Oshkosh Spotlight: Basler Flight Service

Basler does more than just pump gas. The Basler BT-67 leads the world in turbine DC-3 and C-47 conversions


Regular attendees at AirVenture know they’ll be seeing the latest wares and offerings from the industry this week—with a healthy dollop of aviation history just to keep things in perspective.

Right across the field, however, Basler Flight Service combines both cutting-edge technology and aviation’s rich history in one big, highly successful package.

Since 1988, the company has been finding and refurbishing decades-old DC-3s and C-47s—bringing these stalwart airframes into the 21st century with turbine power and updated avionics.

The Basler Turbo 67 (BT-67) conversion expands the DC-3 fuselage for a 35 percent increase in space, adds all new fuel, hydraulic, electrical and avionics systems in a package that yields a 43 percent increase in payload. The conversion increases maximum takeoff weight from 26,900 pounds to 30,000 pounds and lowers approach and stall speeds. The BT-67 is, according to the company, designed to be a robust, reliable and versatile transport aircraft.

Basler’s conversion project had modest beginnings.

Warren Basler was born six miles south of OSH airport in 1926. He started flying early, soloing at 17 in a Piper Cub. Basler Flight Service was founded by Warren and his wife Pat, opening at Wittman Regional Airport (OSH) in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, in 1957, a dozen years before the EAA fly-in that would become AirVenture found its longtime home at the field.

Warren and Pat’s FBO offered a nice array of amenities—fuel (both full- and self-service), ramp and hangar space, flight planning and conference space, pilot’s lounge and free transportation to the EAA museum. Warren and Pat ran the FBO together for almost forty years. For his contributions to aviation, Warren was inducted into the Wisconsin Aviation Hall of Fame in 1993.

Sadly, Warren and three Basler employees were killed in a midair collision on a photo flight in 1997. He had logged more than 26,000 flight hours, more than 10,000 of which were in the DC-3. Pat stayed active in the business until her retirement in 2002. She passed away in 2007.

Basler Turbo Conversions

Where most people saw nothing but corroding hulks in the aging fleet of DC-3s and C-47s, Warren saw a business: “The DC-3 was a beautiful, stable and virtually indestructible airframe going to waste,” he is quoted as saying. “We realized that by turbinizing and modernizing the airplane it would go on for many years.” He received STC approval for the conversions in 1990 and production began the same year.

Once Basler acquires an airframe, it is inspected, re-engineered and strengthened to achieve “zero accumulated fatigue damage.” The old 1,200-HP Pratt & Whitney R-1830 engines are switched out for 1,424-HP P&W Canada PT6A-67Rs and five-bladed Hartzell propellers are added. The result is an aircraft with a maximum cruise speed of 215 knots, a 24 percent improvement on the piston DC-3.

On the avionics side, the typical package includes a Garmin GTN 750 navcomms, GWX 70 weather radar, BendixKing KN-63 DME and KCS55A compass system, Sandel SN3500 navigation display and NAT/AMS 43 audio panel. The avionics can also be customized to customer specifications.

Basler offers plenty of other options for the BT-67 as well. In addition to comfort choices like a lavatory and air conditioning, the company can outfit an aircraft for military missions including cockpit armor, 40-place troop seating and covert ops lighting. On the science mission side, they offer zone specific climate control, multiple high capacity operator stations, and nose and tail booms. For general use, long-range fuel tanks, a cargo winch and autopilot are all on the list of possibilities. The BT-67 can also be outfitted with retractable skis and heat blankets for polar operation and certified for flight into known icing. Given the wide array of possibilities, it’s no surprise that BT-67s have been sold all over the world.

When the remanufacture is complete, Basler says that every component, assembly and system on the aircraft is either new or like-new. The work takes about six months and 35,000 to 45,000 man-hours to complete. The company has produced more than 50 BT-67s in its nearly three decades of operation.

Notable Events

AirVenture service and turbo conversions aren’t Basler’s only claims to fame. The FBO saw use as a film set in 2008, when scenes from Public Enemies (2009), starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, were shot there. For the film, the Basler hangar was transformed over a five-day period into a 1930s version of itself.

Basler Flight Service also got significant attention for a three-year legal battle over fuel pricing, which was resolved in 2006. A second FBO, Orion Flight Services, opened on the field in 2002. In 2003, Orion sued Basler, alleging that the company had violated Wisconsin’s minimum markup law on vehicle fuel, which requires that motor vehicle fuel prices must include a profit of up to 9.18 percent. The case went to the Wisconsin Supreme Court and was decided in Basler’s favor. Basler acquired Orion in 2014.

These days, things change a bit when EAA’s annual AirVenture comes to town. Every available parking space at Basler is filled, with the company taking parking reservations as early as January. Self-service fueling is closed. And traffic at the FBO goes from an average of 200 aircraft per month to roughly 4,000 in a single week. Event service makes up about 30 percent of the FBO’s annual business. Basler says they typically hire as many as 50 additional employees just for AirVenture.

So when that Basler fuel truck pulls up to top your tanks prior to departure, it’s nice to know the company is part of AirVenture history that reaches back to a time when the DC-3 was the pinnacle of aviation technology.

The folks at Basler continue to prove it still is.