What has become of C-46A N9900Z ?

--Click on the photo for a larger image--

Curtiss C-46A Commando with tailnumber N9900Z (construction number 26593) has been photographed here in 1976 (the slide frame says "May 76") at an unknown location. What has become of this aircraft ?
(Photo: Ruud Leeuw collection).

There are a few illustrations at Airliners.net:
N9900Z by Mick Bajcar, 14Jul79 (Miami), with CAT tail
N9900Z by Bob Garrard, Dec.1980 (Miami), with CAT tail and titles.
It had also been seen at Memphis in the summer of 1980, reported in good condition and still in Challenge Air Transport paintscheme.
Here is the full selection on Airliners.net, including one in Intermountain colours, by Bob Garrard, at Willow Run in 1973.
N9900Z on JetPhotos, by Carl Ford, Memphis, July 1980

Jeff Whitesell wrote me the following about N9900Z:
Dad and I bought 9900Z from Del Smith/Evergreen Air Lines. We brought her home from Marana,AZ to Ormond Beach,FL. She was the lowest time C-46 on earth, highly modified with top rate avionics, radar, apu, and a stunning red white and blue paint scheme.
I named the company Challenge Air Transport, came up with the name, did the incorporation myself. I wrote a complete FAR 121 certificate from start to finish with the Jacksonville FSDO. I wrote all the manuals, created the training program, conducted a full Basic Indoc ground school, then hired Pierre DeRemer from Flight Safety to teach the C-46 ground school in the hangar at Ormond Beach. Flight Training was all done at Ormond Beach, with proving runs to and from Miami. The day after we got the 121 certificate, we packed up and moved the operation to Miami. We rented an office in "';Corrosion Corner" and set up shop doing ad hoc charters.
The company was just a year old when Charles Lawson (of Bellomy and Lawson) visited the office one day and inquired "is this company for sale?" I was young, and proud of my creation and said no. My dad, sitting at the other desk says "hold on there a minute, son" and a deal was struck several days later. Dad and I stayed on flying and teaching and managing.
Bellomy and Lawson operated a big fleet of DC-6's, all under lease contracts for various FAR 129 foreign air carriers: AESA, Surinam, Guyana, CLTM. It was lucrative, but Bellomy and Lawson held no certificate of their own. The idea was to meld all this together in a network, and tie it together with US operations as well, under the Challenge Air Transport certificate. They were well on their way to doing this when I got lucky, and signed on with Western Air Lines in december of 1978. My dismissal from Herrol Bellomy was memorable.....
For reasons I cannot explain, they painted N9900Z all over black, with a white top, and an orange stripe. It was hideous, and known by those who flew her as "the great pumpkin"!
Thanks Jeff!

André van Loon was so kind to send me an image from his collection:
N9900Z as the Great Pumpkin

Here are a few other images:
N9900Z by Richard Werno, Miami May 1979, no titles but CAT insignia on tail
N9900Z with Intermountain Airways; the following text accompanied this photo:
"C-46F Super C of Intermountain Airways at Marana Airpark, Arizona on January 16, 1971.
Intermountain Airways was formed by the Central Intelligence Agency to perform covert operations in 1963.
The registration of this Commando is N9900Z. Its Curtiss construction number is 26593. It was upgraded to "T" category C-46 with single stage superchargers and hydraulic boosted ailerons, so that it could carry passengers as well as cargo. It was formerly registered N4086A. It was acquired by Evergreen Airlines when they purchased Intermountain Airways in October 1975. Evergreen operated it until February 1978. Challenge International Airlines acquired it in June 1978 but ceased operations in the late 1980s. N9900Z may have recently changed hands again."
(Source: Curtis C-46 Survivors)
Gordon Reid wrote me that he remembered seeing N9900Z in Intermountain colours on 11Nov69, also at Marana,AZ.

There doesn't seem to be any sightings after 1980, but plenty of rumors...
Bellomy (et al) were rumored to be somehow linked to the Nicaragua Contra War, which featured star guests Eugene Hassenfuss and later, Oliver North.
In connection with those (unproven) rumors I was told that N9900Z may have disappeared in Nicaragua....
Since this Curtiss Commando had already been used by the CIA (as when used by Intermountain Airways), it is not farfetched to assume it may have returned to covert operations and found the end of its use there.

A good article to read about Intermountain would be an article from "The Oregonian"; while it is dated 1988, it offers all the details of Intermountain, Marana airport and CIA connections.

D.G. Powers wrote me in aug.2011:
"I enjoyed your page on N9900Z. Brought back a lot of fond memories as I served as First Officer on 9900Z, starting in July of 1979 and for two years thereafter."
Dan

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