Posted by: potomacpacemaker | June 3, 2010

Let the work begin…

Restoring the Potomac Pacemaker

Volunteers began work restoring the Piedmont Airlines Potomac Pacemaker this April.

The Potomac Pacemaker N56V is beginning to find new life.

Restoration work on this Piedmont Airlines DC-3 airplane, housed at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, N.C., began recently, and a plan for the work needed is quickly taking shape.

Several months ago, a cadre of aviation enthusiasts, including current and former aviation mechanics and pilots, as well as students in Guilford Technical Community College’s aviation program, met to begin planning for the restoration. Actual work began in April, with a cleaning of the plane.

Piedmont Airlines began flying Douglas DC-3 airplanes in 1948 and were named “Pacemakers,” fitting with the company’s new slogan, “Piedmont sets the pace.”

The Potomac Pacemaker was manufactured as a C-53 by Douglas Aircraft Company on March 20, 1942. The C-53 is a version of the DC-3 with a maximum gross weight of 29,300 pounds. During World War 11 this aircraft remained in the United States and on January 10, 1945, it was withdrawn from service and moved to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation.

On August 1, 1949 it was purchased by Western Airlines and registered as NC 18600. On January 12, 1956 it was purchased by Piedmont Airlines and reregistered as N56V and named Potomac Pacemaker. It operated at Piedmont Airlines until February 20, 1965. It had logged 48,000 hours of service and was traded to Charlotte Aircraft Company as part of the purchase of TWA’s Martin 404 fleet.

In 1978 the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, N.C. obtained the aircraft, where it was displayed outside for many years. In 2004, the North Carolina Transportation Museum accepted N56V for eventual display in the Back Shop, a massive building currently under restoration. Once completed, the Back Shop is slated to house exhibits on all forms of transportation. The airplane was moved in pieces into this building in 2004, where it sits today.

It sits in major sub-assemblies including the fuselage, the wings, the tail section, the center “wing box” section, and the engines. Work is being done by volunteers who formally meet for a full day of work one Saturday per month, with other work being done throughout the month and by students of the Aviation Program at Guilford Technical Community College.

We do not have a formal timeline when the airplane will be finished, but it will undoubtedly be a couple of years at best. The plane is dirty, corroded in many areas and will require enormous work, including thorough metal cleaning, seat refinishing, freeing up frozen controls, recovering control surfaces and rebuiling of the cockpit area.

The Guilford Technical Community College Aviation Program has been and will continue to be a major contributor of both work and expertise. Their help and involvement is greatly appreciated. The Piedmont Aviation Historical Society is also closely involved with this long-term project.

Stay tuned to this blog for updates on the project. If you are interested in volunteer or contributing supplies or financially, check here for more information on how you can help.



  1. I’m glad it’s happening – smoothly, and amongst friendly individuals – it appears.

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