Like a freshly brushed thoroughbred prancing from its stable on a warm summer day, Yankee Air Museum’s C-47 rolled out of the Kalitta Maintenance Hangar 3, in its fresh livery. The plane, with its proud stance and nose pointed skyward, was greeted by Museum volunteers and Kalitta workers in Oscoda, Michigan. Over the preceding three weeks the plane was stripped of its former paint, prepared and painted in new colors honoring the 1st Air Commando Group of World War Two, operating in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater. The new coatings were supplied by Sherwin-Williams.
“Being closely involved from the start, picking colors from two-inch square paint chips and then actually seeing the first applications on the plane was a bit unsettling,” said Kevin Walsh, Executive Director of Yankee Air Museum. “I don’t mind saying I was nervous coming here today, it’s kind of like picking up a date for the prom.”
Walsh spent countless hours over the past year researching the planes of the 1st Air Commando Group. He says the task of looking at artists’ renderings, historic photos and videos dating back to the early 1940’s was arduous, but necessary. According to Walsh, many of the planes serving in the CBI were painted in the field. “There were slight variations in color tones, both in the planes and the photos with which we worked,” he said. “When the plane rolled onto the ramp under the bright sun, my heart leaped. They nailed it. The colors mixed by Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings are spot-on,” exclaimed Walsh.
The top of the plane is painted Earth Brown No. 5 color, the bottom is Neutral Gray and the major markings are Insignia Blue and Insignia White. The most distinctive feature of the plane are the five diagonal white stripes around the fuselage behind the wing. Combat aircraft operating in the CBI wore these stripes for quick identification in battle. “My dad was a World War Two Veteran and he would be very proud of this project,” said Bill Hensley, Account Executive with Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings. “He passed away a number of years ago, but it would make him happy that this history is being preserved.”
The Sherwin-Williams Company supplied the paint and related products for the restoration while Kalitta Maintenance provided the technical expertise, skilled labor and facilities for the project.
“The coatings applied are military grade,” said Fernando Hernandez, Technical Service Representative with Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings. “Now that the plane is done, it is fit for service as everything we are supplying meets military specifications.”
Hernandez says careful attention was given to assure the paint mixtures replicate World War Two colors and are consistent from start to finish. “I really like it,” said Hernandez. “The plane looks really strong. It has great presence on the ground and in the air.”
The plane flew three test hops at Oscoda-Wurtsmith Airport prior to departing for its home base at Willow Run Airport. “We enjoyed working on the C-47,” said Greg Ruby, Structures Manager at Kalitta Maintenance. “It was something different for us, and it was interesting. I think everyone at Kalitta Maintenance, even security, kept an eye on the progress of the project.” Walsh said the next steps would be for the plane to receive technical markings and squadron insignias. The C-47 will be seen in the sky over its home base in Ypsilanti in the days ahead, with pilots flying for their annual requalification.
“The plane is begging for nose art,” added Walsh. “We have a plan for that which we will reveal very soon. Until then, remember—the 1st Air Commando Squadron Insignia is a large question mark within a circle!” Kalitta Air and the Yankee Air Museum jointly announced this historic restoration project in November 2017. Work began on the airplane on June 8, 2018, and the plane was delivered on June 29 in its new livery.