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The Tale of Last Two Douglas DC-6B's

Although there are many DC-6A and C-118 cargo versions still in use globally, the DC-6B passenger liners were mostly retired as airlines became more competitive and demanded faster planes with larger seating capacities. The DC-6B was a symbol of the glamorous age of air travel, where style was as important as function. In contrast, the modern jetliners that replaced them focused on transporting passengers at high speeds and with higher densities.

It is worth noting that the remaining DC-6Bs that were not mothballed were either converted to cargo carriers or water bombers. Currently, there are only two airworthy and operational DC-6B passenger liners anywhere in the world. These two aircraft were also the last two DC-6Bs to be produced before the production line was officially halted.

The two aircraft have respective serial numbers of 45563 and 45564. Serial number 45563 was dispatched from the Douglas manufacturing facility in Santa Monica on 15th October 1958, while its sister was dispatched on 15th November 1958. Both planes were acquired by Jugoslovenski Aerotransport (JAT) of Yugoslavia and were initially used as commercial airliners. Later, they were reassigned to the Yugoslavian Air Force.

These two DC-6Bs were configured as VIP aircraft and served as personal transports for Yugoslavia's then-president, Field Marshal Tito, as well as other high-ranking government officials. Later, in 1975, both aircraft were donated to the Zambian Air Force and used as VIP transports by President Kenneth Kaunda and his cabinet. However, as time passed, the planes became disused and were eventually left standing at Lusaka airport.

In 1992, Namibia Commercial Aviation (Pty) Ltd (NCA), owned by Mr Chris Schutte, made a deal to acquire two aircraft. At that time, NCA had already successfully operated two DC-6 cargo planes on United Nations mercy flights into Africa. The deal was centred around an offer made by a British aviation supplier's agent, who had 40 tonnes of surplus spares for DC-6 planes from Zambian Air Force stocks. The agent offered the spares to NCA on the condition that they remove the two DC-6Bs parked at Lusaka.

Upon their arrival in Zambia, Mr Schutte and his team were pleasantly surprised to find that despite their neglected and dirty appearance, both aircraft were in good mechanical health with low flying hours logged.

After undergoing some minor repair work, an aircraft with serial number 45564 was sent to Namibia. Another aircraft with serial number 45563 followed in 1994. This second plane, registered in Namibia as V5-NCF, went through a complete restoration and was used as a charter aircraft. It was named "Fish Eagle" after Namibia's national bird. The aircraft regularly flew between Windhoek Eros airport and Kariba and Victoria Falls, as well as on regular sunset cruises.

The success of "Fish Eagle" led Mr Schutte to also restore serial number 45564, and in 1997 she took to the skies as V5-NCG "Bateleur".

Like "Fish Eagle," "Bateleur" was restored to her original VIP configuration. This means that the aircraft can accommodate "only" 60 passengers in a luxurious business-to-first-class environment. The plane features an 8-seat club-style stateroom, 6 overhead sleeping bunks with individual lighting and ventilation controls, 3 spacious cloakrooms, reclining seats, and a wardrobe.

The VIP specification includes additional soundproofing. Passengers can enjoy stretch-out comfort, excellent onboard cuisine, and the ability of the pressurized aircraft to fly above turbulence, reliving the "flying-in-style" of the 1950s.

In March 2000, Sigi Angerer, the chief Flying Bulls pilot, came across an advertisement for the sale of a DC-6B in an airline magazine in Africa. He quickly made his move and on July 7th, 2000, the "Fish Eagle" took off from Windhoek and headed towards Salzburg. The flight, which took 28 hours with 4 stops, went smoothly without any problems. Restoration of the plane began in 2001, and after thousands of hours of labour, the DC-6B finally left the workshop in all her glory three years later.

The aircraft was initially registered as an American plane with document number N996DM after it was transferred to Austria. After thirteen years, the DC-6B was officially granted Austrian citizenship and now operates with the Austrian registration OE-LDM. This makes it the first DC-6B aircraft to have an Austrian reg. It is universally agreed that the DC-6B is currently in better condition than when it left the Douglas factory in 1958

Aircraft Specifications

Length: 32,46 m

Wing Span: 35,81 m

Height: 8,73 m

Max Take-off Weight: 47,182 kg

Max Landing Weight: 41,363 kg

Empty Weight: 27,860 kg

Max Cruising Speed: 579 km/h

Normal Cruising Speed: 507 km/h

Approach Speed: 226 km/h

Landing Distance: 800-1,200 m

Take-off Distance: 1,200 - 1,800 m

Fuel Capacity: 21,050 Litres

Fuel Consumption: between 1,500 and 2,200 Litres per hour

Seating: 60

Crew: 1 Captain, 1 First Officer, 1 Flight Engineer, 1 Flight Technician, 2 Attendants.

Powered by four Pratt & Whitney R2800 CB16 radial piston engines

Engine specifications:

Number of cylinders: 18 per engine (72 total of 4 engines)

Configuration: Air cooled double row radial

Displacement: 45,75 litres per engine

Diameter: 1,34 m

Length: 2,07 m

Weight: 1,086 kg

Compression ratio: 6,75:1

Fuel supply: Stromberg PR-58S carburettors, Water/Methanol injected with 2-stage supercharger

Output: Between 1,818 (2400 HP) and 1,893 (2500 HP) kilowatts per Engine depending on fuel octane rating

Lubrication System: Dry Sump

Fuel Requirement: AVGAS

Propellers: Hamilton 3 blade, variable pitch with Reverse Thrust



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