DC-3 Riddle

This post is in tribute to David Dunstan. He personifies excellence in heritage aviation because he can do the work and he cares about the history. He was asked to reconcile conflicting information and discovered an erroneous data plate. If you maintain these treasures long enough, you will encounter an erroneous data plate. So, without further adieu, please enjoy an email recently received at HFF.

Dear Sir

My name is David Dunstan and I am employed at Sealand Aviation. Bill Alder asked me to contact you regarding the serial number history we found on the DC3, N877MG.

When I started the maintenance/repairs to N877MG, I tried to identify the aircraft by SN/model to ensure that we had the correct service, parts and repair manuals. I found that the number on the data plate was not reliable, and I dug a little further into the possibilities of various SNs that were thought to be this aircraft. The following is a compilation of the facts.

No C47/DC3 can have a Douglas Factory issued SN of 4193. Douglas Co. skipped SNs 4184 – 4199.
The actual data plate is a legitimate Douglas plate, however a C47/DC3 should be stamped with Long Beach, California, or the Oklahoma City, Oklahoma plant details. The current data plate is stamped with the Santa Monica, California plant details.
N877MG’s construct has a bolted empennage at STA 596″, a feature of C47/DC3s produced only at the Long Beach plant.
Internally the aircraft has more base systems in common with a C47/DC3 conversion than any other variant of the type (Super DC3,R4D-,etc), however the airframe has been heavily modified with systems from other variants and STC’s over time.
The Date of Manufacture stated on the data plate is quite plausible, as 4 C47B’s were “built” that date (SN’s 20805, 20806, 20808, 20816).
The symbol on the right hand outer wing is a stylized “Chung”, Chinese for middle of/central.

Of the several possibilities of SN that this aircraft could be, it is almost certainly SN 20806. This follows that the aircraft was built at the Long Beach, California plant on the Date of Manufacture on the data plate, 7-29-44 (SN 25638 was a R4D-6 built in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 3 weeks later than the data plate Date of Manufacture). SN 4193 is not a recognized Douglas SN, however SN 20806 had a Long Beach Factory Fuselage (Line Number) of 4193. In Douglas’s Record of Airplanes, SN 20806 and the preceding 3 aircraft SNs were to be delivered to the U.S. Army, China. Anecdotal evidence suggest that the aircraft went to the Central Air Command (China), where the aircraft was painted with this symbol to display its deployment. This aircraft was then sold some time in the late 1940’s and returned to the U.S. sometime in the early 1950’s, where it was converted by Grand Central Aircraft Co. I suggest that this aircraft returned to the U.S. minus the data plate or legible records (poor record keeping) from China, was converted and re data plated (with incorrect SN) by or before Grand Central Aircraft.

I hope this helpful with the FAA, and that it may clear up some of the problems with the provenance of the aircraft. Please feel free to contact me at Sealand Aviation or at this email address.

Yours faithfully
David Dunstan

Thanks, David. JTS

John Sessions