40 Years and 40,000 Hours
Sikorsky NC-50V

by Dick Jackson, edited by Kathryn Saunders

With many thanks to all those who helped make this possible. Their expertise, time and effort have been invaluable.
        -Dick Jackson

SIKORSKY S-39, NC-50V (s/n 912), represents one of the 21 aircraft of this type built by Igor Sikorsky in 1930-1931. 50V is the only airworthy example of the type and is the oldest flying Sikorsky in the world today.

This project is based on the partial recovery of five of the 21 Sikorsky S-39’s ever built: NC-50V (s/n 921) – the basis for this restoration, NC-809W (s/n 911), NC-54V (s/n 916), NC-58V (s/n 920), and NC-14326 (s/n 918). No complete “aircraft” was recovered. None of the recovered parts was in serviceable condition without repair; many were usable only for patterns. A sixth S-39, NC-52V (s/n 914), provided no parts, but inspired our paint scheme and aircraft name.
The hull from NC-50V was found in the Alaskan bush in 1965 and is the basis for the restoration. The hull was found completely stripped but with the nameplate and the serial plate intact. By the time we found her, the registration number had long since been canceled and was owned by Piedmont Airlines and assigned to one of their DC-3’s. The airline graciously released the number back to us for this restoration.

NC-809W provided the wing center section. This aircraft was lost in an Alaskan lake in 1957 but the wing center section had been previously damaged and replaced. The damaged part was found in Anchorage and obtained for this use. 809W was the first S-39 to be converted to a “C” model by Sikorsky engineering.

The left wing and empennage came from NC-54V, which was damaged beyond repair in a water landing in 1944. These were bent, but unlike most parts we found, were not corroded.

The last S-39 to roll off the assembly line in 1931 was NC-58V, which was also converted to a “C” model. The airplane had been operated by Wein Aleutian Airways and was eventually left derelict. It provided the right wing and the tail outriggers.

Missing from any recovered wreckage was a wing float. It was by sheer luck that we found the only one known to be in existence in a barn near Albany, NY. It came from NC-14326, which crashed in 1935 while owned by the NY American Newspaper; the float was used to make patterns since no blueprints were available.

The most famous of all S-39’s, NC-52V, was used by Martin and Osa Johnson in the early 1930’s for exploration of Africa and, later, Borneo. It is from their aircraft, “The Spirit of Africa”, that we have reproduced the color scheme of a giraffe, thus honoring their pioneering exploration flights.

The original paint scheme for 52V was projected and drawn onto our masked hull to reproduce as accurately as possible the giraffe spots of the “Spirit of Africa”. There are no known color photos; the colors selected are the result of photo analysis…and of our investigation of the actual colors of the giraffe breed represented.

Like all S-39 “C” models ever in existence, ours is converted from a “B” model. We chose to convert from the “B” model, ATC #375, to the “C” model under 2-391 (issued for s/n 911) to increase horsepower from 300HP to 400HP and locate the fuel in wing tanks rather than in bow tanks.

We have named our S-39 “Spirit of Igor” in honor of this visionary and pioneer in Aviation. He built the first successful four-engine aircraft in 1914, later his series of flying boats and, finally, developed the helicopter.

Site design by Bert Jackson

© 2009 Richard Jackson