Sunday, June 21, 2009


7 passenger ANGEL aircraft
This plane is the converted rebuilt DC 3.


By Ray Auxillou, June, 2009

This probably doesn’t have much to do with Belize of today. I was watching the Band of Brothers movie on Saturday afternoon TV series. It was during the preparation in England for the Normandy invasion when they were showing paratrooper preparations for hundreds of DC 3 airplanes on the airfields. I remember that only hazily, but I do remember them. To me, I have a love affair with that airplane. I think it is the best airplane that was ever built and they are still flying all over the 34 countries of the American continent 65 years later.
The first time I flew in a DC 3 was as an 11 year old boy, with my mother and two baby sisters, fleeing England for Canada, as my parents immigrated there in 1949, as indentured labor. I think the plane went to either Iceland, or Greenland and then to Gander and from there to Toronto. I remember the flight, because I had to help look after my two baby twin sisters and I vividly remember to this day, the airport café in Gander, the first counter shelves of candy I had ever seen. My mother allowed me to pick any candy I wanted and finally after much agonizing I chose a roll of lifesavers, because it had more candies in a roll than a chocolate bar, or anything else. All children need sweets when growing up. They need the sugar as they are growing and are active. I was really in heaven, or paradise over that roll of lifesavers all the way to Toronto.
The DC 3 went by different names, depending on the country and the military using them, but they were built in the USA in mass production. It was in my opinion one of the finest airplanes ever built. They rebuild them today and strengthen the frames and sell them for about $4 million usa and equip them with turbo prop engines, instead of the piston engines of older times. The new conversions run much faster and have longer range. The DC 3 was popular because it would carry passengers, or freight. It traveled very far and was extremely cheap in fuel consumption. It was a slow airplane, with wide chord wings to carry a big load at a slow speed.
DC 3 war surplus airplanes were used to open up the American continent and even most of the world. I first flew in a DC 3 in our Belizean neighborhood in nearby Peten, Guatemala. There used to be a bunch of them in Guatemala City and they flew to the Peten, picking up jungle spices and products from remote Indian communities, landing on grass strips in the jungle. You could fly from Flores in the Peten, to Guatemala City in the 1960’s sitting on bales of chicle gum, or various bales of special spices. The airstrip at Flores was littered with crashed DC 3’s that had tried to land during the rainy season and with low clouds and muddy strips, they would cartwheel while landing and wreck. You could fly to Panama for about $150 usa in fuel at the time.
I hitched a ride in the 1970’s with a DC 3 freight plane outfit from Panama that had delivered goods to Belize City airport as freight. In those days, most people in Central America had to sew their own clothes and cloth yard goods were delivered up and down this area by DC 3 from Panama. In this case, I met the two pilots in the Bellevue Hotel bar of the port Belize City and asked for a ride with them. They agreed and I flew to Cozumel with them, delivered their load and from there we came down over Swan Island and down into Panama that same evening. I traveled back to Belize by the Pan American highway by bus. The DC 3 flew usually around 9000 feet altitude because of lack of oxygen and pressurization. We flew around some humongous piles of rain storm clouds with lightening and down drafts n the Gulf of Panama. It was an enjoyable trip for me riding in the cockpit.
The last time I had anything to do with the DC 3 was in Opa Locka Airport in Miami Dade County, Florida, about 5 years ago. There used to be two DC3’s there, that ran cargo to the Bahama islands out of Miami-Dade County. We had our Experimental Aircraft building club there, from which I was a member. One of those planes crashed in the Bahamas and killed the two pilots, due to overloading of the plane with Christmas trees. It crashed after take off as the cargo shifted. Far as I know, the other DC 3 is still flying cargo to the Bahamas out of Opa Locka Airport. They carry freight like refrigerators and construction pine lumber.
When we were considering CARICOM AIRLINES last year, we had opted to start with a small twin engine Angel 7 passenger aircraft, to open up freight and passenger possibilities. The choice for the third aircraft for cargo, or tourist passenger traffic, for the so called, economic trade bloc of CARICOM, we chose the modernized version of rebuilt DC 3’s. Using turbo prop engines.
Our decision was based on known reliability, fuel costs, long range and weight and cubic volume capacity. Pressurized jets are also available on the second hand market, but they cost lots more money in the millions of dollars and for business purposes in a for profit venture, it was paramount costs be kept low and amortization of capital invested, was reduced quickly. Speed was never a consideration. Profit and reliability were the only considerations. The only change in the DC 3 configuration over 65 years has been the turbo prop engine, which is much more reliable than the piston engines. Because of the increased horsepower available, the extra cost in fuel is offset by greater speeds available.
It is with note this week, that the news has local Maya Airlines opening up three new trips to Cancun, Guatemala City and San Pedro Sula. They are going to use a turbo prop aircraft of 68 seats. There is more profit in a turbo prop, short haul carrier and the whole secret to profitability is keeping the airplanes flying. Whether you fly or not, depreciation sets in like an ice cream cone that just melts away in the sun. The aircraft Maya Airways is using, is a LEASED aircraft from Swift Air. I wish them success, but find it hard to believe in these tourist hard times, that sufficient traffic can be generated to fill sufficient seats to make it pay. Of course I have not gone into the number of seats sold, or pricing to break even on these runs. I just don’t feel good about it as a hunch. My daughter Tina once worked for an aircraft leasing company in Miami, Florida. They had jets flying all over the world on lease. It is hard to make money on a leased aircraft, because you don’t own it and the costs keep mounting and there are a lot extras added on to a lease, to pay. I have my doubts, but certainly wish them luck at Maya Airways and they have chosen the right business in short haul traffic routes. Dealing with CARICOM is a different thing, because the fuel costs and hours involved of flight, are much more time consuming and expensive. Flying throughout the Caribbean is a much more expensive proposition and watching operating costs and margins is paramount to be profitable, because of the distances. Different criteria and different choices!
To me the DC 3 is a wonderful airplane, none better for the price and economy of operation. Maybe it is just my nostalgia as I get older?

No comments: