Not many would argue the role the Douglas DC-3 played in transforming the commercial airline industry, pioneering passenger air travel, and leaving a lasting mark on U.S. involvement in World War II through the development of the C-47. The legendary plane that was developed in 1934, and took its first flight in 1935, played a key role in aviation history. But few know there is an industry of bringing this aviation history back to life, and one of the best is based out of the Aurora State Airport in Oregon.
Turning Back Time
Aerometal International gives its customers the ability to literally turn back the hands of time through full restoration, maintenance, and operation of historic warbirds like the DC-3. Beyond just the unique skills it takes to keep these works of art flying, Aerometal International is one of the only two companies in the United States to deliver flight experiences and training for the DC-3 aircraft. The training is historically focused and based on the original U.S. Army Air Force C-47 manuals from 1943 and vintage airline-style training based on what flyboys from WWII might have gone through as pilots learning to fly the line in 1937.
A Passion for History
It’s owner, Paul Bazeley, grew up in the U.K. with a fascination for vintage aircraft. He spent five years and every penny he could scrape together to get his first pilot’s license and, once he was bitten, pursued his dream to higher heights. Bazeley finally got his opportunity when he took a job at an aircraft museum in Southern California and traded his time as a mechanic with a private operator for flight time on a DC-3. Later, the role that he played in restoring a DC-3 in a Seattle flight department led to the beginning of Aerometal International in 2006.
“We were initially hired to acquire and restore a DC-3 aircraft for a flight department, but as it started to attract attention, other people started approaching us wanting help to either restore or get inside of a DC-3,” Bazeley said.
In a recent project, Aerometal completely rebuilt a DC-3 from the inside out and supported its owner on a series of flights to Normandy, France for the 75th anniversary D-Day commemoration— while even retracing the path of WWII-era cargo planes that traveled from America during the war. There were only 27 planes from around the world at the June 2019 commemoration, including a mixture of DC-3s and C-47s.
At the pinnacle of the trip, Bazeley sat on the flight deck in Duxford, England as he realized the point of it all: They were participating in one of the greatest acts of remembrance in history.
He and his staff were involved in the minutia of the DC-3 restoration and flight at every level, at points even working around the clock, seven days a week. As he watched the reenactment paratroopers trailing out one-by-one, he knew this was perhaps the same scene as it might have been 75 years ago, albeit on a much smaller level and without the anti-aircraft flack those pilots of the greatest generation faced. Even with the realization that the modern-day aviators and parachutists were all but assured they would be going home safely that day, the weight of what they were commemorating was a tremendous honor.
Looking to the Future
While some question whether future generations will have the interest to carry the torch of vintage aviation, Bazeley looks to the future with optimism. What he sees from personal experience and events like the Normandy commemoration is a fascination from young people in the history associated with vintage aircraft. Even at his own growing company, Aerometal International, the majority of employees are 30 years old or younger.
“We hear this all the time,” Bazeley said. “Younger generations won’t continue to do it. The aircraft are owned by old men. We’re in a period of transition. Our veterans are dying and those linked to the history are too old to operate aircraft. That’s not what we see. We see more people under 30 involved in these events than those over 50.”
Planes like the DC-3 that played a key role in history deserve to be remembered. And thanks to Aerometal International, these legends will remain living.