On Friday, April 17, N400MF will leave Missionary Flights International service forever. This airplane, formerly N2400, began service at MFI in 1987. For 28 years it has served the mission community by flying thousands of people and cargo from South Florida to the Caribbean. A mission based in Alaska purchased N400MF. After a brief stop in South Carolina, the plane will fly to Alaska where it will continue doing what it was made to do.
History of N400MF (excerpted with edits from the MFI 50th Anniversary book written by Larry Campbell)
DC-3 number three was purchased from a friend of MFI, Karl Stoltzfus, owner of Dynamic Aviation located in Bridgewater, Virginia. His father had purchased the airplane, N2400, in the early 1960s from a military auction, along with another DC-3, N2401. Both of these airplanes were originally R4D6s, the Navy version of the C-47, manufactured in 1944. Although not used in military action, it was flown around the Washington, D.C. area while in Navy use. In 1956, the Navy leased both airplanes to North Central Airlines located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In order to be compatible to their other aircraft, North Central converted the engines from the original Pratt and Whitney R-1830 (14 cylinders) to the Wright R-1820 (nine cylinders), each producing 1200 horsepower. In the early 1960s it was returned to the military and put up for auction.
When MFI purchased N2400 in 1984, it had been sitting in Virginia for the previous 17 years without being flown. After being bought at the auction, the aircraft sat at Coatesville, Pennsylvania a few years before being flown to Bridgewater. Since the aircraft had been preserved and not flown, it was in need of a complete airframe and engine inspection. Following a thorough inspection for airworthiness, N2400 was flown to Missionary Maintenance Services in Coshocton, Ohio to have the necessary work done to prepare it for MFI service in November 1983. It is an interesting note that the discrepancies found on the flight from Virginia to Ohio were exactly the same from Pennsylvania to Virginia years earlier. The engines were sent out for overhaul along with the propellers and the entire airframe was cleaned, inspected and repaired where necessary. With a new paint job, new interior, airstair door, fresh engines and props, the aircraft was delivered to West Palm Beach in 1987 ready for mission service.
With the large cargo doors it could be used for carrying big loads and the utility interior, along with an airstair door, galley, lavatory, and a 200,000 BTU heater, made it just as comfortable for passengers too. This was the perfect airplane to back up either of MFI’s other two DC-3s. This airplane was MFI’s first plane with the Wright R-1820 engines installed. Operators of DC-3s differ in their opinion about which is the better engine since both were the same horsepower. There are some advantages: the weight of the Wright engine is approximately 200 pounds lighter, so a saving of about 400 pounds would give an increase of more weight that could be carried. The engine was approximately $15,000 cheaper to overhaul. It was a dependable engine proven throughout the war on several other aircraft. But there were also some disadvantages. Because there were nine cylinders rather than the fourteen of the Pratt engines, the cylinders were larger and it presented a larger frontal area resulting in more drag. The time between overhaul was about 200 hours less and more vibrations could be felt throughout the airframe. All-in-all, the engines of both planes did the job that was expected and fulfilled MFI’s mission well.
N2400 had a registration number change in 1993 to the new number of N400MF to match the other DC-3s, N200MF and N300MF. N400MF continued to fly through the years, but time, sun, and moisture does take its toll. In 2006, N400MF received a spruced up interior and a new paint job to match the scheme and colors of all the MFI fleet. Its first flight after the new paint was to return to the new airport and hangar in Fort Pierce, Florida. In 2012, for the same reasons N300MF was taken off the flight line, N400MF was also sidelined in favor of the turbine DC-3s. Through 2013 and into 2014 this airplane was inspected, overhauled engine installed, and some corrosion issues resolved.
N400MF has been a valuable asset to MFI because of many years of service and now through the money from the sale.