Vichy plane ‘flies’ again

Man’s love of old airplanes, mechanic skills lead to plane/RV adaptation

By Laura Schiermeier, Staff Writer
Posted 9/30/20

VICHY — Gino Lucci of Nashville, Mich., said it was a dream of his to find an old DC3 airplane and convert it into an RV.

The stars had to align for it to happen as there were many …

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Vichy plane ‘flies’ again

Man’s love of old airplanes, mechanic skills lead to plane/RV adaptation

Posted

VICHY — Gino Lucci of Nashville, Mich., said it was a dream of his to find an old DC3 airplane and convert it into an RV.

The stars had to align for it to happen as there were many variables. Gucci and his family own Round Engine Aero, a company that buys and resells airworthy airplane parts for restoration or for use as art.

His son, Giacinto, age 20, saw a photo of the Rolla National Airport at Vichy on Google Earth and saw the three abandoned DC3’s at the airport. “I never thought we’d find them,” Lucci, age 49, said.

As part of their business, they travel a lot. It’s a nitch business as they buy and sell 1920s to 1960s airplane parts, many of which a person can hold in the palm of their hand. “We travel all around the country looking for that stuff,” he said. On a trip to Oklahoma in May 2019, they made a detour trip to Missouri and to Vichy, hoping those three old airplanes were still there. They were. The Luccis came to Vichy and talked to Ed Schmidt of Baron Aviation, the company that owned the airplanes. The Lucci men bought all three of the airplanes. He said those three airplanes are well known around the country by airplane enthusiasts.

One of the airplanes, named Ada Red in the great war, had a wonderful WWII history from flying to North Africa to Normandy Beach on D-Day. There was information about the pilots as well. This airplane was taken apart and hauled piece by piece back to Michigan where the shell will be reassembled. Lucci said the airplane will be a “static display” at their place in Michigan where it will be properly maintained. It’s too damaged to put back into the air without spending a lot of money on it.

“Taking apart an airplane is like eating an elephant,” Lucci said as the big parts have to be dismantled into smaller and smaller parts, which means a lot of bolts and rivets undone. They can take off an airplane wing in under two hours. It took three days to disassemble the damaged airplane. Getting those parts from Missouri to Michigan is not easy either and some special permits were required to do it.

The DC3 airplane they converted to the RV was a former Navy R4D airplane as when they stripped the paint off, they could see U.S. Navy written on the side. It was built in 1943 and put into service in 1944. It was used for executive transport and flown to South America and was at several U.S. states. It didn’t have a cargo door. After the war is was used by Alaska Airlines, then by a Canadian company. The FAA bought it for testing and then Baron Aviation, stationed at the Rolla National Airport at Vichy, bought it and used it for transport. A tornado in January 2008 swept through the Vichy area tearing off roofs and siding on homes and also did extensive damage to the three airplanes parked on an abandoned runway.

Lucci said Ed Schmidt “thought we were crazy” when they told him they were interested in buying the old airplanes. Lucci explained that airplanes last a long time. Mechanics can put in a turbine engine and the airplane can fly all over the world. They can be modified and this appeals to certain people. Lucci said a buyer can put half a million dollars into an airplane and sell it for $1 million. If they put in a different engine, the price goes up even more. There are companies that buy them and sell them to third world countries and missionary organizations. They are not complex and are easy to fly.

When Schmidt realized the Lucci men knew what they were doing, he sold them the airplanes. Lucci spent 25 years in the Air Force as a mechanic and before that he worked with the Air Force Air National Guard. From the time he was 12 years old, Lucci said he wanted to be a gunner on a B-562 Bomber. His business is an expression of his love of old airplanes. He said finding parts “is like panning for gold. You buy a lot and hope there’s something you can use.” He won’t sell the good stuff for art as a lot of these airplanes haven’t been produced for 50 to 60 years and they need to hold off for the guys who are still using those planes.

Of the three airplanes, one was saved, one was converted to the RV they named the Fabulous Flamingo, and the third was so damaged and many parts taken from it that it remains at the airport and is for sale for $15,000.

The DC3 they used for the Fabulous Flamingo, took the brunt of the wind damage by the tornado. It had a big crease in it and has heavily corroded. It could not be repaired.

To make the RV, they took a delivery truck they weren’t using, put the airplane next to the truck and “started cutting.” They gutted the airplane down to bare metal. They put the airplane on the truck frame and drove it around until it was “sit happy” then they bolted it down and built substructure under it to attach to the frame of the truck.

The seats from the old airplane were used as the driver and front passenger seats in the RV and the old airplane yoke of control gadgets are on the console and on the ceiling. They put in plumbing, a kitchen, a bathroom complete with the bathtub Lucci’s wife requested, more seats, and a table that folds down into a 1930s berth.

They’ve been driving the Fabulous Flamingo for about a month. It looks like an airplane driving down the road. It gets from 8 to 10 miles per gallon and is a hand full driving down the road. It’s licensed and insured. They used it for a short vacation to try to work out small things that need to be tweaked.

One of the stops they made was in September 2020 at the Vichy airport because they wanted Ed Schmidt and Airport Manager Darrin Bacon to see it. Lucci gives much credit to Schmidt and Bacon for this project. They gave Schmidt a ride and he was excited to be in the Fabulous Flamingo and to see the plane’s yoke in the passenger side of the RV. It was “neat” Lucci said about Schmidt being so pleased to see what they’d made of the old, historic airplane.

‘Without Ed and Darrin, we would not have been able to do this,” Lucci said. “Ed gave us a chance and Darrin was helpful. There are a lot of people who made it happen.”

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