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President JF Kennedy’s DC-3 gift to Mobutu found back in Congo.

Feature photo no.1

INTRO

It was a chaotic start for the Congo State. Until 1960, the Congo was under Belgian Colonial rule. On June 30 of that year, a huge new Central African Nation was installed as the independent Republic of Congo with their Government seated in the Capital Leopoldville (later Kinshasa).  

Sadly, it would very soon turn out to become one of the most dramatic starts of any of the fledgling democracies that emerged from colonial rule in Africa and Asia in the period 1945-1965.

Unexperienced with democratic values of the Western World, the Republic of Congo’s genesis turned almost from scratch into a nightmare scenario with fierce tribal/ethnic competition that resulted in rebellion, upheaval, and the secession of the more remote provinces Katanga and South Kasai.

With their strategic mining industry, the Congo had rich natural resources, including uranium. The U.S.  WWII nuclear program was built on Congolese Uranium. That simple fact attracted both the Soviet Union and the United States to this region in their Cold War geopolitical struggle for domination.

Their competing interests developed into the ‘Congo Crisis,’ which started in 1960 and would rage for 5 years, costing some 100.000+ people their lives.

ENTER GENERAL MOBUTU

In the middle of all that turmoil, soon the name of Army General Joseph-Désiré Mobutu surfaced as the man who claimed to have the key to stability in the war-ridden country.

In 1961, the situation was dramatic, with many foreign powers trying to protect their existing interests or get a larger piece of the cake from that potentially rich country.

In a situation somewhat similar to what we see now in Syria, the Russians moved in with arms supply and military advisors, invited by the leftist Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.

Their arrival complicated matters to such extent that the UN troops, US and Belgian troops intervened in an ever-escalating leftist uproar of the Simba’s.

Photo no. 2 United Nations peacekeeping forces of Iran, Philippines, and Sweden in Kamina Air Base, Congo, January 1963, a few months before Mobutu met JFK. This photo was taken from a Sikorsky UH-19 Chickasaw (S-55) Helicopter, the type that you can see standing on the rear end of the platform next to the DC-3. From January to May 1963, the Imperial Iranian Air Force sent 4 F-86Fs with 8 pilots and 33 ground crew to the Republic of Congo. Different times! Furthermore, you see 5 Swedish Air Force Saab 29 Flygande Tunnan’s (Flying barrels) and 5 Philippines Air Force Sabres. The photo was taken by Iranian Brigade- General Mohammed Khatami.

It must be said, the only one who survived over the years all revolts, killing parties and conspiracies, was that General with the mysterious smile. Allegedly, he could only survive since he was more perfidious than his opponents and probably the most active organizer/executioner in the hunt for his enemies, rebels, and communists.

After a coup d’état in 1961, he expelled all Soviet advisors and gained a certain status as ‘The Great Defender of Western Values on the Dark Continent.’

On the other side of the pond, JFK and his staff must have watched the General’s antics with some serious doubts about his democratic principles.

But the US geopolitical considerations were made at a time (1961) in which the Soviets were trying for the first time to expand their influence into Africa. It was clear that even the ‘Champ of Democracy’ President JF Kennedy, was willing to accept some minor wrinkles in General Mobutu’s reputation concerning human rights issues.

JFK MEETS MOBUTU

For the sake of good relations, a meeting was arranged between JFK and Mobutu in early 1963 in Washington (see photo n0.1). According to good customs and traditions, the General was offered a gift from the USA’s President to underline the two nations’ enduring relations.

It was clear that Mobutu was considered the most powerful western-oriented ruler in the Central African shark tank. While his ruling methods had a few flaws (to say the least), the Americans must have deliberated over the nature of the special gift.

Not over the top, so to let everybody know that there existed some reticence from the US Government over the General despite the good relations. The ‘genius’ outcome of all these political contemplations is depicted in photo no. 3.

9Q-CAM (2) (2) (1)

Photo no. 3

THE DC-3 GIFT FROM JFK TO MOBUTU

General Mobutu had expressed that he dearly wanted to have a Jet as his personal aircraft (his Air Force nr. 1)  for traveling the immense distances of the Congo in comfort and with some speed.
Surprise for him, as this vintage ‘jalopy’ DC-3 Aircraft arrived instead. Not that much-wanted brand new Jet. Instead, he got this 18-year-old DC-3, a rare post-war production plane, the last ever US-built C-47, converted to a VC-47 with a VIP interior and likely found somewhere in the USAF inventory in an old forgotten hangar of an Idaho Air Force Base.
MOBUTU MEETS KISSINGER
Evidently, Mobutuhad a different idea about this gift. Now read this excerpt from an interview with Mr. Henry Kissinger aboard Mobutu’s yacht in 1976
Mobutu: “Mr. Kissinger, I appreciate very much what you said earlier in front of your associates about the 1,000 Colonels sitting in the
Pentagon, analyzing other people’s problems so they can tell them how to solve them. (!)
In 1963, I came to Washington to see President Kennedy, and in our discussions, he said I ought to have a small jet aircraft so that I could more easily move about the country; in those days, I did not even have a Piper Cub. But there was one colonel there who explained that I did not need an executive jet. What I really needed was a DC-3. If I want to fly from here to Lubumbashi in a DC-3, it’s a five and one-half hour flight.”
Kissinger: “And what did you get?”
Mobutu: “The Colonel prevailed. I got a DC-3.”
Kissinger: “They always like to get rid of their old equipment.”
Hilarious final remark from Mr. Kissinger, but isn´t this amazing?
Mobutu clearly showed here again his frustration over a JFK gift of 13 years earlier! An outright disappointment, but the General had not much to complain. He had become head of the State in 1965 with yet another Coup d’ état, thanks to his Western allies and the US weapons support. In 1971, he renamed his country Zaire and became one of the richest rulers in human history, staying in power until 1997.
CORRUPTION
In the 32 years of his administration, he gathered an immense fortune, with his family in key functions, running the state as his private corporation with monopolies and widespread corruption that kept him in power for so many years. In the end, he entered the exclusive ‘Hall of Shame for Robbing the Nation’ with other Presidents/ex-Generals like Suharto (Indonesia), Ghadaffi (Lybia), Marcos (Philippines), Saddam Hussein (Iraq), and a few more to follow.
All of them had for shorter or longer periods full political (and weapons-) support from the Western Powers, for some good or not-so-good (geo-) political reasons.
Yet, with his filthy personal richness that grew over the years, the shame and offensive disgrace represented by that old DC-3 plane was never forgotten by Mobutu. The status he so much wanted to show the world that he, Mobutu, had JFK as his friend, that idea got an ironic twist with this gift.
The Kissinger story of that single Pentagon Colonel who had decided to swap the proposed private jet for a DC-3, that was probably told him as a consolation.
Still, in reality, the consideration to do so was most likely agreed by JFK and his staff. They had sent him the perfect gift with the correct hidden message, one that would be remembered for a lifetime:  your allies are not automatically also your personal friends.
FINAL END OF THE DC-3 GIFT?

34409 9Q-CAM 14 nov 2006 GOMA Guido Potters

photo no. 4

In Sept. 2015, the ex-Mobutu DC-3, with Registration number: 9Q-CAM, is still existing and traced in Goma, on the Lake Kivu border in Eastern Congo. The place was visited in 2009 by Brendan Odell, who was interested in buying the aircraft. But the region is reputed for frequent turmoil, very close to the Ruanda border, a lawless region where bands of armed rebels have been looting and raping for years.

Relations between the neighboring countries have remained awkward ever since. The situation seems to be rather quiet now, and travel to that part is open again, but that can change rapidly. The Military is omnipresent but is not always a guarantee for a safe stay.

Mobutu never flew much with the DC-3, and the aircraft was put up for sale somewhere in the early 1980s. It came in the hands of a commercial operator who flew for many years on the Congo’s domestic flight routes with that VIP interior.

That lasted until the late 1990s or so, and finally, the aircraft ended up parked on the ramp of Goma Airport, as you can see on photos no.3 and no. 4.

In 2105, the owner sent me a sort of SOS with this email below, in which he expresses his worries for the future of the aircraft.

“Hans,
The Dakota is currently parked on the southern edge parking area at Goma Airport.  The airport authority has required that the airframe be removed from the airport urgently.  In that regard, we have removed both wings. Since Brendan’s visit, the plane has had the interior and cockpit looted by the military, so his report does not correspond to the condition it is in now. Since we are obliged to remove the airframe, that most likely entails scrapping it (after so many years trying to preserve it). Very unfortunate.  If I get a chance, I will send photos”.
And in his final email;
” I have not had the opportunity to go to the airport to obtain recent photographs of the aircraft. Permission for photography was rejected.
The engines are still on the aircraft, and records are partial. From what I understand, the US government provided the aircraft to President Mobutu to secure his travels early in his days. It subsequently was turned over to the military and later sold to a civilian operator.
I do not have an area to store the airframe, so we will have to scrap it as it leaves the airport.”
THE LAST EVER-BUILT DC-3 SCRAPPED
Finally, the real bad news came to me in November 2019:
“The local Airport Authorities have ordered the aircraft should be scrapped now after so many years of filling parking space and warnings to end this situation.”
Sadly, in that region in the heart of Africa and far away from any seaport, the owner tried hard to sell the aircraft but failed in the end to find a buyer. Imagine an airplane with such a unique history, being the very last C-47 built and a personal gift from JFK to Mobutu!
According to my friend Michael Prophet, the claim of being the last ever built C-47 seems right:
Aircraft 9Q-CAM is  C-47B-50-DK 17142/34409. it was the last assembled C-47 on the US Production line 23 November 1945. (Note: Not the last built DC-3!)
Brendan Odell was considering the aircraft’s purchase, with the idea to come over with this crew of mechanics and fly her out to South Africa. He had done such operation before with DC-3s from other African countries.
He wrote to me about this JFK aircraft:
” I (Brendan Odell) have visited C-47B 9Q-CAM (s/n 17142/34409) in Goma DRC on 12 June 2009. I can confirm from its logbook information that before its sale to Virunga Air Charter in 1981 and re-registration to that company as 9Q-CAM, it held the identity of 9T-JDM between 1963 and 1980.
The “JDM” suffix was for Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, as it was his VIP aircraft, and still retains its original VIP interior, even now (2009). He later changed his name to Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngendu Wa Za Bang. (Mobutu Sésé Seko as he was more commonly known).”
photo no. 5
But on 15 Nov 2019, the inevitable happened with the JFK DC-3 presented to Mobutu in 1963. As you can see in photo no. 5, the shredding of the last C-47 ever built had started with the cockpit’s cutting, now separated from the fuselage.
Could this have been prevented? Well, very hard to say, but in my 25 years career as the Dakota Hunter, I have been in places where it was relatively easy to dismantle a non-operational C-47 airframe and put her on a couple of trailers for road transport to a harbor for shipping to its final destination. See my chapter about Florida for photos of such transport with 2 deep loader trailers and a container-trailer.
But when the location of such aircraft is in Asia or Africa, you must anticipate unforeseen issues. Those problems can come from the Local Authorities, Chiefs, and sometimes worse, from the Military or (the worst), from Para-Military/Warlords, aka uniformed or armed gangs (photo no. 6)
photo no. 6
Negotiating with such characters often starts with, “Sir, this is for your own security,” and sometimes ends in an intimidating game, in which the ‘Colonel’ wants an outrageous amount for his help. Refusal can turn the atmosphere into a grim spectacle, in which you should really weigh every single word you say. 
For the vintage aircraft parts/airframe-search business. I was in Madagascar, in Nigeria, in Thailand, and many American countries:
The USA, Canada, Honduras, Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia, and the Caribbean Islands.
In a limited number of countries, my sheer presence and interest, even only for a derelict airplane, made me instantly the ‘Million-Dollar Baby’ in the eyes of the local rulers, the ‘comandante,’ the chief, or a local gangster, all pretending that I needed their help for protection.
You don’t have to look for them; they know how to find you in a matter of minutes. At the moment you arrive at the airport or in your hotel, telephones start buzzing. From miles around, they come over and knock on your door.
If it is the Military or semi-Military, they will first ask you to hand out your passport. From there, they start ‘negotiating’ with you about the price of their services for your personal security and ‘future’ properties.
They’ll offer to help you with your mission to purchase that derelict aircraft.  That sounds cool, but their real agenda is often not so cool. Their attitude was sometimes intimidating or worse, even threatening. My local guides, the plane owners, and those who came with me sometimes peed their pants from fear in certain cases.
I saw it often like a chess game, trying to keep cool and sometimes paying some money too: One hundred US Dollars was the magical amount to open up what seemed an awkward issue to resolve. That may sound naive, but it helped me save the situation and get my passport back. With that in the pocket, I could always decide to get out or stay.
In the case of the JFK DC-3, the last-ever assembled C-47, the conclusion was clear for me. After all the weird things that happened to me in Africa and Asia, it was time to throttle back in my drive to get all challenges done.
The idea of riding that trail with 3 truck/flatbed combos with a dismantled DC-3 on top from Goma/Congo over the road to Dar-es-Salaam/Tanzania (a distance of 1,000 miles) for the shipping of that historic aircraft to the USA, that was, after all, not such a good idea.
So I quit the idea of finding a Museum and arrange for them the purchase and transport. The result? No one ever found the money to finance this bold venture, and in the end, the aircraft has been shredded, the last of the iconic 10.660+ DC-3s ever assembled, was forever lost.
Amen.
=========================================END===================================
Over the past years, so many Dakotas have gone down the drain. Many people, including myself, try hard to salvage them, but that needs budgets from Museums, Theme Parks, and Collectors. In 2018, a Theme Park in The Hague asked me to find a DC-3 airframe for a new attraction that will be opened in 2020, I went to Florida, and with the help of my friends Betty and Jesse, we took a very good looking DC-3 from a Punta Gorda swamp (see photo above). Jesse dismantled her, and the trucks took her over the road on 3 flatbed-trailers to a nearby seaport, from where she was shipped to Antwerp, and from there over the road to The Hague, The Netherlands. More news and photos to follow soon!
  
In April 2015, I was called in by Mr. Mark Bruce to salvage parts of the DC-3 airframes parked on San Juan International Airport in Puerto Rico.
The aircraft were stored there for years since the bankruptcy of Four Star Aviation. The Airport Authority finally wanted to rid the derelict airframes. See my Facebook report about this expedition, which describes the final salvage of the DC-3 Cockpits before the scrapper moved in. Click San Juan DC-3 Graveyard
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Best Christmas Gift Books you can buy:
If interested in the stories like the ones you read here, related to the salvaging of the last and lost Dakotas at the last frontiers, plus the adventure stories and over 250 photos, you should see my book “The Dakota Hunter.”
See the 5-star reviews and the “Look-inside 12 pages”  of my book at Amazon. This is absolutely the Best Christmas Gift you can buy for your (Grand-) Dad, your husband, or yourself.  Come to the Amazon Order page, scroll all the way down and read what the customers say,  “Best Book I ever read” see it here:
Another  Christmas Gift Book of the same allure, but focusing on the PBY Catalina:
My new book is a photo album about the PBY Catalina. With 400 photos, the best-illustrated book you can find about that legendary Flying boat, reflecting the full Wartime career and the Post-War Years as a Coast Guard/ Patrol ‘boat, Fire Fighter and Cargo/Pax Transport to the remote islands. Lakes and rivers of  Alaska, Canada, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Brazil, etc.
Come to my website http://www.catalinabook.com for reader’s reviews and content. You can order the book also at Amazon in your own country Aus, NZ, UK, Canada, etc. See for the US market https://www.amazon.com/80-years-tribute-PBY-Catalina/dp/908281000X
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Best regards and enjoy the reading of my books and blogs at http://www.dc3dakotahunter.com
Hans Wiesman

hans

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