When the Douglas C47 Skytrain “Bluebonnet Belle” crashed on takeoff in July 2018, it left the Highland Lakes Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force with big wings to fill. The “Belle,” as she was often called, was the hallmark of the Burnet-based squadron.
Another C47 Skytrain would easily cost $500,000 or more, and that’s before restoration work.
But the “Texas Zephyr” has arrived.
Brady resident Karl Ritter donated his Douglas DC-3 Skytrain to the Highland Lakes squadron, which has a hangar and operates a museum at the Burnet Municipal Airport on U.S. 281.
“We’ve always considered ourselves a C-47 squadron; this just made sense,” David Bonorden, a CAF colonel and the Highland Lakes squadron leader, told members. “We’re very grateful for the generosity of Mr. Ritter, and we’re committed to making this airplane the very best it can be.”
It’s not just big news for the squadron.
“… This is a blessing to the entire Highland Lakes community,” said Kirk Noaker, a squadron colonel and member.
Noaker is also the chairman of the Bluebonnet Air Show, where the “Belle” was the belle of the ball for years.
“Since the formation of our organization in 1992, our aircraft have been beloved by the community. I’m excited that we’re able to add the ‘Texas Zephyr’ and its 74 years of aviation history to the squadron and the city of Burnet’s Municipal Airport.”
The “Texas Zephyr” was built in 1945 by the Douglas Aircraft Company of Oklahoma City. At its initial assignment to the Royal Canadian Air Force, it was classified as a C-47B, a military designation. Officials believe the “Texas Zephyr” might have been assigned to the same Royal Canadian Air Force air wing as the “Bluebonnet Belle” when the two planes were in military service.
The “Texas Zephyr” was redesigned as a DC-3 when it was adapted to civilian service.
In 2014, the late Lt. Col. Dick Cole, the last surviving member of the Doolittle Raid on April 18, 1942, flew in the “Texas Zephyr” and signed his name on the aircraft’s bulkhead.
Owner Ritter wishes to see the plane restored to its original glory and believes the Highland Lakes squadron is well-suited to the task. The squadron spent thousands of hours restoring the “Bluebonnet Belle.”
The “Texas Zephyr” is currently at Curtis Airfield in Brady and will require mechanical work before it can be relocated to the Highland Lakes squadron’s hangar. Officials hope that will take place next summer in time for the Bluebonnet Air Show, which is September 26, 2020.