World Land Speed Record as they head back to the hangar, closely followed by a multitude of fire trucks and rescue wagons.

The Dakota jerks to a halt and before the line crew can even pick up the chocks let alone install them, the door opens and our intrepid aviator leaps out. He is jumping up and down and flailing his arms like he was trying to take off….this time without an aircraft around him. The air in his immediate area is blue. The guilty party has seen all this and has decided that the best place for him at this time is…..out of sight. So, he hops into his car and departs.

It took a few hours, but the mallet was removed and the engine checked for damage. The Flight Safety Officer had a stack of reports to write up. The Flight Sargeant and the guilty tech had a few words….no, that is to say, the Flight Sargeant had a LOT of words, the tech had few. The test-flight was flown over again, and life continued.

Skycraft operated C-47s out of Hamilton, Ontario, back in the 60s - 70s. If I can remember correctly, their main task was the air transport of car parts between the various Ford & GMC plants. I think (but I'm not positive) that the straw that broke Skycraft was that one of their Daks was given a load of turbo fuel in St. Louis and ended up against a railroad embankment with both pilots, sadly being killed. The insurance settlement to those suffering families was never announced, but must have been a real stinker for the company and for the F.O.B. that did the refuelling.

Peak-a Boo !!

The above photo is of the Dakota that is now part of the memorial in front of the Canadian Forces Navigation Training School in Winnipeg. It is there with a B-25 Mitchell, and a C-45 Expeditor. The three were used as training aircraft by the school for the training of Navigators up until the early 70's.

Straight Up – The Tale of the Fuel

By "the ol' Sarg

Problems never come all by their lonesome in aviation. You no sooner have one crop up when you can bet your life insurance that another is hiding just around the corner. Now Donald Douglas and his crew designed a pretty rugged and forgiving aircraft in the DC3/C47, but there are times…

We had moved a Dakota out for a post-inspection run-up to find on start-up that someone had not only neglected to hook up the rear sparkplug on the #1 cylinder (top front on the P&W R-1830), but had completely neglected to install the darned thing. On start-up, what was that strange pft, pft, pft. ?? It does not help at all when it is the Engineer Officer who is the one who hears the pft, pft, pft, either. Everything comes to a grinding halt while maintenance stands are brought up, cowlings removed and the missing sparkplug is properly installed. The aircrew are not-very-patiently looking at their watches but at last all is ready to go – again.

Or is it.

I told you there is no such thing as one problem in aviation.

The two run-ups has burned off some fuel (the Dak only holds enough for about six hours of flight), so the refueling pool is called for a little more of that 100/130 octane go-juice. The big yellow truck arrives and three techs trot out to top the tanks off. One is in charge of the fire extinguisher and the paperwork, The other two are up on the wings to handle the hoses. It takes only a few gallons but at last everything is ready to go.

Remember that, "or is it."

As the truck pulls away, someone totally uninvolved with the operation casually mentions, "Gee! That's a Turbo bowser!"


Turbo!!! Dakotas are piston jobs. They use Avgas!! Did they really pump in a few gallons of Turbo fuel?? Oh, you know they did.

The aircrew have given up entirely and have headed back for their lounge and coffee. The three aircraft techs are in the Chief's office, and the fuel truck driver is refusing to get out of his truck. The simple post-inspection run-up has now included missing sparkplugs, more maintenance, and incorrect fuel. It gets worse. Mixed fuel is contaminated fuel. Pratt & Whitney engines don't run worth a damn on contaminated fuel. Dakotas won't fly with contaminated fuel. It causes high cylinder head temperatures, very rough running engines, and great anxiety in the cockpit. A Dakota has great wings for gliding, but who wants to try them.

ALL the fuel must be drained. All the fuel tanks, lines, pumps, filters, sumps, selectors, etc., etc., etc., must be drained. Then refuelled and flushed. Then defuelled again and finally refuelled again.

On top of the screaming and yelling and the 75 buck fine (and in those days we made just over one hundred a month), three guesses who had to all the defuelling and refuelling ?

The luxury seen inside a typical C-47

There is no mistake when recognizing a radial engine. This one from an RCAF C-47.

Straight Up – Breezy

By, "the ol' Sarg"

I turned and looked out of the window of the Servicing shack. We had three Dakotas on the line and it was blowing up pretty good out there. I took a second look and blew coffee all over the window!! One of the Dakotas was flying!!! It was on the ground, but it flying!!

I was gasping and coughing and pointing out the window. Finally I blurted out, "It's flying!!" The Sargeant turned and looked. That's when the excretion hit the rotating blades.

Normally, when parked, the Dakota has control locks installed, which prevent control movements, which could cause damage. The ailerons and rudder and locked in a neutral position while the elevators are secured in the "UP" position. Wind across the tailplanes forces the tail of the aircraft onto the ground. As long as the control locks are on the correct side. If you reverse them, the elevators are secured in the "DOWN" position and under the right wind force, the tail will rise. Someone had done just that. This must have been the right wind force 'cause the Dak was flying.

Everyone in the section was in a flap….except for one gnarly old Corporal sitting back in the corner. He quietly got up and headed for the door, slowing down only long enough to grab me by the arm. I had no idea what he had planned, but I went with him. It was bloody windy out on the ramp. We made our way across to the aircraft. I couldn't figure out how just the two of us were going to the get tail back on the ground. Pull it down??

This Corporal was a real old timer. Word had it that he was in the Air Force when Pontius Pilote was a Flight Cadet. He didn't hesitate when we reached the Dakota. He pulled off one of the elevator locks and handed it to me. Then he braced himself against the tail fairing and slid the other one partially off. This allowed the elevators to raise slightly and the tail to fly slowly back onto the ground. Once the tailwheel hit the ground, the old Corporal yanked the control lock off with one hand and pushed the elevator fully up with the other. Then he grabbed the control lock I was holding and jammed it into place. On the correct side this time. I put the second lock into place and the panic was over.

Back inside, the Corporal refilled my coffee cup and we sat down for a quiet break. Through the whole thing, he had not said one word, and I had done exactly what he had wanted without even knowing what I was supposed to do. Now THAT is an instructor!!

The moral of this story is, there ain't nothing which is completely Murphy proof!!

Refuelling the RCAF C-47.

Straight Up – You Want Problems??

By "the ol' Sarg"

You think you got troubles?? I'll give you troubles. Mid-summer and a call comes down for me to grab my kit and prep for a flight. So, I grab my gear, kiss the wife and kids goodbye and away we go.

The assigned Dakota is not the best one in the then-RCAF. High hours on airframe, engines, and props. A quick peek back in the pink sheets (major snags) reveals a fair number of previous problems, and the blue sheet (minor snags) is getting full. Oh well, this should be the last cross-country before the inspection.

This will be a three-day trip through the west with half-a-dozen stops in Canada and the US. The load is the two pilots, myself, and a few pax to be dropped and picked up along the way.

Into the air, junior birdmen!! The first leg is great. Weather fine, nice tailwind, and everything is working as advertised. Second leg is not quite as nice as the wind has shifted around onto the nose and it's a bit bumpier. The Dak keeps motoring but little hiccups are starting to show. A vibrating gauge, an intermittent radio – small things.

By the end of the third leg, my "pucker factor" has risen considerably. Now there is a generator off line and it will not come back. I want to write it up as a major snag and have a new unit flown down to us. To my astonishment, the captain refuses to acknowledge the snag and decides to push on the next morning. I write up the pink sheet but have a choice of sitting there with the paperwork while the Dak departs, or go along to keep an eye on things. The starter works, so the problem is probably in the voltage regulator.

By the next stop, one set of radios is duff and I know we aren't going to stop for that. On again, and this time we stop for the night at a major RCAF base – thank goodness. Now maybe sanity will creep back into the equation. NOT!!

The next morning, the brake pressure has bled off and in trying to pump it up; I hear a suspicious gurgling in the accumulator. I know this is a major snag; the bladder inside has split. I write up the sheet, hand it to the pilot, and he hands it back to me!!! It will keep till we get home, I'm informed; we'll baby it. I make up my mind to report the problem to maintenance here, but before I can, both engines are started and we are taxi-ing out.


I am really in a fix now. One generator off line, one set of radios crapped out, and now the hydraulic accumulator busted. I'm growing a whole mess of new gray hair. And still we press on.

We taxi in at the final pick-up point and the captain doesn't even shut down the engines. Two passengers up the ladder and we are airborne for home.

By now, my pucker factor is at an all-time high; my graying hair is almost white; and I'm hearing all sorts of strange noises from the Dakota, which may or may not actually be there.

Finally, with an audible sigh from both the aircraft and me, we taxi up and park in front of the hangar. I gather up my gear and head for the servicing shack. I know (1) I am going to stir things up, and (2) I'm going to get yelled at. I sure can call it. I start writing up the snags and the Sargeant across the desk undergoes a transformation. His eyebrows disappear into his hairline, his jaw drops to waist level, and his colour goes from a healthy pink to an unattractive chalk white. With a trembling hand, he picks up the phone and calls the Warrant Officer. That exalted NCO arrives and takes one look at the paperwork. He then gathers it all up with one hand while taking a death-grip on my arm with the other. We're off to see the Engineering Officer.

Why is it everybody of higher rank than me is also of a greater vertical height?? Does it come with the promotion?? There I stand, surrounded by giants and being yelled at. Why had I not complained to other authority?? Why did I continue to fly with multiple major snags?? Quite simple. I didn't!! I was just along for the ride. It was either stay with the aircraft or be stranded at some weird location with no way of getting home, I carefully pointed out that I was not the one with the "press-on-itis".

I don't know what was the outcome of the ensuing conversation between the Engineering Officer and the pilot. But!! I put a note on the Flight Scheduling Board that I would NOT be flying with that particular pilot again. I didn't, either.

The (above) photo is of an ex-RCAF Dak operated by AeroTrades Western Ltd. here in Winnipeg. I worked for the outfit after getting out of the Permanent Force, Canadian Armed Forces, and as well as the Daks, there were three DC4's, and a Canso (to us)...Catalina (to you).

I got out of the CAF Permanent Force back in '80, and then went back a couple of years later into the Reserves. About the same time I did, I started doing bench inspection on Pratt & Whitney engines, R-985, R-1340, and R-1830. I still have all my inspection books for them, and I could probably still do the job. One reason I quit the inspection game was that after ten years of it, I managed to screw up my back lifting 1830 crankshafts (they weigh in about 100 lbs each when assembled). Anyway, the boss let me handle inspections back on the accessory bench (magnetos & carbs) once I got back to work. This was easier on the ol' back, but then I found myself doing 1830s again. That did it!! I kicked around for a couple of years and then got a call from my present boss asking me if I'd be interested in looking after the Parts Department for him. I decided that I'd give it a try, and I've been there ever since. It's a good outfit. We operate twenty Bell helicopters, 205, 206 JetRanger, and 206L LongRanger. It does keep me busy. Somewhere in there, I managed to reach the magic age with the military and it was "a rividerci, Sarg." According to them, I was too old to stand behind a podium and teach young sprogs the niceties of aviation technology. Okay!! But I did notice that they weren't able to replace me.

This photo (above) is a wartime shot of an old C-47 taken at Ganger, Newfoundland

A beautuful line up of Dakota's.

Straight Up – How Cold Is It?

By the ol' Sarg.

The cross-country had us visiting the weirdest places this time. In the middle of the Canadian winter is the time for visiting our US cousins in southern climes, but dragging our sorry butts into wind-swept deserted airstrips through the north. But somehow or other, I had drawn the straw and with a Dakota loaded with various Army types, was bouncing from one northern strip to another. And it was cold!! The temperature was averaging –20oC (about 30-below on the other scale.) Then there was the wind. All sorts of fun and games.

We had landed for an R.O.N. (Remain Over Night) at a strip that I think might have been built back sometime during the 1939 – 45 problem. There was one dilapidated hangar and that was full of straw bales. To make sure that the engines would start the next morning, I had the pilots do a proper oil dilution prior to shut-down. Then I dragged the engine covers out of the back of the Dak, and enlisted the aid of the two pilots and one befuddled Army officer to help me put them on. I double-chocked the wheels and made sure the control locks were on securely. Everything looked okay, so I trudged across the snow-covered tarmac to what passed as a servicing shack. The "shack" part fit real good. I managed to scrounge a cup of coffee and then was given a ride to what was laughingly called a hotel.

The next morning I arrived back at the aircraft in plenty of time to pre-flight it, and it turned out that it was a good thing I did. Sometime during the night, the local authorities had decided to clean the snow off the runways and tarmac. This was accomplished by using a tow-behind sweeper and a snowblower. It did a good job, too. Unfortunately, the snow and ice had been thrown against the undersurfaces of the elevators. This had done a very nice job of perforating the fabric on both elevators. How the hell was I doing to patch them?? It was bloody cold, and I had nothing to repair the damage with, or dope to cover it with if I did get it patched.

There I sat; bemoaning my fate and cursing the illegitimate offspring of mating canines who had been so inconsiderate as to blow ice into my elevators. When the pilots showed up and found out the problem, they told me to "carry on" and jumped back into their nice warm ride and headed back into the town with the advice to "call them when it was fixed". Nice guys!!

I could just imagine the comments made back at base when the word got out about this.

I was crying quietly into my coffee when an old (and I mean, OLD, Indian came into the shack) He chuckled when he heard of my problem, but offered to help. My old Dad had told me and told me. He said, "Son, when someone offers help, unless you are positive it isn't going to work, ACCEPT IT!!" So I accepted the help. It was a good thing I did, too.

The first thing the old guy did was to round up a very time-expired parachute and the two of us draped it over the horizontal stabilizer on one side, and rig a Herman-Nelson heater to blow warm air under the tent. Then he trudged off and returned with a couple of curved sailmaker's needles (I didn't even know what they were at the time, but I sure hung onto the one he gave me), and a large spool of heavy fishing line. With a speed that I've never been able to duplicate, he had the tears in the elevator sewn up, and using the approved baseball stitch, too. What I didn't know was that while he was gone, he had dug up some old aircraft dope and had put it somewhere warm to get usable. To cover the stitches, he brought along some clean rags from somewhere else and an old pair of pinking shears. It was cold under there but warm enough for the dope to set properly. Once the one elevator was patched, we headed over to the servicing shack for coffee and to get some clean air into our lungs.

I was still wondering where the old guy had got all the stuff we had needed and the experience. So I asked him. He laughed. It turned out that as a boy, he had hung around the old RCAF base at High River. Alberta, and the mechanics had taught him how to do all these jobs. The needles and the shears he had taken with him when he had left there. The dope was stuck up on a shelf in the back of the old hangar, and the rags he had picked out of his wife's sewing basket.

Once we got warmed up, we went back out and rigged the parachute over the other stabilizer and elevator and did the second repair. Some of the rags provided a colourful contrast to the silver of the military colour scheme, but what the heck, they worked.

With the repair completed, the old gentleman handed me one of his needles and shook my hand. Then he just turned and walked off into the bush.

I passed the word back to the pilots that everything was ready and as soon as they got their gear together, we were started and away.

I carefully checked the patch job at every stop, but when we got back to home base, not one patch had pulled off and the stitches were solid. The refinishers didn't like the job though and insisted that it be redone, "according to the book". By the time they had finished playing with the nice tight job. Everything was a complete mess. The end result was that a pair of elevators was drawn from Stores and installed. My repaired set were sent to an overhaul depot and completely recovered.

Some Civvie DC-3 taking off from Somewhere ? Always nice to see that tail lift up though on take off.

Straight Up – That Stinking Feeling

By the ol’ Sarg

The weekend trips had been posted and my favourite Dakota and I found ourselves scheduled for Air Cadet familiarization trips. To make the weekend even better, I found that the assigned Aircraft Commander was one of the more amiable chaps on the squadron and his Co-Joe one of my ex-students. This was going to be a gooood weekend. However, I had done Air Cadet trips before and I made a mental note to load up on "Barf Bags". Young teenagers and low-level Dakota flights made for a wonderful combination.

To make my life even more pleasant, the trip was slated for Saturday and return. My wife was overjoyed to have me around for most of the weekend. The kids would probably wonder who the strange man in the house was.

Saturday dawned bright and clear and the met forecast called for beautiful summer weather through the entire weekend. The Dak checked out completely, the crew showed up on time, my "special" supplies were there, and the in-flight lunches even looked edible. So, with light heart and confident smiles, we cranked the Pratts and away we all flew to ferry Air Cadets.

Do you get the feeling I might have been just a mite overconfident?? You’ve flown Dak trips before, I can tell.

The Captain pulled the Dak up to a stop, and before the props even wound down, there were "ankle-biters" all over the place. There must have been two hundred of the little monsters, and fifty of those bloody Sargeants!! But nobody was in charge!! I jumped out the door and purposely left the boarding ladder inside. If they couldn’t get in, I still had a chance to get control. I grabbed the biggest (all of five feet high) Sargeant I could find and asked him how loud he could shout. He grinned. My response was to tell him to get ALL of them fallen in properly in three ranks or NOBODY (including him) was going flying in my aircraft. (well, engineers, let’s be honest. We only loan the aircraft to the pilots. Right??)

I had to admit, the kid did have a loud voice. It took a while, but at last the mob of small bodies all in Air Force blue finally got into some resemblance of order. While all this was going on, I spotted one lone individual in an officer’s uniform casually strolling across to the aircraft…..puffing on a pipe!!! The kid was loud, but I was louder!!! He stopped short and almost bit the end off the pipe. Curt LeMay might have been able to smoke his cigars around his aircraft, but no officer, especially an Air Cadet Officer was going to smoke around mine. I forget now just what it was I said, but I did notice a look of rapt attention on the face of every cadet after I had said it. The Air Cadet Officer was now holding the pipe in his hand and his jaw was as close as my heels to the tarmac. He finally sputtered that I couldn’t talk to him that way, he was an Officer. I replied that he was probably a schoolteacher who was looking after a bunch of kids wearing blue. I however, was an Aircraft Crewman in the Air Force and he wanted his kids to ride on my aircraft, he’d better listen to me….sir!! My rather direct statement was undone somewhat by the snickers of the two pilots who were now standing behind me in the aircraft doorway. Thanks guys. Undermine what little authority I have.

By now the kids were very quiet, hanging on each and every word.

I spun around and pointed at the Sargeant I had put in charge. "Count them off in groups of eighteen, and get the first load aboard! And I want an NCO in charge of each group, so don’t you all plan to ride on one trip."

Once I had the seats all filled, the Air Cadet officer started up the ladder. "Sorry, sir. Next trip. This one is at limit." I made his day.

The RCAF Dakotas all had auxiliary power units mounted back in the rear compartment. They were small gas-powered generators and usually stunk up the back end of the aircraft every time they were used. This did not help the overloaded tummies of small boys….who inevitably had eaten every piece of food available at lunch. Before we even taxi-ied out to the runway, I had passed out the little white bags to one and all. Then I made the crowning statement, "If you throw up, you clean up. Use the bags."

I might have just as well have saved my breath. It didn’t work for the first group….or the second. After that I didn’t bother, I just handed out the bags and retreated into the crew compartment until we landed.

By the end of all the trips, there is no word to describe the smell found within the fuselage on the Dakota. If aircraft had feelings and could talk, I know what this one would be saying about Air Cadets and probably, me as well.

I collared the Air Cadet officer and asked him to assign some of the hardier kids to help scrub out the aircraft. He took one look down his nose and disappeared in the direction of the parking lot. There were a couple of the Sargeants still standing around and they volunteered to get a couple of buckets and water and to help me. Nice kids!! I took them up on their offer too. They were as good as their word. They got buckets, water, some rags, and from I-don’t-know-where, some strong detergent. The smell wasn’t quite as bad by the time we were finished but you could tell the kids had a day they wouldn’t forget in a hurry. There was a possibility that none of them would ever enlist in the Air Force after that.

I had a quiet word with the Captain, then loaded the very helpful kids into the aircraft and we had a private familiarization flight just for them. One good turn deserves another, right?? Both the boys got a chance to act as co-pilot for a while, too.

With them back on the ground, we turned for home. The Dak would be left out on the end of the line for the rest of the weekend with every door, hatch, and window open… air it out. And probably Monday morning I would get a phone call to get myself down to the hangar and to clean out the aircraft….properly!! I did!!

All Stories and Photo's on this page have been supplied by Bill Ewing aka "ol' Sarg"