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Market Report: The Heavies
So why wouldn’t fighters be enough for you?
The fighter plane, most commonly epitomized by the P-51D Mustang, demonstrates a culmination of an owner’s ability to manage, maintain, and technically master a very complex machine. The single-engine warbird requires more than one person to sustain engine, airframe, and associated systems – an owner-manager to enable the necessary people to do their job, a facility able to house the whole enterprise, and finally, a pilot to safely fly what is a very expensive artifact of war.
Most of these cosseted machines give singular rides to the lucky maintainer-supporter, but in the main, operating the machine is for individual enterprise and reward. And that is as it should be! For most of us, we aspire to the operation of a single warbird. Furthermore, the task becomes larger and more nuanced with each passing day as new people and opportunities enter one’s life while you continue to expand your circle of friends.
Some of those among us have the wherewithal to expand their collection and their fun by adding a type, and then another, and soon, friends are flying with you to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in your alluring formation. The camaraderie and unadulterated fun is almost too much for me to imagine…
But what if some of that isn’t really what you want? A Corsair or Skyraider is cool; but if you always preferred the Medal of Honor (six-passenger) A-1E to the camo H model because you could ride five buds with you and bring steaks from your ranch in the tail cone, along with a few bottles of your own wine…
From your eyes then, seeing a B-25 or B-17 join on your Warhawk wing in tight form sometimes insinuates the impossible idea that they may be having more fun than you. Further, when you watch them return, the stunning sight of four propellers and the massive shape of a heavy is simply it. There are hardly any of those! And four engines! Imagine the crew you have to assemble. Imagine the family you would become! And with that we go looking for a bomber.
WWII Warbird Four-Engine Bomber/Transport Report
Further, there are four-engine transports available and they also qualify as warbirds; but their rarity is also an issue in most cases. The C-54 that won the Judges Choice award at Sun ’n Fun International Fly-In & Expo this year is a stellar example of what is possible for a group with the “best stuff.”
C-69/C-121 Constellation: 856 built, 45 survive, 7 to 9 airworthy, 3 flyers?
C-54/R5D/DC-4: 1,243 built, perhaps 15 flyers, most working airplanes
C-118/R6D/DC-6: 704 built, 140 survivors, over 40 working aircraft worldwide
DC-7: 343 built, 25 survivors, less than 5 flying/airworthy (?)
By the above numbers, the rarity of these planes is readily apparent. Less than 20 worldwide. A very exclusive and expensive club.
No German, Japanese, Russian, or Italian four-engine aircraft survived the immediate postwar period. There has been a submerged Fw-200 Condor recovery, but no reasonable project bomber of any Axis types remain. The fact is that there are only 12 privately owned flyers in the world, and most are B-17s.
While the market is small, the available airframes are super rare, and in most cases, unobtainable. There are project B-17s, B-24s, and B-29s available, but all of them require great resources to complete.
Bombers and transports are owned or operated by groups today, and the days of the single owner-operator are perhaps behind us. From a motivational perspective, it seems as though when a collection reaches critical mass, a foray into large aircraft is something a museum must achieve.
The operational limits of an organization will become rapidly apparent in the team fractures and managerial missteps of any new group attempting a restoration. Today we have several B-17 projects in progress, and one of them is essentially a B-17 from scratch! The capability of the restorers in this country is amazing, as is the powerful draw of the B-17.
Hopefully the living history flight experience exemption moratorium will eventually be lifted to allow groups in the future to continue to operate these magnificent aircraft in a way that allows flight experiences for the public. There were perhaps over a half million heavy bomber crewmen during the Second World War, and today the families of those men have a very real desire to experience some of what our great grandfathers had when they served aboard.