Today’s ocular enjoyment comes to you from my personal archives. Taken at Oshkosh 2012, I present to you the Curtiss C-46 Commando “Tinker Belle” as she roars into the sky off runway 18.
Tinker Belle is a rare bird. Not many C-46’s are still flying; I believe that Tinker Belle is the last flying C-46 in the United States. Please correct me if I am wrong.
I’ve heard two stories about the origins of her name. One is that this particular airframe was used as a test-bed for new upgrades and avionics or engine mods; since she was tinkered with so extensively, the name stuck. The other legend is that she spent much of her life at Tinker AFB in Oklahoma. I like the first story better.
Regardless of her etymology, I’m sure that the tinkering it takes to keep a beautiful old bird like this airworthy and flying justifies the name. Keeping these planes flying is a labor of love: they require a lot of tender loving care, and they are usually attended by armies of volunteers who graciously donate their time and knowledge.
I have a personal connection to the C-46. I’m proud to say that my grandfather flew the C-46 over the Himalayas from India to China during WWII. It was perilous work: engine trouble was not uncommon, navigation was primitive, and many of the brave crews who flew these missions never came home. My grandfather spoke once or twice of throwing loads out over the mountains in order to keep a struggling airplane flying. The supplies that these brave aircrews delivered were crucial for the Chinese war effort.
Tinker Belle is owned by the city of Monroe, NC, which uses her to attract tourists and promote the city. She may become the centerpiece of an aviation museum in Monroe in the future. The city funds Tinker Belle with a hotel occupancy tax, so if you’d like to support her and take a vacation you should check out the city of Monroe. If you visit during the Warriors and Warbirds airshow you might even get to see Tinker Belle fly.