Darrel Massman, the stuff of fun air shows in Wisconsin

Darrel Massman of Ogdensberg, Wisconsin has been an air show and aerobatic pilot for some 31 years, turned on to flying when he was 16. Originally from Decorah, Iowa, Darrel says, "I like anything that flies," and he has logged flying time in some 65 different models of aircraft. We saw one of his aircraft parked at the Waupaca Airport, a "Goonie Bird," and became intrigued.

November 20, 2005


While driving from Wausau to Appleton to take the puppy in for some knee surgery, we passed by Brunner Field, the Waupaca Municipal Airport. Out of the corner of the eye could be seen what occupies a special spot in this editor's heart, a Douglas C-47 "Skytrain," otherwise known as the "Goonie Bird," or "Goonie" for short. This particular aircraft, tail code "EN", tail number 42-847, was parked on the tarmac getting one of her engines tweaked.


We do not know what kind of engines this aircraft has, but most Goonies, well over 13,000 of them, had two Pratt & Whitney R-1830 engines of 1,200 hp each. These were 14-cylinder, air cooled, twin row radials. These engines were known as the "Twin Wasps." These engines were among the most efficient made in the 1930s, and, believe it or not, were still flying with the Goonie Birds during the Vietnam War.

Hearing and watching a Goonie's engine start is always a thrill. It has its own, very special roar.

Darrel Massman of Ogdensburg, Wisconsin is the chief pilot and general manager of this "Goonie" we saw parked at Waupaca. He flies it and displays it as a memorial to all veterans, particularly Vietnam veterans. The plane itself is based at the Champlin Fighter Museum at Mesa, Arizona's Falcon Field, not far from Phoenix. Darrel is one of the museum's directors. Originally from Decorah, Iowa, be brings the aircraft to Decorah every summer to participate in Midwest air shows. Darrel's colleague and fellow pilot is Mike Connell who serves as the Decorah Airport Manager.

This C-47 is configured inside to replicate the AC-47 Gunship employed during Vietnam, known as "Puff the Magic Dragon," callsign "Spooky." The tail code "EN" worn by this aircraft at Waupaca equated to aircraft belonging to the 4th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) location at Cam Ranh Bay, Republic of Vietnam. But she never flew as an AC-47.

In talking to Darrel by phone, we learned that this aircraft did see action in WWII and was part of the Normandy invasion, carrying paratroopers to battle. It has been reconfigured inside and out as a gunship and is placed on static displays at air shows, enabling people to walk inside and see what Puff the Magic Dragon looked like. The Mesa museum bought it from a private owner and finished refurbishing it in 2001.


This is a shot of the interior of a real AC-47. You can see three Gatling guns each capable of firing 100 rounds per second, or 6,000 rounds per minute for each gun. A typical mission carried 16,500 rounds.

This graphic that follows shows you what one of these Gatling guns looks like.


Spooky's main mission was to protect villages, hamlets and friendly forces on the ground. The enemy was most hesitant to fire on a Spooky, fearing they would miss and engage her wrath. That said, she flew "low and slow", was not highly maneuverable, and was vulnerable.

This next photo shows where the three Gatling guns were positioned, firing out of two window ports and the passenger cargo door on the port side of the aircraft only, all aft the wing.


Here's what one of these guns looked like from inside the aircraft when firing. This is the gun at the open cargo door.


This next photo shows what it's like to be on the receiving end of this bad boy. What you are looking at is what's known as a "cone of fire."


This is a time lapse photo taken by Spc 5 Thomas Zangla, 525th Military Intelligence Group, on May 1, 1969 at Pleiku, Vietnam. The AC-47 is flying an elliptical pattern and firing down at its targets below. This would typically provide coverage over an elliptical area some 52 yards in diameter, placing a projectile within every 2.4 yards during each three second burst. What you are seeing are the tracer rounds heading down in a "cone like" pattern. There are five rounds between each tracer round. You also see flares off to the left, which lit up the targets. A typical AC-47 night mission would carry 48 Mk-24 magnesium flares, each of which would last about three minutes and produce a light of two million candlepower.

Let's just say you would not want to be the target of this ship. The Oelwein Daily Register quoted the brochure for this airplane saying the following:

"The AC-47 was a Godsend for those troops or downed airmen who needed support from above. With three Gatling guns protruding from the left side of fuselage, the gunship could lay down ropes of fire so intense not even the surrounding foliage could survive. 'Puff' was the nickname for a flying machine so wicked and so deadly that enemy gunners would hide when they heard it coming."

Normally, the pilot fired the guns while the co-pilot flew the aircraft and coordinated the entire crew's activities. When in the target area, the navigator and a Vietnamese Air Force observer, if assigned, would accurately pinpoint objectives and coordinate with friendly forces on the ground.

Well, you won't see any of this live firing if you see this Spooky at an air show, but you do get to tour the inside and get the feel for her. Best of all, though, you can get aboard and fly with Darrel and pilot, Mike Connell, for a fee.

They'll have "Puff" at the "Wings of Freedom 2006 Air Show", a "Salute to Veterans," scheduled for May 26-28, 2005 at the Red Wing Regional Airport in Bay City, Wisconsin. What a thrill that would be. It was at the New Richmond and Milwaukee Airshows in Wisconsin in 2005.

Darrel Massman is not one of those who seeks a lot of publicity. But he is very well known in the air show business. His AC-47 is just one part of Darrel's effort and serves, really, as a tribute to veterans.

Darrel is perhaps best known for his aerobatic flying in his Panzi 330 custom built monoplane. This next photo is a closeup of Darrel's Panzi at the Southeastern Wisconsin Airfest.


Notice how she's "spit and polished." That reflects great pride and consummate professionalism.


In this photo, you see Massman flying his air show sequence at the Doug Yost Challenge Regional Aerobatic Contest held June 10-12, 2005 at Rice Lake, Wisconsin.

During his very first competition in the sportsman category, he won and became the national champion. He now flies in the unlimited category and has become the 2002, 2003 and 2004 mid-America Unlimited Champion and placed second overall highest scoring in the US in 2003.

The "Wings of Freedom 2006 Air Show" describes his aircraft like this:

"The aircraft flown is a Panzi 330 custom built unlimited monoplane. The aircraft weighs in at 1260 lbs with 350 horses under the hood, and a 3 bladed MT propeller. The roll rate is in excess of 420 degrees per second, and a climb rate of close to 5000 feet per minute. Vertical penetration of almost 3000 feet and cruise speeds of over 220 mph make this aircraft one of highest performing aerobatic planes in the world."


We also understand Darrel flies a Pitts S-2C, which he flew to a second place finish in the Unlimited category at the Albert Lea 2003 North Central Regional Aerobatic Contest, held in Minnesota. This is a photo of Darrel standing with his S-2C.


This photo shows him taking off in the S-2C. Darrel placed second.

It looks like getting to next summer's air show with Massman and his colleagues is a must. This editor has to climb aboard that Goon and get the willies just one more time