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Tue, Jul 24, 2007

From The Odd Airplane File: The Norseman

This Was One BIG Bird In A Barn!

by ANN Correspondent Scott Wagner

The Vintage area at Oshkosh is a wonderland of aviation history, and every plane has a story. Among them, you'll find a rare Noorduyn Norseman. This particular bird is no exception.

But first, a little background on the design. Designed in the mid-1930's, the Norseman sold slowly at first, with a total of only 17 sold through 1940. With the onset of World War II, demand grew for a utilitarian transport that could haul a heavy load and still get in and out of unimproved runways. The Norseman fit the bill perfectly, and both the RCAF and USAAF placed relatively large orders.

Throughout the war, the UC-64, as it was dubbed by American forces, was used in North America (primarilly Alaska) as well in the European Theater. A small number were also used by the US Navy and US Engineering Corps as well as by other Allied air forces.

According to owner Forrest Klies, Norsemans were also used in Labrador and the Aleutian Islands to support weather stations in connection with the Manhattan Project.

For trivia buffs, bandleader Glenn Miller was killed while flying as a passenger in a Norseman during the war. Legend has it RAF bombers were returning to England after an aborted raid. Low on fuel, they dumped their bomb load over the Channel... and right onto Miller's UC-64.

Furthermore, Dwight D. Eisenhower was flown into Germany at the close of the war in a Norseman, with a considerably rosier outcome.

Firewall forward, the Norseman is identical to the AT-6 (SNJ for you Navy guys, and Harvard for our Canadian friends), and shares its landing gear with the P-40. With a 51.5 foot wingspan, and 600 HP Pratt & Whitney swinging the prop, the Norseman cruises at 115 knots, and lands at 50 knots. Sitting on 31 inch tires, empty weight is 4,350 pound and gross weight is 11,950, which leaves 7600 pounds of useful load to seat up to including the pilot and copilot. There are also provisions for carrying up to four litters when pressed into a medevac role.

Klies, of Basin, MT explained his Norseman's interesting past. A Mark V built in 1944; it served in Labrador, Canada during World War II. After the war, it somehow ended up in Kiev, Ukraine.

Upon returning to the States, it served with the US Department of Forestry in Missoula, MT dropping smokejumpers to combat forest fires. Released from service, the Norseman made its way back and forth across the Canadian border several times before returning to the northwest woods of Montana.

When Klies found N78691, it was a prime example of the classic "airplane in a barn" story. He hauled "piles of junk out of the old farmer's hayloft", and back to his private airstrip.

He sent the carcass away to Weber Aero Repair in Alexandria, MN. "The crew there, headed by Kevin and Jerry Sather, did incredible work. Their facility used to be a Bellanca factory, so they are highly skilled craftsmen."

He estimates there are "around 40 or so" still flying of the 793 manufactured. Of those, his is the only one he has seen on wheels, the remainder being on floats.

Now based at his private strip, a 2000 foot strip perched at a lofty 6300 feet MSL, the Norseman is able to get in and out "like it's going into LAX", says Klies (above).

Klies is in the process of selling the plane, so if you are in the market for a huge, unusual piece of aviation history that can get you in and out of just about anywhere, give Forrest a call,  or stop by and check it out. He's located near the Vintage Headquarters, right off the flightline.

FMI: www.norsemanhistory.ca

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