“Last week I went to Yakutat and dismantled the S39-NC803W and moved it seven miles to the village. I was not able to crate the plane as there is no lumber for sale in Yakutat, which consists of one fish cannery and the airport.”
- Paul Redden in a letter to CAHA, NEAM News no. 13, October 1963
A small aircraft with an extensive past, the Sikorsky S-39 stands in bright yellow and blue in the Civil Aviation Hangar of the New England Air Museum. Built in 1930, this is the oldest surviving Sikorsky aircraft.
In its nearly 30 year flying career, the amphibious aircraft had nine different owners, beginning with the Vice President and Treasurer of Pratt & Whitney, Charles W. Deeds. Deeds used it for a pleasure aircraft, eventually keeping it on his father’s yacht. Deeds sold the aircraft six years later, and it changed hands a number of times.
In 1942, the S-39 came under the ownership of Major Hugh R. Sharp, who was a commander in the World War II Civil Air Patrol unit based in Delaware. The S-39 was refitted to be an ocean rescue aircraft, complete with two depth charges. On July 21, 1942, Major Sharp and the S-39 made a daring rescue of the pilot of a crashed Fairchild 24 in rough seas. The S-39 was damaged, and had to taxi back to shore with co-pilot Eddie Edwards on the wing to balance it out. The crew became the first civilian to win the Air Medal, and Sikorsky won a Collier Award for the rescue.
The final owner bought the plane in 1953, where it served as a "bush plane" in Alaska until 1957. After a forced landing damaged the hull, the plane was abandoned in Yakutat where it incurred further damage due to weather. Thanks to Philip Redden on behalf of CAHA, the S-39 was found and delivered back to Connecticut in October 1963.
Restoration began in the early 1990s under the direction of Crew Chief Conrad “Connie” Lachendro. Over the course of several years, 25 restoration volunteers painstakingly repaired the extremely damaged aircraft, restoring it to its CAP colors. In 1996, the S-39 was dedicated with many dignitaries in the audience, including many children of the aircrafts original owners and pilots. The S-39 now sits surrounded by an exhibit of Civil Air Patrol, and a painting of the historic rescue by Andy Whyte.