I am very fortunate to have recently acquired an airplane I’ve had my eyes on for a number of years . . . a Sikorsky S-38!
This particular airplane was built up by Buzz Kaplan and Born Again Restorations in Owatonna, Minnesota with an original upper wing and original tail booms. They had previously built one for the late Sam Johnson who re-enacted his famous father’s trip in it through South America looking for the Carnuba plant, which was used to make Johnson’s Wax. Since they had all the jigs, and had come up with original parts, they built this second one and painted it in the colors of Osa Johnson’s famous zebra-painted S-38.
The airplane was owned by Tom Schrade, who had actually flown it across the Atlantic several years ago using the tailwinds as his reserve fuel. He enjoyed flying the last three airshow season’s all around Europe. I just happened to be in England at the time while he was buttoning up the airplane for the winter. He told me he was thinking of putting the plane up for sale and I jumped on a plane the next day to Amsterdam and we cut a deal! The whole thing seemed to unfold like destiny!
Martin and Osa Johnson were famous explorers in the early part of the last century and captured the imagination of the general public. They were probably the first-ever documentary film makers.
Since I was fortunate to have already acquired Dick Jackson’s beautiful Sikorsky S-39 painted in the giraffe colors of Martin Johnson’s S-39, it was another confirmation that seemed like destiny!
Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia describing the Johnson’s exploits -
In 1932 the Johnsons learned to fly at the airfield in Osa’s hometown of Chanute, Kansas. Once they had their pilot’s licenses, they purchased two Sikorsky amphibious planes, a S-39 ”Spirit of Africa” and S-38 ”Osa’s Ark”. On their fifth African trip, from 1933 to 1934, the Johnsons flew the length of Africa getting now classic aerial scenes of large herds of elephants, giraffes, and other animals moving across the plains of Africa. They were the first pilots to fly over Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya in Africa and film them from the air. The 1935 feature film “Baboona” was made from this footage.
When everyone else was killing animals for sport and trophies, the Johnson’s were educating the general public about their plight and trying to save them. Someday . . . their story needs to be told in a major feature film!
The plan is to disassemble the plane using one of the original builders, ship it back to Owatonna, and reassemble it. I’m not sure when I might bring it to Fantasy of Flight but it will be late Spring or early Summer as I’ve got to figure out where I’m going to put it! It might make sense to take it to the Oshkosh Fly-In next summer on the way to down to Florida.
The S-38 is an amazing addition to the collection and, now joining the S-39, represents two great historic airplanes together on display. Now all we need is a great script, a director, some funding, and I’m off to Africa!