A piece of Yukon aviation history is almost back to a state of airworthiness and drawing attention from those who crewed it or rode as a passenger.
A group in Maryland on the eastern seaboard of the United States is putting the finishing touches on repairs to a DC-3, a midcentury cargo and passenger plane that was once a workhorse for commercial carriers in Canada’s North. The plane still bears the vintage green and gold paint of an Air North aircraft from the 1980s, as well as its original name: “Yukon Sourdough.”
The plane is currently owned by a non-profit group made up of dedicated pilots and mechanics. It is undergoing some final fixes after it was damaged in a storm. Among those working on fixing the plane is Derek White, who joined the project about a year and a half ago. He said restoration work on the plane has been going on for about three years. It has been roughly 10 years since the DC-3 has flown.
“They really wanted a DC-3 and they looked all over the country and this is the one they ended up going with,” White said of the group of owners.
“I don’t know if it found us, or if we found Yukon Sourdough. It’s kind of hard to say but all the right pieces came into line and we were able to come together and restore this thing.”
White and others have been hard towards repairing the storm damage and getting the plane back in the air.
“It’s very hard to find somebody who specializes in sheetmetal work on a plane of this vintage that would be willing to come out on site and make the repairs,” White said.
A skilled sheetmetal worker was located by one of the Yukon Sourdough partners who lives in California. It took them three week-long trips to Maryland to finish that part of the work.
“There’s a lot of new parts. There’s a whole lot of new life left in this thing now. The engines are fairly new. They’re very low time,” White said.
He added that the plane remains in its original configuration rather than with turboprop replacement engines like many of the other DC-3s that remain airworthy have.
White said Mike Macario, one of the pilots in the group, knows a lot about DC-3s, having flown them in the past, including all the way to Russia via Greenland. White said Macario will still need a designated pilot examiner on the first flights the restored Yukon Sourdough will take to ensure he remains familiar with the aircraft.
The work on the plane has almost concluded and pending inspections, White said a first test flight is being planned for sometime the week of July 10.
Along with all the hard work on getting Yukon Sourdough ready to fly, White has been looking into its history. Before its time as a passenger plane in the Yukon, the DC-3 was in military service with the Royal Canadian Air Force’s 164th heavy transport squadron. White said it was initially ordered by the United States Army Air Force in 1942 but its service life, both military and civilian, was all in Western Canada.
White said at one time all of the Air North DC-3s bore names like the sourdough that evoked the gold rush era. Others were called Lady Lou, Yukon Musher and Klondike Explorer.
The plane’s exterior shows one departure from its original Air North livery: The words in remembrance of “Captain Van Kirk” are on a decal below the pilot’s window. Stephen Van Kirk, a member of the ownership and restoration team, passed away on July 1.
“He was the heart and soul of the project initially. He meant a lot to us,” White said.
White said Van Kirk was the one who initially bought Yukon Sourdough from the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) located in Wisconsin. He would fly it to air shows and other events prior to the storm that damaged the plane. Although in failing health, Van Kirk remained engaged with the work restoring Yukon Sourdough until the very end, either helping out at the hangar, picking up parts and pizza or enjoying updates on the restoration work progress.
One of White’s Facebook updates tells of how Van Kirk was able to view video of the plane making its first unassisted taxi down the runway since restoration began. Shortly before his passing, he urged the other restorers to get the plane to a major air show in Osh Kosh, Wisconsin no matter what.
Along with air shows in the United States, White said plans for a visit to the Yukon are in the works.
White said that since he began posting photos of the plane to Facebook, he has heard from former pilots, stewardesses, ground crew and others who worked on the plane when it was owned by Air North. He said he has also heard from the Yukon Transportation Museum.
“I think they would love to see it make an appearance and I would like to make that happen in the next, maybe year or two during the summer,” White said.
He acknowledged that in terms of fuel costs alone, the continent-spanning flight from Maryland to the Yukon would certainly be very expensive. He added a yet to be planned fundraiser may be necessary to cover the costs of getting the plane back to the Yukon.
“That would be special, just to fly in those areas that it used to fly you know, Dawson City, somewhere around the Klondike and all that. It’s just so pretty out there,” White said.
Whichever skies it soars through, White said getting the old DC-3 airworthy is mostly about the enjoyment of those on the ground.
“The biggest reason why we’re doing this whole thing, what makes us keep going, what motivates us: We love the appreciation that we get from everybody,”
Whether on a future trip to Whitehorse or at other airshows, White said he and his partners’ goal is to make people happy when they see Yukon Sourdough in the air.
More information on the restoration project can be found at www.airnorthdc3.com.
Contact Jim Elliot at email@example.com