A Highland Lakes Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force crew works on making the Texas Zephyr, a World War II-era C-47, airworthy. The Zephyr was donated to the squadron in 2019, but it currently resides in Brady. It is expected at its new home in Burnet by mid-September. Courtesy photo
The squadron set a self-imposed deadline of Sept. 15 to fly the plane to its hangar at the Burnet Municipal Airport.
“We as a squadron have been missing such an important part of not only how our squadron operates, but how it identifies,” said Kirk Noaker, the squadron’s executive officer.
The Highland Lakes Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force collects and maintains historic military aircraft in flying condition to educate visitors on America’s flight history. C-47s were used by the Allies during World War II as military transport aircraft.
In 2018, the squadron’s previous C-47, the Bluebonnet Belle, crashed after takeoff. All 13 people aboard survived, but the plane was destroyed, leaving a large hole in the group’s collection and collective heart.
“So much blood, sweat, and tears went into getting the Bluebonnet Belle airworthy and restored,” Noaker said. “A lot of people took it really, really hard.”
Brady resident Karl Ritter donated the Texas Zephyr to the squadron in 2019. Supply chain issues and labor shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have delayed its restoration, but the squadron is doing everything possible to bring it home, Noaker said.
The squadron has restored one of the C-47’s two engines, but bringing the second up to operating capacity has been more difficult. According to Noaker, these types of engine restorations can cost $50,000 to $80,000.
A matching C-47 engine was loaned to the squadron by another Commemorative Air Force squadron, The Central Texas Wing in San Marcos. The loaner engine comes from the C-47 That’s All Brother, which led the D-Day invasion in 1945.
With this loaner engine, Noaker hopes to have the Zephyr in Burnet sooner than planned.
The Zephyr was manufactured by the Douglas Aircraft Company in Oklahoma City during the spring of 1945. The U.S. Army Air Forces held on to the plane for just a few days before sending it to the British Royal Air Force, which designated it as a Dakota Mk.IV. By the time the plane arrived in England, the war in Europe had ended, and it was transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force. The Zephyr spent the next 30 years in the Canadian military before going into the civilian sector in 1977. It returned to U.S. soil in 1994 and came under Karl Ritter’s ownership in 2007.
“For us to remain a viable, active, and exciting squadron, we’ve got to get the plane most representative of us in our hangar,” Noaker said.
His ultimate goal is to have the Zephyr fly in the next Bluebonnet Airshow on March 18, 2023. The airshow had record-breaking attendance in 2022 with over 5,600 visitors.
“It’s been one hell of a journey, but the Zephyr is almost home,” Noaker said.