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The American Airlines Flagship Detroit flew many celebrities during its heyday, including Eleanor Roosevelt and Babe Ruth.

Anyone looking for a chance to take a step back in time this summer need only look to the Tullahoma Municipal Airport on Saturday, June 1.

For the next few months, the Tullahoma Airport will be the home base for an authentic, fully-functional 1930s DC-3 airplane, according to airport officials.

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Capt. Blake Butler of Shelbyville invites the public to tour an original 1937 DC-3 airplane named the Flagship Detroit. The plane was fully restored to all its 1930s glory after the Flagship Detroit Foundation purchased it in 2004. The foundation is offering free public tours of the plane from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 1, at the Tullahoma Airport.

The plane, known as the Flagship Detroit, is a fully restored 1937 DC-3 commercial airplane that the public will have a chance to tour on June 1, according to Capt. Blake Butler.

Butler is a member of the Flagship Detroit Foundation, a nonprofit organization made of up aircraft enthusiasts whose sole mission is to preserve the legacy of its namesake plane.

According to Butler, the Detroit was originally created to serve as a commercial airplane for American Airlines in the ‘30s and is currently the oldest flying DC-3 in the country.

The foundation came across the plane in 2004, Butler said. At the time, it was being used as a pesticide sprayer, he said, but when the group realized its historical significance, it bought the plane and began extensive renovations.

It took two years to completely restore the plane back to its former glory, and it was first debuted at an air show in Fort Smith, Arkansas in April of 2006.

Since then, Butler said, the Detroit has made appearances at about 20 different events around the country each year.

Not only is the Detroit famous on its own, it also carried numerous VIPs, including former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

According to Butler, Roosevelt always sat in the same seat on the plane – the rear right-hand seat by the door, so she could be the last one to board and the first to deplane.

Butler also said baseball legend Babe Ruth has also flown on the Detroit.

Through her lifetime, the Detroit has served a number of purposes, including its sprayer functions.

“A bank in Mexico flew it for a while [and] it was a corporate airplane,” he told The News. Additionally, the plane was caught up in some “illegal activities” before it was turned into a pesticide sprayer, Butler added.


A step back in time

Stepping inside the cabin of the Detroit is like taking a step back in time, as the entire cabin has been restored to its 1937 roots.

All the seats – which have plenty of leg room, compared to today’s passenger cabins – are upholstered and decorated with original linens bearing the airline logo.

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The seats inside the cabin of the Flagship Detroit, the oldest flying DC-3 aircraft, look exactly as they did in 1937 when the plane was originally built. There are fewer than 40 seats inside the cabin, and each as plenty of leg room.

The galley, located in the rear of the passenger cabin, is a metallic callback to decades past, with chrome cabinetry outfitted for coffee makers and snack storage.

There’s even a small lavatory located near the passenger door.

The overhead storage bins are open to the cabin and look nothing like the ones found on today’s flights. According to Butler, back in the 1930s the shelves were really only meant for passengers’ hats or umbrellas – not luggage.

“These aren’t weight-bearing shelves,” Butler said. Instead, all passenger luggage was stored in a special closet located past the galley in the rear of the plane.

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The original plate identifying the plane model and serial number is still affixed inside the cockpit of the Detroit. The plate says the plane was created on March 2, 1937.


Some modern compromises

Only the cockpit has more modern technology, Butler said. While the steering wheel – and it is a literal wheel – is original, things like radar, radios and other monitoring equipment have been upgraded to suit Federal Aviation Association guidelines.

The FAA wouldn’t allow any aircraft to operate on 1930s technology, Butler explained, as there have been many safety features installed in modern equipment. Pilot and passenger safety is still paramount, he added.


Public tours

The public will have the chance to see the living historical monument for themselves from noon to 6 p.m. this coming weekend, Butler said.

Anyone looking to see the Detroit need only show up to the airport, located at 807 William Northern Blvd.

Public tours are free to anyone interested, Butler said. Interested parties may also join the Flagship Detroit Foundation if they’d like, he added.

“A one-year membership to our foundation may be purchased for $100,” Butler said in an email to The News.

There are perks to becoming a member of the foundation. Any foundation member will have the special opportunity to fly in the Detroit.

And they won’t have to wait long for that flight, Butler said.

“We will be taking all of our new members up for a historic flight around the area during this time,” he said of the tour time slot.

For more information on the Flagship Detroit Foundation, visit

Erin McCullough may be reached at