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WWII Era Plane Turned Airbnb Vacation Rental

August 23, 2023

Keith Uhlig, USA Today

Yahoo! News

It was a two-engine cargo and passenger plane that shuttled supplies across the Pacific Ocean for the United States Marines during World War II.

Now, this 1941 DC-3 is the Antigo, Wisconsin, area's newest Airbnb.

The 70-foot-long plane also was owned by an Oshkosh aviation company that restores old warbirds for use in the modern era.

It now rests on specially made steel frames about a story high, nestled among trees on lakeside property a handful of miles north of Antigo. Instead of shuttling ammo, mail, and other war supplies, it offers a place for small groups to stay at a rate of $349 per night.

Antigo may not be at the top of most people's minds as a getaway destination, said Joe Draeger, the plane's owner, "but we get our share of tourists up here. Most of the people are coming up from Milwaukee and Chicago."

He hopes the unique nature of the DC-3 will lure even more people — and so far it has. The plane has been open to overnight guests for more than a month now, and Draeger said it had been booked every weekend.

"I don't know if it's historians," Draeger said. "Or maybe young people who are into this kind of stuff. ... They like to take pictures in unique places."

How did the DC-3 end up in the Wisconsin countryside?

The DC-3 is the third Airbnb Draeger owns. He's converted a large barn/equipment shed into an Airbnb for larger groups. And another nearby getaway is a treehouse that he said is "really more of a cabin on stilts."

His daughter manages the properties, and he said the first two were popular. But they also got him itching to do more.

"After doing the treehouse, I was thinking to myself, 'I should do something a little more interesting than that,'" Draeger said. "I was thinking maybe a boat."

He started searching through the Airbnb website and came across a plane.

"But it wasn't real," he said. "They had a small cockpit and like half a wing. It was nice, but not really a full plane like this."

Draeger, who also runs the three-generation family business Draeger Propane and its related trucking company, knew of an Air Force boneyard in Arizona, the area where old surplus airplanes are junked.

"So I was thinking, 'I'm in trucking, I can go down to Arizona and pick one of them out of that boneyard," Draeger said.

What does an Oshkosh aviation company have to do with all this?

Draeger is not a pilot.

"I don't trust myself," he said, laughing.

But he is friends with one. After sharing his plans, his friend suggested he contact Basler Turbo Conversions of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, before turning to the Arizona plane boneyard. It was good advice.

Basler Turbo Conversions restores old C-47 aircraft, the World War II military version of the DC-3. The company takes the basic framework of the old planes but adds modern equipment and conveniences, such as upgrading the interior, wiring, and mechanics. Basler powers its planes, called BT-47s, with modern turboprop engines.

"The fuselage we sold to Joe was one that we could not use in our conversion process, as it was originally a 'Super DC-3' and not a C-47," said Joe Varkoly, president of Basler Turbo Conversions, in an email.

"It had been sitting in our boneyard for years, and all we would have been able to do with it is recycle the metal," Varokoly said. "Joe (Draeger) knocked on our door and asked us if we had anything we could sell him for his intended project. It was a chance meeting rather than a concerted sales effort."

Draeger said that connecting with Basler was a stroke of luck: Not only did he get the fuselage of the plane, but the company offered what it knew about the craft's history and equipment. The cockpit of Draeger's plane is not functional, but he was able to recreate the proper dials and mechanisms as they were when the DC-3 was flying across the Pacific.

What place does the DC-3 have in history?

Draeger said his plane originally was used for the civilian passenger airline Trans World Airlines, or TWA.

"When war broke out, the government took over pretty much all passenger planes," he said.

The DC-3 "is really an iconic plane," Draeger said. "They could take off on a short runway, land on a short one. ... They were really one of the first dependable aircraft."

The Oshkosh Northwestern called the DC-3 a "game changer" in a story done in July 2010 in conjunction with Experimental Aircraft Association's annual Airventure fly-in convention.

"If you put 100 top aviation historians in a room together and tell them they have to choose the greatest airplane of all time, there's a pretty good chance they'd come back and say the DC-3," Adam Smith, then EAA's vice president for membership, told the newspaper.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower once reportedly said the C-47, the military version of the DC-3, was a key vehicle, along with the Jeep, that helped the Allies win World War II.

To learn more about the WWII-era plane conversion into living quarters and see the inside up close, click here from the WSAW-TV Channel 7 story.

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