In traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi (侘寂) is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of appreciating beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete” in nature. It is prevalent in many forms of Japanese art. With Wabi-Sabi in mind, the rebirth of these old Douglas DC-3 / C-47 airplanes is a refresh of the former beauty into something even more splendid today.Michael J Martin
When you come to Oshkosh early, well ahead of the usual crowds for the AirVenture 2023 event, like I did this year, some special things are liable to happen all rather spontaneously. This is what happened to me this year. I got a last-minute invitation to a very special event.
My early arrival was due to my ability to work remotely from my motor home with a spiffy Starlink internet connection. As it was nearing the end of my business day, I began to ponder what to have for dinner. I put on some background music now that all the video calls were done for the day and was about to examine the refrigerator’s contents.
Unexpectedly, the cellphone rings and it is my good friend and well-known aviation photographer, Ken Mist, EAA 1018837, calling to enquire if I had any plans for the evening. Ken was also camping at Camp Scholler as he is a regular EAA volunteer. Thus, an early AirVenture arriver, too.
As it happens, I did not have any pressing plans, other than to take a casual stroll around Camp Scholler and the EAA grounds to see how things were progressing in preparation for the big event scheduled in one week’s time. Every evening I walk for one hour and I am continually surprised how fast the hundreds of early volunteers make the thousands of preparations come together.
Ken had a special invitation from our local Oshkosh friend, Sarah Marshall, EAA Lifetime 1201912. She works at Basler Turbo Conversions, LLC, and had arranged a private tour of the facilities and the production floor for the Oshkosh EAA Chapter 252.
The president of Basler, Joesph Varkoly, acted as the tour guide, and he did a superb job. His depth and breadth of product knowledge was outstanding, and his good humour quips and global aviation industry awareness made for a great factory tour. He was charming, very entertaining, and the audience greatly appreciated his insightful presentation.
Sarah invited Ken and I, both Canadians and not EAA Chapter 252 members, to join in for this special tour. Since she arranged this event for EAA Chapter 252, I suppose it was her prerogative to allow us aliens to join in. Yet, I still felt rather devilish for crashing their special private party, so I lingered and lurked out of sight, like a foreign spy gathering information.
Joe introduced the audience to the company history, which was founded in 1990 as Basler Turbo Conversions, LLC, with its headquarters in Oshkosh. The company’s Basler BT-67 aircraft is flown by private companies and public entities in almost every corner of the world. Joe showed us a clean, safe working environment in their 75,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility.
Basler is a company concentrating on the conversion of turboprop aircraft. Basler possesses a significant market share in the aircraft conversion industry and holds a supplemental type certificate (STC), which is a type certificate issued when an applicant has received FAA approval to modify an aeronautical product from its original design. This STC sets Basler apart from all competitors.
In terms of innovation, Basler Turbo Conversions is known for its flagship product, the Basler BT-67. The BT-67 is a converted version of the Douglas C-47 aircraft, which incorporates modern turboprop engines and various other upgrades. The conversion process involves fitting the airframe with new Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-67R turboprop engines, lengthening the fuselage, strengthening the airframe, upgrading the avionics, and making modifications to the wing leading edges and wingtips. Basler replaces all the aluminum skin and rib sections with new material of aluminum and composite. It is difficult to find any remnants of the original airplane, as so many efforts go into the refresh of the airplane’s fuselage. This conversion significantly improves the aircraft’s performance, range, and operational capabilities.
Applications for Basler Turbo Conversions’ aircraft are diverse and include:
Cargo Transport: The BT-67’s increased payload capacity and range make it suitable for transporting cargo to remote locations, including regions with limited infrastructure. Its short takeoff and landing (STOL) capabilities enable it to operate from unimproved airstrips.
Passenger Transport: The converted aircraft can also be configured to transport passengers, offering comfortable and reliable transportation for remote communities, humanitarian missions, and tourism in challenging environments.
Aerial Surveying and Mapping: The BT-67’s ability to fly at low altitudes and slow speeds makes it ideal for aerial surveying, mapping, and geospatial data collection. It can be equipped with specialized sensors and cameras to perform tasks such as topographic mapping, environmental monitoring, and resource management.
Maritime Surveillance: The aircraft’s range, endurance, and STOL capabilities make it suitable for maritime surveillance missions. It can be utilized for patrolling exclusive economic zones (EEZs), monitoring illegal fishing activities, search and rescue operations, and maritime border security.
Scientific Research: The BT-67’s versatility has made it a popular choice for scientific research expeditions to remote areas, such as Antarctica. It can be outfitted with scientific equipment and sensors to support various research disciplines, including atmospheric studies, wildlife monitoring, and geology.
Basler custom configures each new build to the client’s unique specifications. Industries served include those listed above and various policing, military, and paramilitary applications. A few BT-67 aircraft based in South America have been fitted out as gunships to combat against powerful organized crime syndicates and drug lords.As close as the piston DC-3 came to perfection, company founder Warren Basler knew that there was a need for a better and more efficient version of this highly reliable aircraft. With this vision, Basler Turbo Conversions was created. Production began in January 1990 at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh. Since that time, the Basler BT-67 aircraft have been manufactured and sold to customers from every corner of the world.
Basler focuses on the airplane conversion and other companies install the complex surveillance equipment. The major costs in the Basler portion of the retrofits are primarily in the two new turbine engines, the labour pool, and the advanced avionics.
Basler has about 65 employees and produces a rebuilt BT-67 about 1.5 to 2 times per year.
The ISR or Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance market is particularly strong these days and Basler is well positioned with the BT-67 to support these advanced customers.
“The DC-3 was a beautiful, stable, and virtually indestructible airframe going to waste. We realized that by adding turbine engines and modernizing the airplane, it would go on for many years”. “For years the aviation industry had been searching for a replacement for this rugged and reliable aircraft . . . at Basler Turbo Conversions, we are building it”.
– Warren Basler, 1926 to 1997
In 1996, control of the company was assumed by Jack Goodale, an aviation-minded entrepreneur from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Mr. Goodale brought his considerable skills and background as a builder of businesses to the company, and he nurtured and guided the business to its current standing as a complete and focused aircraft manufacturing company.
The airplanes can run upwards of $12 to $16 million each and are worth every penny since they deliver stellar performance in many applications.
- Crew: Two (pilot & co-pilot)
- Capacity: 38 Passengers
- Length: 67 feet, 9 inches (20.65 m)
- Wingspan: 95 feet (28.95 m)
- Height: 16 feet, 11 inches (5.15 m)
- Empty weight: 15,700 pounds (7,121 kg)
- Max takeoff weight: 28,750 pounds (13,041 kg)
- Powerplant: 2 × Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-67R turboprop engines, 1,281 shp (955 kW) each
- Propellers: 5-bladed Hartzell constant speed propellers, 9 feet, 7 inches (2.92 m) diameter
- Maximum speed: 285 knots (328 mph, 528 km/h)
- Cruise speed: 210 knots (240 mph, 390 km/h)
- Range: 2,140 nm (2,460 mi, 3,960 km) with 45-minute reserve and long-range fuel tank
- Service ceiling: 25,000 feet (7,600 m)
Today, Basler Turbo Conversions and the BT-67 configuration of the DC-3/C-47 stands as a rare example of successful and complete re-manufactured aircraft. The BT-67 and company staff proudly serve a worldwide base of customers.
PHOTO CREDITS: Group photo by Ken Mist. All other photos by the author.
About the Author:
Michael Martin is the Vice President of Technology with Metercor Inc., a Smart Meter, IoT, and Smart City systems integrator based in Canada. He has more than 40 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies. He is a business and technology consultant. He was a senior executive consultant for 15 years with IBM, where he worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX). Martin served on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology. He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has completed over 30 next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, Indigenous Canada awareness, and more.