A MORNING WITH THE D-DAY SQUADRON

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On Friday, May 17th, I went chasing after the Normandy Dakotas of the "D-Day Squadron" that were forming up at Waterbury-Oxford Airport in central Connecticut for a special mission. Ten C-47 Dakotas and Douglas DC-3 restored airliners were gathering up at Oxford for a six-stop trip across the Pond departing on Sunday, May 19th, ultimately for a series of massed flyovers on June 6th over Normandy, France, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the start of the liberation of Europe in World War 2.

The D-Day Squadron, eventually to be made up of fifteen C-47 and DC-3's participating in the "Daks Over Normandy" flyover, departed later on Sunday and traveled together on what was known as the "Blue Spruce Route" over the Atlantic Ocean to get to France. This flight plan traverses the North Atlantic allowing for fuel stops and guidance from ground-based navigational aids on the land masses located along the route. Each site was selected because of its history as an active airfield during World War 2 that would have been a stopping point for these historic aircraft during the actual War in 1944 to ferry aircraft and supplies to England.

The Squadron was to have departed from Oxford Airport Connecticut (KOXC) on Sunday morning; then stop to refuel at Goose Bay Airport (CYYR) in Newfoundland, Canada; next refuel at Narsarsuaq Airport (BGBW) in southern Greenland; then refuel at Reykjavik Airport (BIRK); next refuel for a final time at Prestwick Airport (EPIK) on the western coast of Scotland. The fleet was scheduled to make the next leg of this epic trip with a jaunt to Duxford Airfield (EGSU) north of London, where they would have positioned themselves with the entire International Fleet of 12 more C-47's for the final leg to Caen-Carpiquet Airport (LFRK) in Normandy, France, as part of the "Daks Over Normandy" event scheduled to be on June 6th, 2019, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion. As of this writing, the final results of that mission are not known. An interesting exercise was tracking the progress of each of the 15 participating aircraft on "Flight Tracker" by means of their individual "N" numbers. Initial investigation showed some minor changes enroute.

 

The information package presented by the primary sponsor, The Tunison Foundation, a non-profit 501(3)(c) charitable organization, as well as almost 30 corporate sponsors, noted that "these warbird aircraft - actually flown in WW2 at home and abroad - are all meticulously maintained by their ground crews per aircraft by certified aircraft mechanics that follow strict FAA standards. Pilots in command must also have the "Specialty Type Rating" for that particular aircraft type to fly these vintage planes. They are safely operated and flown on a regular basis for pleasure, sport, entertainment, revenue, and remembrance at air shows and events around the world". The total cost of the voyage is estimated to be about $3 million including fuel costs of about $2 million according to Eric Zipkin, head of the Tunison Foundation

Each of the airplanes was to depart on Sunday with extras of everything that could break or need replacement, from tiny gaskets to large tires. Extra time was also built into the schedule too. While most of the planes flight controls are 1930's era technology, Zipkin noted that the latest navigation and communication equipment with its colorful displays are included with the older circular analog dials on the flight deck control consoles. Every aircraft was equipped with life rafters and survival suits.

Ten C-47's and DC-3's were based at Oxford Airport since Sunday, May 12th, for a week of mechanical preparation and a series of practice hops to test out formation flying and spacing coordination. These 10 from Oxford went up on Saturday for a flyover down the Hudson and a lap around the Statue of Liberty, to show themselves off to the New York City folks prior to the Sunday departure. Other Dakotas joined up on Sunday for what was to have been a 15-ship full Squadron flight across the Atlantic.

Of the ten Daks based at Oxford, two were at different locations on Friday. Eight were on the line at Oxford on Friday. I got to the Oxford Airport about 1030 on Friday morning and just missed the taxi roll out of eight Dakotas and a C-45 Twin Beech Expeditor for a formation practice hop. One C-47 in Invasion stripes and in olive drab had to abort on the taxi run and had to back taxi to the north ramp for some minor engine repairs. Seven finally launched with the C-45 Expeditor in trail which might have been a photo ship for this hop. On the return about 40 minutes later a terrific cross wind had developed in front of a squall line ahead of a weather front coming in from the northwest that made it very difficult for the Daks to land.

One literally got blown off the runway of the south end of his landing roll-out and into the grass and mud. We heard that the wing tip scrapped and Fire and Crash went out as as a caution. It took about 90 minutes to pull him out. The gear might have been damaged. The Daks are sturdy birds so no one was too worried. When the touch-downs were completed, four Dakotas and the C-45 stayed on the opposite side of the field at the Atlantic FBO for servicing and three came back to the east ramp to park near the Tradewinds Hanger where we were standing. The fourth Dak that broke beforehand never made it up that day and stayed at the north end of the east taxiway making it a total of four Daks on our side.

A small crowd of 30 stayed to walk around the four DC-3's now at the east ramp. It was still impressive to see the seven Dakotas come back after their practice hop and do a tactical low left break to line up for a downwind approach. Three were in a tight angle line abreast and four were tight behind in trail with the C-45 at the tail end. The heavy rains came about 1200 after all had safely parked. With the rain now getting harder, it was time for a nice lunch at the the new "121 Restaurant" at the south end of the runway. That Saturday New York City flyover with the full 10-ship Oxford-based "D-Day Squadron" must have been impressive to see. The Oxford flight of 10 left for their long journey to Normandy early on Sunday morning. The other five Daks were to join up enroute on Sunday to bring the American Squadron up to its full published compliment of 15 Dakotas for the long trip.

Fifteen C-47 / DC-3's were listed in the Program for the D-Day Squadron trip to Normandy for the Sunday departure. Eight were at Oxford on Friday morning, Two were at nearby airports practicing and the remaining five were still at their home bases on Friday ready to join up enroute on Sunday to complete the full 15-ship "American Contingent" for the D-Day Squadron. The four Daks that we got to see up close had the following Program Data:

1) C-53-DD Skytrooper 42-68830 (N45366), "D-Day Doll", olive drab camo, invasion stripes, "R" tail, "CU" nose, built by Douglas Santa Monica 7/43, assigned to the 454th Troop Carrier Group, 77th Troop Carrier Squadron, based at RAF Aldermaston, veteran of Operations: Overlord (Normandy); Market Garden (Holland); Repulse (Bastogne); Varsity (Crossing the Rhine). Now owned by CAF Inland Empire Wing out of Riverside, Calif. since 2001.

2) C-53-DD Skytrooper, 42-47371 (N8336C), "The Spirit of Benovia", Civil Air Transport, grey with white window band, Chinese lettering, Dragon, Lion on rear, Douglas Santa Monica, Army accepted 6/29/42, designed for paratroopers and to tow gliders, lighter strength floor, no double cargo door, flew out of Karachi India (Pakistan) in 1942, was RAF, transferred to 1st Troop Carrier Squadron, later had civilian ownership in India and China, owned by Gen. Claire Chennault and reportedly later owned by Chaing Kai-shek as a Civil Air Transport out of Taipei Formosa (Taiwan), in 50's received luxurious VIP interior, then to Kalamazoo Air Museum in the 80's, now owned by Joe Anderson and Mary Dewane, owners of the Benovia Winery in California!

3) C-47-60-DL, 43-30665 (N47E), "Miss Virginia / Maddie Shinaberry", gloss silver with a white top, "USAF" nose, national insignia, tail 0-30665, Douglas Long Beach 8/43, based in USA until 70's for: troop transport; special weapons center; R&D and USAF-ANG, to D-M Boneyard 12/74, in 1975 sold to Columbia to "Wycliffe Bible Transport" and later "Jungle Aviation and Radio Service" (JARRS), 1990 sold to Dynamic Aviation in Bridgewater Virginia as a mosquito sprayer, 2010 fully restored by DA back to USAF silver-grey colors as is now for the air show circuit.

4) C-47B-DL, 43-16340 (N877MG), early 50's Pan Am color scheme; "Pan American Airways System" fuselage, silver with blue double band under windows, built by Douglas Long Beach as one of 300 C-47's specifically for the China-Burma-India Theatre with long range tanks and super charged engines for high altitudes, delivered to China National Aviation in Calcutta in WW2 in 1943, Pan American Airways partnered with CNAC, pilots were then from the Flying Tigers Squadron, planes flew "The Hump" over the Himalayan Mountains, Claire Chennault later formed the Taiwan-based Civil Air Transport (CAT) in 1948 to keep the DC-3's out of Communist Mainland hands, China sued CAT in 1948 to return this and 71 other aircraft back to China, this plane was embargoed in British Hong Kong Kai Tak Airport for 3 years, this British court case ended favorably and this aircraft was returned to CAT in 1952, plane shipped to USA in 1954 to Grand Central Aircraft in Glendale Calif and there converted to a "Super DC-3" as a VIP aircraft and as a VIP for over 50 years, The Historic Flight Foundation acquired N877MG in 2006 and based her at Paine Field near Seattle and restored her to the current Pan American color scheme from 1949 and preserved the VIP luxury interior.

5) There was also a visiting 1944 North American AT-6D Texan in USAF trainer colors with a silver fuselage, red band and a red tail, 84992 (N757LF), from Hardy Virginia, parked right near the Daks.

Classic Warbirds Aviation Magazine wishes to thank Moreno "Mo" Aguiari, Director of Marketing and Media Relations, and Stephen Lashley, Director of Communications, of the D-Day Squadron, Tunison Foundation, for their excellent access and cooperation for the week of events at the Oxford Airport in Connecticut, in preparation for the May 19th departure for Normandy, France. Best wishes to the D-Day Squadron for the eventual full 27-ship Normandy Flyover on June 6th, 2019

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