DeLand is the skydiving capital of the world, and now it’s also home to the famous skydiving airplane called Mister Douglas. The DC-3 is currently grounded in DeLand’s backyard on the DeLand Municipal Airport.
The Douglas Aircraft Co. revolutionized air travel in the 1930s with the creation of the DC-3, the first airliner. The DC-3 made transcontinental and worldwide flights possible, so it’s one of the most important transport aircrafts ever built.
In addition to its importance to commercial aviation, the DC-3 became important to skydivers as well, with its capacity for carrying a large number of jumpers to skydiving heights. And now, skydivers are uniting to preserve one DC-3.
This plane earned the name Mister Douglas. Built in 1941, it was owned by United Airlines, Western Airlines and Hilton Business Ventures. After seeing a remodel done by Hilton, Donald Douglas Sr. bought it to use as his executive airplane.
“The airplane has a huge history as far as pioneers of industry. People just don’t know that when you walk through that threshold, you’re actually walking in the footprints of industry giants,” Mike Rouse, president of The Mr. Douglas Society, said.
In 1973, the plane was brought to DeLand during a period of growth for the parachute industry, and it began to be used for flying skydivers. Pilot Mark Borghorst bought the aircraft in 1980 and continued to take thrill-seekers to great heights, until Mister Douglas was disabled in 2000 by a blown engine.
Borghorst had viewed the plane as a serious business investment, not a toy.
According to him, the plane burns 100 gallons of fuel an hour at cruising speed, which adds to the total operating cost of about $1,500 an hour. An oil change for 60 gallons of oil can cost more than $3,000.
“I only used it for skydiving. This airplane, you don’t go play with it,” Borghorst said. “It’s not a play toy.” The skydiving community sure thinks it was fun, though. For them, the plane represents a part of their history.
“Most of the world records that were done in the United States, in Florida and the Midwest, this airplane participated in,” Rouse told The Beacon. “I would estimate that there’s probably over 200,000 people that have jumped out of that plane.”
Now some of those people are part of the effort to get Mister Douglas back in the sky, an effort that will involve raising about $480,000. But The Mr. Douglas Society is already nearly three-fourths of the way to that goal.
“Skydivers are kind of like everybody else. It’s cool to have all these different airplanes that they jumped out of, right? So, they kind of collect that as a part of history that they got to jump out of all these cool airplanes,” Rouse said.
Aside from operating as a jump plane, during the 37 years Borghorst owned Mister Douglas, it was featured in three films, including Drop Zone starring Wesley Snipes, and Mulholland Falls starring Nick Nolte.
Today, the plane is owned by the nonprofit Mr. Douglas Society, which bought it from Borghorst in 2017 for $1. The society aims to preserve the aircraft and inform the public about its importance.
“There’s very few left operating in the world that actually make money. And there’s about 500 in museums. There were over 13,000 built,” Borghorst said.
Until November 2022, a group of Mister Douglas supporters would meet for a week at a time to work on restoring the aircraft in Tullahoma, Tennessee, where it had been grounded for 22 years. Eventually, they got the engines replaced so they could make the trip home to DeLand.
Now that Mister Douglas is back on the DeLand Municipal Airport, three men work almost daily on it, with a steady stream of rotating volunteers helping, too.
“Our intention is to use it as a flying museum that you can actually jump out of,” Rouse said. “It’s just so important that we preserve our history for future generations to enjoy. If we don’t do it, nobody else will.”
Rouse believes Mister Douglas will be airborne by midsummer. The current plan is to have it enter the air-show circuit and carry jumpers again, so the next generation of skydivers may experience the DC-3.
“There’s a majesty about this plane that will have you hooked forever,” Rouse said.
Here’s how you can help
To donate to the cause of fully restoring Mister Douglas for skydiving duties, visit The Mr. Douglas Society online at www.mrdouglas.org, or mail a check made out to the society to 3209 S. Lakeview Circle, Unit 101, Hutchinson Island, FL 34949. The society is a 501(c)(3) organization, so your donation may be tax-deductible.