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Spirit of Benovia

The Spirit of Benovia is flying sky-high, literally.

A classic World War II-era DC-3 was recently purchased by Benovia owner Joe Anderson, who modified it and rechristened it in a nod to his northern California winery.

Anderson, who already flies a 1942 Stearman bi-plane, had been on the lookout for a DC-3 for years.

"We were going to look at another one when this one came on the market unexpectedly," he said "Our chief pilot, Jeff Coffman, made some calls, learned about its history and owner, and found out it was in great condition.  We bought it the same day."

The aircraft was commissioned by the Army Air Corps in 1942 and spent World War II in India.  After the war, the Central Air Transport Corp., in Bejing China purchased the plane and Chinese Nationalist President Chiang Kai-shek reportedly used it as his personal transport.  It may have carried him and his family from the Chinese mainland to Taiwan on December 10, 1949, when the communists took over China.  After that, the plane went through a succession of owners until Joe purchased her.

Although it had been well maintained, it needed work. It was flown from its home in Wisconsin to Phoenix where it underwent eight months of refurbishing and a series of extensive inspections.

The interior was redone, chiefly to replace the heavy plywood walls with lighter panels, enabling the plane to fly farther and use less fuel.

"The Spirit of Benovia" was painted on its nose.

The winery's new namesake made its first public appearance in July at the Experimental Aviation Association (EAA) show in Wisconsin, where it was on display with 42 other DC-3s -- almost all of the "Gooney Birds" still flight-worthy in the U.S.

After another cross-country trip back to its home base in Santa Rosa, Calif., the Spirit of Benovia flew in the "Wings Over Wine Country" air show with the Hiller Air Museum's DC-3

In September 2010 it flew to Reno for the Reno Air Races.  With an average ground speed of 165 mph, the venerable DC-3 didn't race.  Instead, it and other specialty planes were popular attractions in the Rolls Royce National Heritage Foundation area.  Then it was off to San Francisco for Fleet Week before returning to Santa Rosa.

Joe couldn't be happier.

"Flying old planes is an avocation -- not unlike growing grapes," he said. " It depends on wind and weather."

"Today's jets have these great engines that can get you out of trouble. But these old planes, the engines on them will get you altitude, but they won't get you out of trouble, they aren't powerful enough," he explained. "You have to fly the wing."

"Just like grapes, where you have to constantly monitor water and weather, you augment your plans to ensure good results," Anderson said.  "In both pursuits, you must respect Mother Nature and know your limits."

 

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