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Historic wings: Oldest flying DC-3 lands in Covington

Photo by Michael Buckelew

Photo by Michael Buckelew

COVINGTON -- Flagship Detroit, the oldest flying DC-3 airplane in the world, is at Covington Municipal Airport this week and will be available for tours on Saturday.

Now owned and operated by a private volunteer foundation, the aircraft was operated by American Airlines as a passenger plane for 10 years beginning in 1937. It recently underwent a restoration that returned it to its original design.

"It's quite a shock if you've never seen an historic airplane," said Covington resident Sheryl Christian, who, along with her husband Gene, is a member of the Flagship Detroit Foundation, the organization that owns the plane. "This airplane was just the workhorse of aviation."

The DC-3 set new standards for non-stop passenger flights and ushered in a new era in aviation. American Airlines saw its passenger volume increase by 11-fold in the span of a decade after introducing the DC-3 to its fleet, according to a history provided by the Flagship Detroit Foundation. It took about 15 hours to fly coast to coast.

Prior to introducing the DC-3, American Airlines had to rely on government airmail contracts, but the DC-3 made passenger travel profitable. Amenities, including sleeper berths and an in-flight kitchen, were popular among travelers.

Commercial production of DC-3 planes stopped during World War II. Flagship Detroit was sold by American Airlines in 1947 to the Bank of Mexico. The plane passed through 18 owners before it was purchased by the Flagship Detroit Foundation.

The plane is now regularly displayed at airfields throughout the country, most recently in Fort Stewart, Fla. The stop in Covington will be the last before it is retired for the winter in Fort Worth, Texas.

Tours will be available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Covington Municipal Airport at a cost of $3 for adults. Children can tour the plane for free. Flights are also available for a $150 annual membership to the Flagship Detroit Foundation. With membership comes the right to fly in the plane wherever it goes. At least 15 passengers are required before the plane will go up on Saturday.

Christian recommended purchasing a plane ride for veterans, particularly those who fought in World War II, and other elderly folks.

"We've had people tell us their first plane ride was in a DC-3 just after they joined the military ... For veterans, it brings back memories of earlier times," she said.