Clintonville pays $25,000 to name plane
By Bert Lehman
The Aviation Heritage Center of Wisconsin has found and hopes to purchase a DC-3 that is flyable.
The city of Clintonville presented Jon Helminiak, executive director of the Aviation Heritage Center, with a check for $25,000 for a North Central Airlines Commemorative Exhibit at the Aviation Heritage Center in Sheboygan Falls.
The Clintonville City Council had approved the donation in December. For its donation of $25,000 the plane will be named The City of Clintonville. The donation came from the city’s tourism funds.
When Helminiak spoke with the Tribune-Gazette in January, he said he had hoped the Aviation Heritage Center could purchase a DC-3 that had original North Central Airlines interior from that time period.
“We found a DC-3 that was actually used by North Central Airlines between about 1953 and 1960,” Helminiak said. “The unique thing about this aircraft is not only did it fly with North Central Airlines but it is actually in airworthy condition with passenger seats in it, in pristine condition actually. It’s been based for the last 20 years in Victorville, California which has a dry desert like air environment so the corrosion on the aircraft is non-existent. It’s been a regularly flying aircraft.”
He said the aircraft was found by an aircraft broker.
With the DC-3 being airworthy the Aviation Heritage Center hopes to plan a tour for next summer. The tour would include flying the DC-3 to former locations that North Central Airlines served from 1940 through the early 1960s.
“If everything goes as planned we want to bring the aircraft from California to Wisconsin later this summer and over the winter paint it in North Central Airlines colors of that era, 1953-1954,” Helminiak said. “Then our first stop on the tour would be Clintonville. Then we’d take it to other small towns and do a collaborative fundraising event, not only for the aircraft but also for the small towns to benefit their historical societies or whatever charitable function locally they want to benefit.
“We think it would be wonderful for some of these towns to see North Central Airlines return even if it’s just for one final flight. It would bring back a lot of memories for people. It’s also been a very emotional project for some of the former pilots of North Central Airlines, many of which are still alive and flew this actual DC-3 that we found.”
When the city council approved the $25,000 donation, council members had stated that they hoped the DC-3 that would ultimately be named the City of Clintonville would be able to fly to Clintonville for residents to see.
Finding a DC-3 that was part of the North Central Airlines fleet is a dream come true for Helminiak and the Aviation Heritage Center.
“There are very few DC-3s remaining anywhere in the world,” Helminiak said. “There were only 600 of them built, so to have one that actually flew for North Central Airlines, and potentially to take it out on tour of the Great Lakes in North Central colors is a dream come true, not only for us but for the former pilots that flew for North Central Airlines. Many of whom thought that they would pass on, never seeing the airline they worked their entire careers for, commemorated. Now we’re doing that. They’re going to be able to see that hopefully.
“It’s very, very rewarding. There’s no DC-3 that we know of anywhere in the country that is presently flying under the colors of the former airline. To bring North Central Airlines back in a DC-3 like this will be a real attention grabber and a very unique project that we’re very proud to be a part of.”
Helminiak said the Aviation Heritage Center hoped to close on the DC-3 soon, which will cost $175,000. He added that Clintonville’s donation of $25,000 has been helpful for the organization to solicit donations from individuals and organizations interested in the project.
“It lends immediate credibility to the project because the donors or corporations say, ‘If the city of Clintonville believes strongly enough in the Aviation Heritage Center to commemorate North Central Airlines via the acquisition of a DC-3 aircraft they must know what they’re doing.’ It enhances our efforts to raise money because that is one of the largest pledges and gifts we’ve received to date,” Helminiak said.
He added, “I’m very grateful to the city of Clintonville for partnering with us on this project. It seems that this is all meant to be from the fact North Central Airlines started here in Clintonville. That we’re able to come full circle and bring a DC-3 back to the birthplace is really meaningful. The fact Clintonville is a part of it means a lot to all of us.”