Breitling DC-3 (HB-IRJ) World Tour – Singapore Stopover

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On 15-17 Sep 2017, Breitling’s DC-3 (HB-IRJ) took part in the Breitling Sion Airshow 2017 in Switzerland to mark the end of their major round-the-world tour which began in Mar 2017. With this flight, the aircraft also set the record for the oldest aircraft to circumnavigate the world. A special 500-piece Limited Edition Breitling Navitimer 01 DC-3 was also released by Breitling to commemorate this trip, and the watches were carried onboard the aircraft for the entire trip, and were released for sale in Sep after completion of the trip.

On 6 Apr, the aircraft landed at Seletar Airport in Singapore for a two and a half week maintenance inspection stopover at Jet Aviation’s facility. This stop was the southern most point of the entire trip, and MAphotoSG had an opportunity to visit the DC-3 at Jet Aviation’s hangar and conduct an interview with one of the pilots, Paul Bazeley, before their departure to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.

Double Seven Lady
The DC-3 (“DC” is the abbreviation for Douglas Commercial) was orginally developed as a result from a marathon phone call between American Airlines (AA) and DC to design an aircraft based on the DC-2 to replace AA’s then Curtiss Condor II biplanes. The prototype DST (Douglas Sleeper Trnasport) first flew on 17 Dec 1935, and the 21-seat version of the DST was given the designation of DC-3. The total production of all variants was 16,079 units with 607 civil, 10,048 militarised (C-47 and C-53), 4,937 licensed built in the Soviet Union (Lisunov Li-2, NATO reporting name: Cab) and 487 licensed built in Japan (Showa and Nakajima L2D Type 0).

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Breitling’s DC-3 first began life on 12 Mar 1940, when it was delivered to AA as “Flagship Cleveland”. Unlike the regular DC-3s, AA requested for their DC-3s to have the main entrance door situated on the starboard stern as part of their requirements. From 1942 to 1944, she was leased to the US Army and served in the European Theater of Operations, mainly as a troop transport bringing soldiers to Europe via Greenland and Iceland.

After the war, on 24 Feb 1949, she was bought by Trans Texas, and later by Texas International in 1968. In 1969, Tradewinds restored her and she operated with PBA (Provincetown Boston Airlines) in commercial flights till 1987, when she was flown by Eastern Express and then leased to Bar Harbour. She was preserved for four years till Champlain Enterprises bought her in Jul 1992 and undertook a complete restoration in 1995.

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In Nov 2008, Francisco Aguilo and a group of friends, supported by Breitling, began to search to make the legendary DC-3 fly again in Switzerland and Europe. They found her as then-registered N922CA at Champlain’s premises in the US, and were impressed by her exceptional condition and rich history. She was bought, and adapted to European standards, before being flown back to Europe to begin her new life as HB-IRJ.

Today, at 77 years old, she is operated by the Super Constellation Flyers Association based in Switzerland, as a commercial aircraft capable of carrying passengers and is fully IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) equipped. Breitling is committed to keeping her in an airworthy condition to preserve and safeguard one of the key aircraft in aeronautical history, similar to Brietling’s Super Constellation.

A Conversation with…Paul Bazeley, Director of Operations, Aerometal International LLC
Paul Bazeley is one of the pilots on the Breitling DC-3 World Tour, and also the owner and Director of Operations of Aerometal International LLC, based in Aurora, Oregon in the US. We had the chance to sit down and interview Paul before he departed the next day to continue the World Tour flight.

Editor: For Breitling, What are the primary objectives of the DC-3 World Tour that is being undertaken?

Paul: It’s undoubtedly promotion. It’s an amazing project, and the idea is to promote the name and the brand, and the Limited Edition NaviTimer World Tour watches. The watches are an ingenious element of it, because it finances the tour, but I believe at the end of tour, the greatest value would be in the promotion that the brand has received.

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Editor: For yourself, as the owner of Aerometal, how does this benefit the company through your participation in the Brietling DC-3 World Tour?

Paul: When Francisco dreamed the project up, he had to have sponsors to fund it and to accomplish it. He approached Aerometal and asked if we would be interested in sponsoring a portion of the event, in exchange for promoting our operations, which I was flattered to be given the opportunity to do that.

Of course we were interested, so we are sponsoring a portion of the maintenance on the tour, and we take care of the inspections and as much maintenance as needed on the tour. Also, a significant quantity of the work will be subsidised when the aircraft reaches Aurora, the homebase of Aerometal. We are capturing photos and videos throughout the tour, and using that as a promotional tool on our Facebook page and website.

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Editor: During the planning and organising of this world tour, what were some of the technical and project-related challenges that you faced?

Paul: The organisation of it has two parts: the preparation and organisation, and the accomplishment of the tour.

The preparation is just a massive quantity of administrative work, correspondences, telephone calls, visas, permits, fuel and oil purchases. One of the biggest struggles is the fuel. Avgas is really not available in many parts of the world; in Europe and the US, no problem. But when we get to countries such as Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, provisioning the fuel has been one of the biggest hurdles in the preparation for.

And as we began to get onto the tour, one of the biggest struggles that we have is keeping the tour on schedule due to weather and mechanical delays. We already had a situation before we departed Nagpur, India to the destination of Chittagong, Bangladesh. The day before our departure, we discovered through an email from our handling agent in the UK, that Bangladesh suddenly had no Avgas fuel. The fuel we were expecting to be there upon arrival wasn’t going to be there.

So we had to go right back to the drawing board, and try and work out where the next fuel is available. Do we go to Kolkata, India or do we push on out and go to Chiang Mai, Thailand? Keeping the tour on schedule, long flight days, and at the end of the flight day, there is maintenance, upkeep, some planning and changes, weather forecasting, etc. From our perspective, these are the biggest challenges we faced.

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Editor: Within this first one-third of the trip till the stopover in Singapore, would the Avgas fuel situation in Bangladesh be the most challenging situation so far?

Paul: Well, we decided that the next best option for us after Chittagong ran out of fuel was Chiang Mai, which was somewhere between 8 and 9 hours of flight time, on an aircraft that really has a 7-hour endurance. So we obviously had to use our internal ferry tanks to get across to Chiang Mai. We got there, no problem. The fuel was great, and Chiang Mai was very helpful. But while on the ground, we developed a carburettor problem on the right engine; our manual mixture control suddenly started leaking and we couldn’t get it to stop. So, we actually had to delay a full day to repair and replace the carburettor.

We had a carburettor which we shipped ahead to Singapore because it was going to be our maintenance stop. Now we had to work out how to get the carburettor to Chiang Mai. The problem happened on a Friday morning, so Daphne from Breitling Singapore went down to pick up our carburettor, boarded a flight to Chiang Mai with it, delivered it to us at the terminal and took a flight back to Singapore.

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Editor: Moving on from Singapore into the next two-thirds of the journey, do you forsee any gasoline issues in the upcoming countries?

Paul: None specifically because I think the toughest countries as far as the supply of gasoline is concerned are probably behind us now. Although these next few legs have no serious issues, the biggest hurdle now is the Pacific crossing, between northern Japan and the end of the Aleutian Islands chain.

Editor: After Singapore, when will be the next major stopover?

Paul: We will spend time in Japan with a downtime for maintenance. In fact the crew will rotate home from Kobe, Japan. Then we will cross the North Pacific and down the west Coast of the US to Aurora and the aircraft will spend sometime there for a maintenance stop. It will cross the US and end up at Oshkosh, Wisconsin and then across the Atlantic to Europe.

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Editor: With regards to this DC-3, is it still utilising the original airframe and engines?

Paul: The aircraft has in excess of 75,000 hours on the airframe, and the engines have a recommended 1,200 hour overhaul interval. So the engines have been replaced many many times, and although they are using the same type of engines the aircraft is certified with, they are obviously not the same pair since the start.

Editor: In terms of the cockpit, how much of it has been changed from the original cockpit instrumentation systems?

Paul: The overhead panel is not original, and this is not something that was put in by Douglas Commercial. Our communication and navigation radios are not original. The primary flight instruments on the primary panel are also not original. But the engine instrumentation, engine indicating and engine controls are all original. The physical flight controls, seats, floors, windows, structures and everything around it are all original too.

So the aircraft hasn’t been modified extensively other than navigation and instrumentation, and the panel that holds all of that. It would be almost impossible to accomplish the tour that we are today with anything like the original instrumentation.

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Editor: Were these changes carried out by Aerometal?

Paul: Some of them, but not many. We have rebuuilt the overhead panel. We have removed, restored and reinstalled all four rudder pedals, and the control column and flight controls associated with those. But not anything else. There is a plan when the aircraft reaches Aurora, to undertake some more restorative work. On the flight deck, we will be restoring the crew seats and the sound attenuation above the generators.

Editor: When this aircraft is not undertaking any Breitling promotional activities, what does Francisco (the owner) do with the aircraft?

Paul: The aircraft carries the Breitling name all the time, as the primary sponsor that guarantees the continued operation of the aircraft. But the aircraft is owned under a foundation (Super Constellation Flyers Association) with 3,500 members, and at the beginning of each year, Breitling will define what they want from the aircraft. This allows Francisco to go back (to the foundation) and say these are the Breitling events and dates, and we are going to do these events between the dates. Obviously this year, it’s all Breitling with the tour.

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Editor: Finally, in brief, what is the core business of Aerometal?

Paul: We are a technical operation, maintenance and restoration company and we specialised in continuing the airworthiness in aging aircraft. We specialised in older aircraft, not just warbirds and historic aircraft necessarily, and we make sure those aircraft comply with current requirements and regulations.

A lot of technical experience in inspecting, repairing, and often we find ourselves at the cutting edge of a repair or an issue that has come to light as a result of our inspections. For example, We can’t pick up the phone and call Douglas (Commercial) and say ‘Hey, what should we do about this?’ So we have to create those solutions ourselves. We work closely with engineers and the FAA to approve inspection programmes, repair schemes, and major alterations and repairs.

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MAphotoSG would like to thank Ms Linette Chee of Breitling Singapore, and Mr Nor Atan of Jet Aviation (Asia Pacific) for facilitating the visit. A special thanks to Paul Bazeley for taking his time out of his busy schedule for the interview.

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