Finding Good News at OSH

By Scott Spangler on January 4th, 2009

Reveling in good news is how I always try to start the new year, but finding it in aviation has been a challenge in the relentless headwind of layoffs, furloughs, shutdowns, and bankruptcy filings. But I did find some, in my own backyard, at OSH, better known as Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

JetWhine_Basler_hangarsAcross the field from the EAA AirVenture grounds, on the eastern perimeter, is Basler Turbo Conversions. For nearly a decade I’ve driven buy it, and in passing it recently, it struck me that I know nothing more about it than it has  converted the DC-3 into the Pratt & Whitney-Canada PT-6-powered BT-67 since 1990.

JetWhine_Basler_Production Basler actually remanufactures the airframes, says company president Tom Weigt. Most BT-67s start life as a DC-3/C-47 that’s flown an average of 15,000 hours. After gutting and steam cleaning the airframe, Basler repairs and replaces skeletal parts, resetting the accumulated fatigue damage clock to zero, extends the fuselage 40 inches forward of the wing, and installs all new Part-25 electric and hydraulic systems.

It takes the company’s 73 craftsmen 20,000 to 25,000 hours to remanufacture a DC-3 into a BT-67. On average, they complete two or three a year, Weigt says, depending on the options ordered, and the orders on hand will keep them busy for several years, which is good news for the company–and those who need an enduring workhorse.

JetWhine_Balser_SmokeJumper In its seventh decade of service, the airplane still embodies the perfect combination of speed, range, payload, economy, and special-mission capabilities. Across the nation and around the world BT-67s take people and cargo into places other airplanes can’t go and and does things other airplanes can’t. For example, it’s the biggest commercial airplane certified for skis, and the next airplane bigger is the C-130 Hercules.

The really good news is that the airplane will continue to earn its keep for decades to come. Not only does Basler Turbo Conversions give DC-3s new life as the BT-67, it also supports its piston predecessor with parts and an supplemental inspection program that will keep it airworthy well into the 100,000-hour range.

In effect, Basler is the design’s adoptive parent. It has everything needed to build a brand new DC-3 from scratch, except for the piston engines and Douglas data plate. Under its FAA parts manufacturing authority, it now makes more than 8,000 DC-3/BT-67 parts, and new ones join the list when the last old new stock item goes into service.

Better than perhaps any other airplane, the DC-3 represents the aviation industry in all of its many forms. It’s been flying for most of the industry’s history, and just as economic and social forces have done their best to hobble the industry, many have tried to replace the DC-3. Yet it survives and still earns a living, and that good news give me comfort and hope for the future. —Scott Spangler


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4 Responses to “Finding Good News at OSH”

  1. Brian Lusk Says:

    those conversions have always fascinated me, thanks for a great report. Does Basler have any plans to build an entire airplane from scratch? Even with it’s long production run, we must be nearing the end of a finite number of DC-3/C-47 airframes.

  2. Peter Moll Says:

    Bravo, Scott! Yes, there are good things happening here at Wittman Airport, besides EAA and AirVenture. As Rob and I related in our recent “Airport 101” classes, Wittman has a positive impact on the community (as do many other airports); unfortunately, most people only see the airport for 1 week out of the year. It is a good week for sure, but there are many other things happening here the other 51 weeks.

  3. Smitty Says:

    Great blog article Scott! I’m one of those “1 week out the year” folks. It’s always nice to hear more information about a place you visit every year.

  4. Scott Says:

    Thanks for the kind words. Basler has no plans to build new DC-3s/BT-67s from scratch. It has 15 airframes on its ramp awaiting rebirth as BT-67s, and it adds to them every time the right aiframe becomes available. Being the design’s “adoptive” parent, those who operate the piston legend, and knows what Basler is looking for, call when they are ready to sell.


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