Of all the companies and organizations, large and small, represented here at AirVenture, arguably the most important is the FAA.

Its historic  is parked adjacent to the AeroShell Square, just behind the huge and glitzy HondaJet exhibit.

Although 63 years’ young, N34 is in excellent flyable condition. And, should you accept an invitation from the aircraft’s custodians to step inside and complete the ascent of the fuselage towards the cockpit, you’re almost certain to find N34’s self-confessed custodian – Tom Solinski – ready, willing and able to tell you all about his pride and joy.

Douglas DC-3 ‘N34’ 

Completed in May 1945 at Douglas’s Oklahoma City plant, its subsequent career as an Army Air Force TC-47B (SN 55-77027) was short. In fact, it lasted but one day before it was re-assigned to the US Navy as an R4D-7 (Bureau number 99856). 

It subsequently served in various transport squadrons at Norfolk, Virginia; Quonset Point, Rhode Island; Glenview, Illinois; and in London, England, where it flew as a support aircraft to the United States’ embassy in Grosvenor Square.

The next part of N34’s career began when it retired from the US Navy and was transferred in 1958 to the FAA’s predecessor – the CAA – where, through further sleight of paperwork, it became a DC-3 type II (SN33359) registered as N34. At the same time it was converted to, and operated as, a flight inspection aircraft until 1981, mainly flying out of California.

Flight inspection aircraft are responsible for checking the accuracy of all the VORs, NDBs, ADFs, ILSs and radar systems relied on by pilots the world over. So, if you fall into that category, you should thank the N34 and her present-day successors.

N34’s professional career ended in 1980/81 where it began – in Oklahoma City, by which time it had become the FAA’s main flight inspection training aircraft. Put in storage, N34 languished in a hangar for a few years before being operated from 1985 as a recruiting and information tool at air-shows around the country. And that, with a few breaks, is what the aircraft did until 1995, when it returned to storage before starting the most recent phase of its flying life as a participant in the Centennial of Flight celebrations in 2003.

This year and next, N34 will help the FAA to celebrate its own centenary and Tom says that it will continue to fly for many years to come.

“I can’t imagine N34 being grounded and, let’s face it, the aircraft does a fantastic job in publicising the important work of the FAA throughout the USA.”

Today, N34 is based in Oklahoma City but it is often hangared here in Oshkosh, where all its heavy maintenance is performed. To date, it has flown 24,650.5 hours and the next engine change will be the 62nd! 

Along with San Francisco’s fabled cable cars, N34 is one of only two items on the USA’s National Register of Historic Places that move under their own power! Long may that continue to be the case!


Source: Flight International