ZK-AWO - Part One

On 11 May 2000, I purchased the remains of a Douglas C-47B ZK-AWO (ex RNZAF NZ3548). Reduced to the nose section only, the remains were transported from near Feilding (North Island, New Zealand) south to Lyttelton for restoration.

Part One - The aircraft's history

ZK-AWO was formerly with the RNZAF as NZ3548

NZ3548 was brought on charge with the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) on 7 July 1945. One of 49 C-47 transport aircraft acquired by the RNZAF during WWII, NZ3548 was a C-47B-35-DK model and had the constructors number of 16732/33480. It was initially registered as 44-77148.

NZ3548 stayed with the RNZAF for seven years before being struck off charge on 1 July 1952. It was bought by the National Airways Corporation (NAC) and registered ZK-AWO on 11 July 1952. During its time with NAC it carried the name Putaitai. The aircraft was operated as a freighter with NAC before it was sold to Airland (NZ) Ltd where it was converted to a topdressing aircraft.
After flying with NAC, ZK-AWO flew for Airland as a topdresser

NZ3548 operated under Airland and then Fieldair colours before making its final flight on 1 March 1984. During its life the aircraft amassed a total of 32,846 hours flying time, 8737 of which were on aerial topdressing.
ZK-AWO in Fieldair colours

ZK-AWO doing what it did best - flying

ZK-AWO topdressing over North Island hill-country

Detail of aircraft's nose - the only bit that now survives

Gerry Kluck loads a Mini into ZK-AWO. In the early days, pilots would use Fiat Bambino cars for transport when away from home. Later on, Minis  were used. These were driven up a set of angled tracks and the car was put behind the five ton hopper.
 
Following its life with Fieldair, it is believed that the aircraft was reduced to spares outside Fieldair's hangar at Milson aerodrome, Palmerston North. Stripped of wings and tail surfaces, the fuselage sat on its undercarriage next to another derelict DC3. Eventually the fuselage was bought by a man in Apiti, north-east of Feilding, and taken to his property. Due to financial difficulties, as well as pressure from the local council to remove an "eyesore", the fuselage was broken up for scrap. At this point, Paul Svendsen, on hearing of the aircraft's final plight, managed to obtain the fuselage section forward of the wings. This was placed on a tandem trailer and towed to a farm property near Feilding where it remained under a macrocarpa tree from about 1993.

ZK-AWO, believed to be at Omaka

It is intended that eventually the nose section of NZ3548 will be restored in a wartime colour scheme of olive drab with grey underside. It will then be given the "Popeye III" nose art to represent NZ3501, the first C-47/DC3 to arrive in New Zealand. This aircraft, which was flown by the well-known New Zealand aviator Frederick "Popeye" Lucas, arrived in New Zealand on 27 March 1943 and was immediately put into service transporting equipment and personnel up to forward bases in the Solomon Islands.

Go to Part Two - Recovery, restoration, and back working again.


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