So This 64 Year Old Cargo Plane Keeps Flying Over My House…

Filed Under: Aviation

…there’s no punchline, I would just love to know more about it.

Miami is amazing for plane spotting

One of my favorite things about Miami (and in particular where I live) is the amazing plane spotting opportunities. The city is really close to the airport, and from many parts of town you’re right under the approach path for the airport.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I have the Flightradar24 app open morning, day, and night. There’s nothing like seeing the procession of Atlas Air Cargo 747s in the morning, coming from Anchorage, Bogota, and Santiago, or the afternoon Air France and Lufthansa A380s.

Believe it or not, those aren’t the planes that fascinate me most, though…

The 64 year old Convair CV-5800 from Honduras

At least a couple of times per week I notice a Convair CV-5800 operated by IFL Group approaching Miami from San Pedro Sula, Honduras. There are two things that make this interesting:

  • You don’t see a whole lot of Convair planes flying nowadays
  • I don’t know how to describe it, but the plane approaches Miami with a ridiculous trail of smoke behind it… at first I wonder if the plane is okay, but then I’m reminded of which plane it is

Anyway, after seeing the approach yesterday, I did some digging. The IFL Cargo Convair CV-5800 had the registration code N371FL. After Googling the registration, I found out the plane was actually built in 1956. OMFG.

The most common route for the plane seems to be Miami to Guatemala City to San Pedro Sula to Miami, though there are some other “triangle” flights as well, like Miami to Merida to Cancun to Miami.

I have so many questions…

I find this utterly fascinating, and I have so many questions. Collectively you guys have answers to just about everything aviation related, so I’m curious if anyone has answers to any of these:

  • How many Convair CV-5800s are even flying nowadays? It’s surprisingly hard to find a straight answer, since there may be some out there not being flown in an especially “legitimate” manner…
  • Does any cargo airline operate a plane build prior to 1956?
  • How much have the cockpits of these ancient planes been updated? On the one hand I’d have to assume significantly, but at the same time how much is it worth investing in planes this old?
  • Are the pilots for these planes all based in the US?
  • With pilots being in high demand, who exactly ends up flying 64 year old turboprops between Miami and Honduras? Is this a stepping stone for the regionals and one step up from being a flight instructor, do they retain pilots because they can be home the same day sometimes, or…?
  • Given the amount these planes fly specifically from Honduras to the US, is the plane just carrying whatever needs to be transported that day, or do we assume they have a specific contract to transport lobsters, bananas, coffee, or something else?

While I still have a lot of questions, I think I may have at least partly answered the pilot question myself.

Based on AirlinePilotCentral, it appears they have pilots based in Miami, and that captains make $81,500 and first officers make $42,000. That pay is apparently for working two weeks on and two weeks off, so that’s pretty darn good…

Most importantly — am I the only one who finds this flipping interesting?

(Featured image courtesy of Cory W. Watts)

Comments
  1. Thanks Ben. This is useless information that I actually kind of enjoy on a Sunday afternoon!

  2. No idea but if you have a smart TV you could have Flightradar on the big screen all day!

    My office in Singapore was at Changi and very close to the flight path for one of the runways (ie we saw the planes coming into land). One my my friends would literally tell me what plane was landing, where it had come from etc. Useful though when you have to pick up visitors from the airport as I would wait till the plane had landed to leave. BTW – you can also do this for boats (same work friend used to also do this for boats).

  3. Is it common for captains to make nearly double the salary of first officers? Such a curious operation!

  4. Yes to your second question. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, but Buffalo Airways, based in Yellowknife, operates a fleet of a bunch of DC3s, C-54s, C-46s (went out of production in 1945), among others from WWII. However, they do operate a few brand new (comparatively) Lockheed L-188 Electras from the late 50s/early 60s.

  5. These operations typically hire ‘non-airline worthy’ pilots. I.E. those with DUIs, accidents on the record, etc.. Even the regional airlines have some standards. But when you’re flying old airplanes filled with boxes, the cargo airlines can live with those type of pilots in order to maintain operations.

  6. I live in Kelowna, British Columbia where there is a cargo operator called Kelowna Flightcraft. I regularly see their Convair 5800s flying in and out to places like Vancouver.

    Kelowna Flightcraft also has quite a large maintenance operation, there are some interesting planes which visit regularly. There are currently 2 Icelandair 757s and Lynden Air Cargo’s Hercules visit quite often.

  7. This just brings a smile to my face. Shows your absolute passion for all things flying. I love that there is someone out there that wants to know ALL the details of that metal bird in the sky. It’s an endless curiosity that keeps me reading.

  8. This post got me curious. Wikipedia has a few things to say about the CV-5800, which is apparently a circa early 90’s aftermarket modificatino with some contemporaneous upgrades:

    “Conversion from former US Navy C-131F Samaritans by Kelowna Flightcraft Ltd. (KF Aerospace since 2015) in Canada. The CV-5800 is a C-131F Samaritan [a military version of the CV-240] stretched by 16 ft 7 in (4,98 m) with the Samaritan’s original tail unit rather than the enlarged tail of the CV-580. These conversions also have a new freight door, digital avionics with EFIS and Allison 501-D22G engines in place of the original R-2800 engines. The prototype of this conversion first flew on February 11, 1992; the type certificate was issued on December 11, 1993. A total of six aircraft were converted (construction numbers 276 to 279, 309, 343) and mostly used by Contract Air Cargo (later IFL Group); one aircraft later operated by Air Freight NZ was then returned to KF Aerospace for operation in their own fleet.”

    More specs are from this fan site: http://www.ruudleeuw.com/cv5800.htm
    Which came from here: http://web.archive.org/web/20011021225517/www.flightcraft.ca/Convair/Stretch5800.htm

  9. This post got me curious. Wikipedia has a few things to say about the CV-5800, which is apparently a circa early 90’s aftermarket modification with some contemporaneous upgrades:

    “Conversion from former US Navy C-131F Samaritans by Kelowna Flightcraft Ltd. (KF Aerospace since 2015) in Canada. The CV-5800 is a C-131F Samaritan [a military version of the CV-240] stretched by 16 ft 7 in (4,98 m) with the Samaritan’s original tail unit rather than the enlarged tail of the CV-580. These conversions also have a new freight door, digital avionics with EFIS and Allison 501-D22G engines in place of the original R-2800 engines. The prototype of this conversion first flew on February 11, 1992; the type certificate was issued on December 11, 1993. A total of six aircraft were converted (construction numbers 276 to 279, 309, 343) and mostly used by Contract Air Cargo (later IFL Group); one aircraft later operated by Air Freight NZ was then returned to KF Aerospace for operation in their own fleet.”

  10. You live in Miami and never heard of Miami’s Corrosion Corner or Opa Locka Airport. Last year DC-3 flying from there crashed near Bahamas. One more lost forever.

  11. Yeah, cargo on the DC-3/C-47 is still relatively common to tag onto @Julian’s comments. Desert Air Alaska is one, and I’m sure there are others.

    Lots of documentaries/YouTube videos of Buffalo Airways out there, too.

  12. KF Aerospace has nothing to do with chickens but did stretch the 580 and modify it to 5800 type. Not sure about 5800s but I know there’s at least one passenger airline still flying them in NZ: Air Chathams
    https://www.airchathams.co.nz/
    Right now they have a scheduled route from AKL to NLK and substitute on other domestic routes when loads exceed 34 on the SF3. A new one for you to try Lucky.

  13. That’s the flagship aircraft of AA after the Coronavirus wreaks havoc and sends them into Chapter 11. It will fly the MIA to LHR route with stops in Gander, Reykjavik, and Shannon.

  14. I’m more interested in the 767s that arrive from South America in the middle of the night and pull up to the cargo area where there’s a puny chain link fence between the ramp and the parking lot. Bet there’s some real interesting stories there.

  15. These are the types of useless posts that made me fall in love with this blog. Keep it up!

    To answer your question, this is for sure some sort of smuggling operation.

  16. I live in LA; West Hollywood/Bev Hills area.

    Just under the flight path of Santa Monica Airport, so used to seeing/hearing interesting stuff, and usually military helicopter fly overs.

    Yesterday heard piston engines, and raced to my window.

    5 WW2 era pistons in very tight formation (think Blue Angels). Cool!!! But how could they allow tight formation over the heart of Los Angeles?!?!

    3 were tight in a line, top to bottom, and 2 on the wing tips both sides. I love aviation, but over the heart of LA at low altitude?!?!

  17. Loved spotting in Miami as a youngster growing up there. The Eastern L-1011 captain who lived next door would occasionally get permission to fly over our quiet South Miami/Pinecrest neighborhood at 1,500 ft for me on his way back from San Juan. Awesome experience to give to a 10 year old kid!

  18. Thanks, Ben. I love this stuff. I grew up with a (private) pilot father near Stewart Air Force Base, now SWF. We used to watch the big cargo planes flying so low and as kids we got so excited. I still do.

  19. Depending on what country passenger aircraft can fly. Many DC 3s are switching to turbo prop conversions in Oskos Wisconsin. The DC 3 still is a excellent short field airplane. The airframes on the old aircraft last for ever. It’s the piston engine’s and the lack of AV Gas that is retiring these old birds. Hang a Turbo prop engine on a old aircraft and it fly forever .

  20. I know air Chathams in NZ still fly passengers and freight regularly with them and do ad hoc overnight parcel delivery for Parcel Air in nz. There were a lot of Convairs doing air freight around nz before the Parcel Air fleet were upgraded to 737s.

    You can still fly as a passenger on Air Chathams scheduled service from the north island to the Chathams. Maybe next time your in NZ you could have a look at heading out to the Chathams 😉

  21. Spotted one of those (N361FL in particular) in Pontiac Michigan, an IFL base. Absolutely eye opening.

  22. There is a city in Colombia, Villavicencio, that’s called the DC3 capital of the world, I don’t really know how many are still flying but it’s a lot.
    C-46… you see them in Anchorage, flying early morning..
    Go to Opa Locka airport KOPF, drive around and you will find old aircraft, from c54’s to 707’s.

  23. Well, I can tell you from experience that Basler Flight Service out of Oshkosh Wisconsin used to use the C-47 variant with WASP radials for running freight. However now I believe that the only C-47/DC-3’s that they are using now are the turbine models that is made at Basler Turbo Conversions in Oshkosh as well.

    The take old C-47’s and DC-3’s from around the world and strip them down to nothing and then rebuild them with Pratt & Whitney TP6 turbo props, upgraded avionics and such which increases the payload by 1000# to around 7500# if I remember correctly.

    I used to work for Basler Flight Service over 20 years ago and I used to go on some of the freight runs. I’ve got 15 unofficial flight hours in the old radial models. I never got the chance to go up in the updated model though. That was the best year of my life working for them. I will NEVER forget it.

  24. Convair 240, 340 and 440 piston airliners were flown by American, Delta, and many of the majors and regional airlines that consolidated in the 1990s and 2000s. This link provides a good summary:

    https://www.airliners.net/aircraft-data/convair-2403404405405806006405800/169

    “The Convair 240, 340 and 440 was one of the closest designs to come near to being a Douglas DC-3 replacement as despite a glut of cheap DC-3s in the postwar years this family of airliners achieved considerable sales success. Design of the original 110 was initiated in response to an American Airlines request for a DC-3 replacement. American found the 110 (which first flew on July 8 1946) to be too small and asked that the 110 be scaled up in size, and this resulted in the 240 ConvairLiner. The 240 was arguably the most advanced short haul airliner of its day, and first flew on March 16 1947 and entered service on June 1 1948. The success of the 240 led to the 1.37m (4ft 6in) stretched 340, which first flew on October 5 1951, and the improved 440 Metropolitan which incorporated extra cabin sound-proofing, new rectangular exhaust outlets, tighter engine cowlings, and some other aerodynamic improvements and first flew on October 6 1955. Most of the 440s were also delivered with weather radar in an elongated nose, which had been an option on the 340. The 240, 340 and 440 sold in large numbers, mainly to airlines in North America, and formed the backbone of many airlines’ short to medium haul fleets. Today the small number of piston Convairs that remain in service are mainly used as freighters. Many of the Convairs were also built for the US Air Force as the C-131 and T-29 in many versions, and for the US Navy as the R4Y which were redesignated too as C-131 in 1962. However, the original piston Convairs have been the subject of a number of turboprop modification programs, the line’s inherent strength and reliability making it a popular choice for conversions. As early as 1950 the potential of turboprop powered 240s was recognised, leading to the first flight and development of the 240-21 Turboliner, while an Allison 501D powered YC-131C military conversion first flew on June 19 1954. One other early conversion occurred in 1954 when D Napier and Sons in Britain converted 340s with that company’s 2280kW (3060hp) Eland N.El.1 turboprops as the 540. Six such aircraft were converted for Allegheny Airlines in the USA, although these aircraft were later converted back to piston power. Canadair meanwhile built 10 new aircraft with Eland engines as the CL-66 for the Royal Canadian Air Force, where they were designated CC-109 Cosmopolitan. The most popular Convair conversions were those done by PacAero in California for Allison, and this involved converting 340s and 440s to 580s with Allison 501D turboprops, plus modified tail control surfaces and a larger tail area. The first such conversion flew on January 19 1960, although it was not until June 1964 that a converted aircraft entered service. Convair’s own conversion program involved Rolls Royce Darts, and the first of these flew on May 2 1965. Thus converted 240s became 600s, while 340s and 440s became 640s. Super 580 Aircraft Company, a division of Flight Trails Inc., replaced the Allison 501-D13D engines by -D22Gs and incorporated some further improvements on two or three 580s which were redesignated Super 580. Kelowna Flightcraft in Canada however has offered the most ambitious Convair conversion program, the 5800, having stretched the 580 by 4.34m (14ft 3in) and reverting to the 440’s original tail unit. Production conversions have a new freight door and digital avionics with EFIS. Most of the remaining Convairs are now used as cargo transports.”

  25. I meant to include United as one of the big three majors that also flew versions of the Convair 240, 340 and 440 piston aircraft.

  26. There are some really old ( and probably unsafe ) aircraft flying cargo in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) , They used to be piloted by older Russians ,so maybe the aircraft are Russian. I saw a programme on You Tube . They do a daily run to three towns take in and take out cargo and back to base at night . You may find it on You Tube

  27. I’d be interested to see the business case of this. Must be quite costly to keep that old plane flying.

  28. In the early 90s; I still remember travelling to EYW on a DC-3 of Providence Town Boston Airlines; from Miami (MIA) to Key West (EYW). (Remember having a broken curtain at my square-shaped window) Those were the days when Key West was “Calvin Klein party central”!

  29. Loved this post. It’s one of my favorite parts about living in Brickell, especially when the two daily A380s take off to the East and fly real low over the city.

    Also, I know it’s not a lounge or as cool as Maho Beach, but FLL still has an open aircraft observation area right next to 10L. Spent tons of time there as a kid

  30. Your passion for aviation is charming Ben and I totally get where you’re coming from. It’s an interest full f wonder. Amazed you haven’t mentioned the launch of Aeroflot’s brilliant new biz class on the A350.

  31. I believe, as others have mentioned, there are a large number of DC3 s flying all over the world. These are pre-WW 2 designs and are usually undergoing continuous maintenance. I worked with a guy who was once a contractor at Lockheed. He said that from time ot time they would get requests for wiring harnessess for a DC 3. The engineer would pull out a 40 long pegboard and begin putting the harness together. It’s cool that all these old planes are still around.

  32. Best article I have read in a decade. There is so much love for vintage cars, mid century modern housing, and antique pickers. You want to see something old and amazing, just look up. There are many vintage aircraft still flying. Thanks for spotting!

  33. I’m seeing IFL has 5 active IFL CV-5800s and 5 active CV-580s. Maybe there’s more?

    CV-5800:
    N351FL
    N361FL
    N371FL
    N381FL
    N391FL

    CV-580:
    N141FL
    N151FL
    N171FL
    N181FL
    N991FL

  34. A comment and a question: You know, I assume, that B-52 bombers are 68 years old. Question is, “Is your dad Ben Schlappig, the late Honolulu Airport manager?”

  35. The first thing that came to my mind when I saw the title was the Tom Cruise drug trafficking movie.

  36. I used to fly BE-18’s and DC-3’s out of Opa Locka in the beginning of the nineties. Oldest aircraft was from 1939.

  37. To the person saying an airline like this only hires “non-airline worthy’ pilots” or that these operations are used for “drug smuggling”, that is incredibly insulting to the thousands of pilots who work for small cargo operators, enjoy their jobs, have absolutely clean records and definitely are not smuggling drugs.

    Pilots work hard for their careers so please don’t try to play down their achievements by saying that they are not airline worthy when in fact most if not all of them are. Some pilots work for cargo operators building hours before moving to larger mainlines such as UPS, FedEx, Delta, American or anywhere else while other pilots might be at these operations for the pay, location or other lifestyle factors.

    Pilots can sometimes make double the salary at a cargo operator rather than at a regional, so its obvious why some would choose cargo, it’s not about the quality of the pilots. (Not to mention on demand cargo offers really great hands on experience that some regionals may not!)

    Besides that, thanks for the great post. This particular airline has many old Convairs, Falcons, and also 727’s operating daily.

  38. I’m sure this routing has lots of “cargo” to move. Probably from farther south 🙂

  39. There are 6 CV5800s, 5 with IFL as toadman said, and 1 (C-GKFS) with Kelowna Flightcraft Air Charter in BC, Canada.
    There are 998 Dakotas of all types (DC-3, C-47, etc) believed to be still in existence around the world, of which 205 are still flying. How do I know? I’m an enthusiast.
    FR24 is the best known online radar site, but try PlaneFinder.net for the same coverage plus biz jets, nearly all of which FR24 blocks. And Miami has a LOT of biz jets! Some are still blocked by the FAA at the request of the owners but they are in the minority at the moment.

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