Vintage Transport Aircraft: Re-purposing a DC-7


In 1956, a brand new Douglas Aircraft DC-7B was christened with US registration number N101LM. She was to begin service as a passenger airliner for American Airlines.

N381AAdc7b

Powered by four Wright Radial R-3350 Series engines, she carried a crew of 2 pilots, 1 flight engineer, 2-4 stewardesses and 102 passengers. She was one of 24 DC-7Bs ordered by American.

The Wright Radial Cyclone engine was designed in 1937. Each of her four engines consisted of 18 cylinders, arranged in banks of two, displaced 3,350 cubic inches, and churned out 3,250 horsepower. These supercharged engines were the most powerful piston aircraft engines ever built.

The DC-7 had a range of up to 5,000 miles at a maximum ceiling of 28,000 feet, depending on payload. It took her just under 8 hours for a non-stop US coast to coast flight, at a cruise speed of 360 mph.

The DC-7 airliner was the last of an era, preceded by the DC-3, DC-4 and DC-6 aircraft. As a child in the early 1960’s, I can vaguely recall flights on aircraft like the DC-7 and the Constellation. I remember being asked if I wanted to visit the cockpit and flight crew before take off. It was an era of fine linen table cloths, real china, edible food and well-dressed travelers. Certainly, it was well before the era of rude passengers, surly flight attendants and the TSA.

Starting in the late 1950’s, piston-engine commercial passenger aircraft was phased out due to the arriving jet age. Jet engines were quieter and more reliable. They burned inexpensive Jet-A fuel as opposed to Avgas. Jetliners flew higher, farther and faster than radial-powered piston aircraft. Just 107 DC-7Bs were built before the Douglas DC-8 and Boeing 707s jetliners began service in the late 1950’s.

After her passenger carrying days were over, N101LM was registered as N381AA and earned her living as an air freighter.

N381AA spent her last 6 years as a cargo hauler operating out of Opa Locka, FL, (KOPF) near Miami, operated by Turks Air.

Finally, in mid 2012, and after over 32,000 flight hours on the airframe, she was sold one last time. But she would not fly again. Her wings and vertical stabilizer were removed and she was loaded on a trailer and trucked 250 miles north, up  Interstate 95, to the New Smyrna Beach Airport, FL (KEVB). There, the wings were re-installed, commencing the process of being converted to a fine dining restaurant at the little GA field.

In November I met up with a few other Beechcraft Bonanza pilots from Central Florida at the New Smyrna Beach Airport. The morning was cool and crisp. We were there to enjoy a fund raising breakfast and tour of the conversion work of the aircraft, now known as The DC-7 Grille. After the renovation, the aircraft will be maintained as a static display restaurant and museum, as a tribute to the golden age of aviation.

Bonanzas at EVB

Bonanzas at EVB

Upon taxiing to the GA ramp, we found strong support for this ambitious project from the local and aviation community, where nearly 400 other people had turned out for a pancake breakfast and tour. There was a long line to board the aircraft and view the work to date.

Currently, the aircraft interior has been stripped and walls are being fabricated. The all-original instrument panel is being refurbished as it would have looked during the airplane’s heyday.

Once complete, she will seat 40 diners at any one time, plus the bar area.

IMG_0533 IMG_0534  IMG_0537 IMG_0538 IMG_0540 IMG_0541 IMG_0542 IMG_0549

When the restoration is complete, the aircraft will look like this. I hope they are successful, and prevent this beautiful piece of history from sitting in some Arizona bone yard, or being re-smelted into beer cans.

dc7-grille2

(from the DC-7 Grille website)

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