Story last updated at 2:33 p.m. Thursday, May 30, 2002

Old airplane gets new lease on life
The body looks pretty good for a 45-year-old that had been around the block a time or two, then put out to pasture, though the nose job definitely helped.

But now, after 14 months of cosmetic and even structural surgery by a team of 40 mechanics, the Douglas DC-6 four-engine aircraft named "The Spirit of America" is ready for flight, ready for a new life of flying fuel from Fairbanks to Bush Alaska.

"It's a unique plane that fits a niche in Alaska that no other plane can fill in its price range," said Charles Hood, director of maintenance for Air Cargo Express.

The plane spent most of its first two decades carrying passengers around Europe and Africa. Another 20 years it fought forest fires in British Columbia. For the last four or five, the old airplane sat in the Fairbanks boneyard of Air Cargo Express, giving up spare parts to keep other DC-6's in the air.

Only a few of the airplanes are left, however, spurring Air Cargo Express to breathe new life into it. Mechanics made it airworthy, installed heaters for the cockpit and de-icing machinery, then added fuel tanks that hold a total of 5,000 gallons.

To make sure it stays flying, however the company has been buying up DC-6s as it can, which in turn attracts aviation buffs. "In the summer there's a whole string of Europeans standing at the fence taking pictures," said pilot Ron Klemm.

<> Fairbanks Daily News-Miner