Windswept and Lonely

Windswept and Lonely

January 2014

Nestled west of Salt Lake City, Utah on Interstate 80, lies the town of Wendover, Utah, and, the remnants of what was one of the largest air bases during World War II, Wendover Army Air Base. Conceived in the late 1930ís, construction of the base didnít start until the fall of 1940, and the first units assigned to Wendover didnít show up until late summer of 1941. Over the past seventy plus years, Wendover Airport has seen a lot of things happen, going from an Army Air Base to an Air Force Base, to an FBO, and today it is an active airport for many charter flights and private aircraft feeding the various casinos in Wendover, Nevada, and it is into this caldron of windswept desert that Douglas C-54T, N8502R flew into in November of 2008.

N8502R started life as a C-54E-15-DO/R4D-4R, c/n 27367. Delivered to the USAAF on 29 May 1945 as AAF S/N 44-9141, it was transferred to the U.S. Navy the same date and assigned BuNo 90411. Converted to C-54R and transferred to the U.S. Marines, it was converted to a C-54T. Withdrawn from use and stored at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, AZ in January 1973. Bought by Kenneth Spiva on 29 August 1980; bought by TBM, Inc 9 February 1987. No date available when Brooks Fuel acquired the aircraft, but for the past ten years, N8502R has been a lonely resident of Wendover Airport, experiencing the ravages of unmerciful winds, summer heat, freezing winters, varmints seeking refuge from the elements, and the occasional propliner officianado.

With no tie downs to secure it from the winds, or a hangar to protect it from the elements, N8502R has withstood the harshness of the Utah desert extremely well. Although the paint has faded due to the environment and elements, it still is remarkably bright and glossy, with only slight indications of corrosion around the main mounts, main mount doors, nose gear, and nose gear doors. The landing flaps are down and covered with oil, and the port landing light is extended. The cockpit windscreen is glazed over, and all tires could use some inflation. It appears also all main mounts and nose struts could use some nitrogen. All four Pratt & Whitney R-2000 engines appear to be fairly free of bird nests and debris, and itís doubtful any of them have been manually turned since landing. All oil cooler and air scoops are unplugged, as well as all engine exhaust stacks.

Although ownership of N8502R is still listed under the defunct Brooks Fuel, (Propliner No. 136, under Ralph Pettersenís fine article ďAlaskan Propliner SafariĒ page 22), Chris Houchen of Alaska Air Fuel, has purchased N8502R for eventual modification and use in ferrying fuel to the remote areas around McGrath, Alaska. This humble correspondent contacted Chris Houchen for permission to photograph the interior of N8502R, and it was through him that I learned Brooks Fuel still owned the airplane. Attempts to contact Brooks Fuel failed due to phones and email addresses being disconnected. Chris Houchen informed me that as soon as the title and other issues affecting N8502R are cleared up with Roger Brooks, they expect the FAA to issue a ferry permit to fly the airplane to Palmer, AK for modification work to be performed. While N8502R is being fitted with a 3200 gallon bulk fuel container, Alaska Air Fuel also plans working with the state forestry department to use N8502R as a fire bomber using its 21,000 lbs fire retardant system which is already in place..

Overall, N8502R looks to be in excellent condition, but looks can be deceiving, and it will take an experienced maintenance crew little time to find the deficiencies if they exist. Once the inspections are performed, and discrepancies corrected for the ferry flight, another shining example of prop perfection will join the fleet of hard working aircraft serving the interior of Alaska. With so many propliners meeting the end of the line, itís refreshing to see a windswept and lonely resident of Wendover Airport back in the air to serve once again.

Del Mitchell
January 2014

Photo Credits: Jim Van Buskirk, Ted Quackenbush

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----Created 23 February 2019----