The D-Day Squadron – Missions Accomplished, More to Follow

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Written By Mike Colaner, Photos by Robert Gerard and Mike Colaner

On June 6th, a group of aircraft collectively known as the D-Day Squadron will make history when they will mark the 75th Anniversary of ‘Operation Overlord’, the D-Day invasion of Europe. A group of volunteers will make a legendary journey across the Atlantic Ocean with an ad-hoc squadron made up of Douglas DC-3, C-41, C-47 and C-53 aircraft. Each of these vintage aircraft has been meticulously restored to flying condition and will join similar aircraft from Europe and Australia for the Daks Over Normandy event on June 6th. This flyover of more than 30 aircraft will drop 250 paratroopers over the shores of Normandy France. The event will honor the citizen soldiers of the war, whose bravery led the Allies to the liberation of France, and then to an end of the devastating war in Europe.

Many of these aircraft will also participate in the commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the Berlin Airlift the following week in Germany. To commemorate the anniversary the Jelly Belly Candy Company has made 9,000 candy packets attached to handkerchief parachutes to be dropped over Berlin. Colonel Gail Halvorsen known as the “Candy Bomber” and “Uncle Wiggly Wings” will be on hand to celebrate. Then it is back to the United States with the aircraft meeting up again at the EAA Airventure in Oshkosh Wisconsin in July. The American contingent is made up of fifteen aircraft, nine of which had made it to Waterbury - Oxford Airport (KOXC) in Connecticut by May 16th.

To get to Europe the aircraft will be flying the northern route known as the ‘Blue Spruce Route’. This route traverses the North Atlantic allowing for fuel stops and guidance from ground based navigational aids. Each of the sites were selected because of their history as an active airfield during World War II. These airfields were actual stopping points for these historic aircraft being ferried to and from Europe. The D-Day Squadron will depart Waterbury-Oxford Connecticut (KOXC) airport for a short stop at Presque Isle, Maine (KPQI) International Airport. The squadron will then head onto Goose Bay, Newfoundland (CYYR), Narsarsuaq, Greenland (BGBW), Reykjavik, Iceland (BIRK), Prestwick, Scotland (EPIK) before arriving at Duxford, England (EGSU) Airfield.

Two special guests of the D-Day Squadron appeared at media day at the Waterbury-Oxfors Airport. Retired Captain Peter Goutiere of the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC), now 105 years young was the first special guest. He is one of the two surviving CNAC pilots from WW II. Peter Goutiere was already a pilot when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He attempted to enlist in the Army Air Corps, however he was too old with the cut off age being 26 and half years old. Captain Goutiere is a veteran of 680 missions over ‘The Hump’ during WWII in the C-47. The term ”The Hump” was the nickname Allied pilots gave the airlift operation that crossed the Himalayan foothills into China. It was the Army Air Force’s most dangerous airlift route and the only way to supply Chinese forces fighting Japan. More aircraft were lost to extreme weather than to the Japanese on this route. Terrain was also a major issue as mountains could be as much as 10,000 feet taller than the altitudes the aircraft could reach. Captain Goutiere recalled in a 2014 interview with CNN “There were three enemies, mountains, Japanese and the weather. Weather is what did the most damage.”

Captain Goutiere flew some 100 missions of his 680 over ‘The Hump' in one of the very C-47’s on the flight line today, ’Pan American Airways System’ N877MG, a C-47B-1-DL Skytrain (43-16340). ‘Pan Am’ is believed to be the only surviving and flying CNAC C-47 in existence. To celebrate his 100th birthday, Captain Goutiere was able to fly the ‘Pan Am’ C-47B on a flight from San Francisco to Seattle in 2014.

Lieutenant Colonel David Hamilton was the second special guest of the day. He is 96 years young and was also a C-47 pilot during WWII, dropping ‘Pathfinders’ on D-Day. The pathfinders were among the first into the D-Day battle. He recalled that as a 21 year old on D-Day, he was the fourteenth of twenty pathfinder aircraft sent ahead of the D-Day invasion forces. Pathfinders were specialized volunteers who jumped behind enemy lines to establish drop zones (DZ) for the paratroopers and landing zones (LZ) for the gliders.

Lt. Colonel Hamilton was asked what it was like crossing the channel and heading over the beaches. He responded, we didn’t experience fear, we were too anxious and we were so busy, we didn’t have time to experience fear. We were too worried that we were doing everything by the book. We had our lives and the paratroopers lives in our hands. It was a somewhat of a relief to get them out of the plane. One of the requirements of a pathfinder was to jump in practice with our combat ‘stick'. So we knew all of those guys names, their family and children names, everything. So it meant quite a bit to as far as the companionship and comradeship we had. My first mission was Normandy, so was I anxious? Yes, scared no.

Lt. Colonel Hamilton also flew missions in Operation Dragoon (Southern France), Operation Repulse (Bastogne), Operation Market Garden (Netherlands) and ferried supplies to General George H. Patton’s troops. Lt. Colonel Hamilton went onto serve in Korea, flying 51 missions in the RB-26.

The aircraft assembled for the D-Day Squadron all have unique stories and served in many different campaigns, theaters, Air Forces and Airlines. The American contingent known as “The Mighty Fifteen’ by the D-Day Squadron are made up of one DC-3, one C-41, two C-53 and eleven C-47 aircraft. All but one, ‘Betsy’s Bisquit Bomber’ served in civilian service.

The iconic World War II C-47 aircraft that dropped thousands of paratroopers into the darkness behind the shores of Normandy France on D-Day began as the Douglas Commercial (DC-1) airliner. Although only one prototype was built, it eventually was refined into the DC-3 airliner. The DC-3 was the first aircraft to make transcontinental and worldwide commercial air travel possible. The Douglas Aircraft Company built the first DC for Transcontinental Western Airlines in 1933. It first flew in airline operations on December 17, 1935 and was eventually flown by thirteen airlines within the United States.

In 1941 the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) ordered a modified version of the DC-3 as its standard transport aircraft. The aircraft could carry 6,000 pounds of cargo or 28 fully outfitted soldiers. If used for medical transport, it could hold up to 14 patient stretchers and three nurses. Although many different variations were made and used during World War II, the C-47 is most recognized because of its important role in the invasion of Normandy.

With the start of World War II, production was halted on the DC-3 with a total of 607 aircraft being produced. The production line was then converted to the C-47 aircraft for the war effort.

The Douglas Aircraft were manufactured in factories in Santa Monica, CA, Long Beach, CA and Oklahoma City, OK with over 10,000 aircraft being built for US operations. Just over 5,000 were built under license by the Soviet Union as the Lisunov Li-2 and Japan as the Showa and Nakajima L2D.

This C-47 had seven basic versions that were built with at least 22 designations for the USAAF. The United States Navy version was known as the R4D, the Canadian a C-120, and to the British and Australians it was a Dakota. To many GI’s it was simply known as the Gooney Bird. The C-47 differed from the civilian DC-3 in numerous ways, including being fitted with a cargo door, improved twin wasp engines, hoist attachment, strengthened floor, shortened tail cone for glider-towing shackles and an astrodome in the cabin roof.

The Media Flight

The D-Day Squadron arranged for the media and VIP’s to take part in a formation flight over the hills and shoreline of Central Connecticut. Lt. Colonel Hamilton and Captain Goutiere also took part in this flight aboard ‘Pan Am’ and 'That’s All Brother’. We all reported to our plane captains who gave us our safety briefing. The one thing our plane captain stressed was that formation flying creates a lot of turbulence. He also warned us that motion sickness will be magnified by looking through a view finder of a camera from a moving aircraft at a moving aircraft, and he was right. While we all held it together, I can best describe this ride as a spectacular experience. To have two D-Day veteran aircraft on our wing was just incredible. To have ‘That’s All Brother’ flying lead in our formation and ‘Placid Lassie’ on our wingman was awe inspiring. While the turbulence was rough, I welcomed it to feel just a little bit of what the paratroopers went through on their rway into Normandy that fateful night seventy-five years ago. Both ‘Placid Lassie’ and our aircraft, ‘Betsy’s Bisquit Bomber’ would rise and fall behind the ‘That’s All Brother' as we headed to the coastline. We were free to move about the cabin but nobody let go of the parachute cable strung along the ceiling. There is no doubt in my mind why those who flew on and in this aircraft are known as the ‘Greatest Generation’.

The Aircraft

‘Spirit of Benovia’ N8336C, a C-53 DO Skytrooper (42-47371) is currently owned and lovingly cared for by Joe Anderson and Mary Dewane, the owners of the Benovia Winery located in the Russian River Valley area of California. The ‘Spirit of Benovia’ was manufactured at the Douglas Aircraft’s plant in Santa Monica California and accepted by the U.S. Army Air Forces on June 29th, 1942. The C-53 Skytrooper was primarily designed to drop paratroopers and tow gliders. It differs from the C-47 Skytrain in that it had a lighter strength floor, no hoist or double cargo doors. The ‘ spirit of Benovia’ flew out to Karachi, India (now Pakistan) in August, 1942, initially for service with the Royal Air Force as serial FJ712. She later was transferred to the 1st Troop Carrier Squadron, 10th Air Force, USAAF in late December, 1942, serving the rest of the war in the China-Burma-India (CBI) Theatre. She went into civilian ownership in India, then China right after WWII, being owned for a while by General Claire Chennault, reportedly flying Chiang Kai-shek in the Civil Air Transport company out of Taipei, Formosa (now Taiwan). During the mid-50s, the aircraft received a luxurious VIP interior and an AiResearch Maximizer speed kit. She has passed through several other owners over the years, including the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum during the 1980s. For more information please visit www.benoviawinery.com .

‘Flabob Express’ N103NA, a C-47A-30-DL Skytrain (42-23669/FD879) is owned by Flabob Aviation Associates, a non-profit organization of experienced pilots and mechanics dedicated to keeping her flying in Riverside California. “Flabob Express’ rolled off of the Douglas Aircraft’s production line in Long Beach, California during spring 1943, being delivered to the U.S. military on May 12th. She was transferred a week later to Britain’s Royal Air Force as a Douglas Dakota, where she served as FD879 with No.24 Squadron, initially based at RAF Hendon. The aircraft was transferred to British forces in India on July 1st, 1943. She became the personal transport, nicknamed ‘Orion’ , for General Claude Auchinleck, then serving as Commander in Chief of the Indian Army. Following the war and Indian independence, and later partition in 1947, FD879 became part of the newly-formed Pakistan Air Force. In the early 1950s, FD879 was sold onto the civilian market as one of several similar airframes acquired by Lee Mansdorf. Shipped to the USA in April 1952, the aircraft received the U.S. civil registration N2701A and a conversion into an executive transport soon after arrival. In 1955, the aircraft was exported to Canada where she passed through several owners before again returning to the USA in 1993 to become the Flabob Express. It has served in a variety roles, and lately taken part in the educational programs for young people run by the Tom Wathen Center, owners of Flabob Airport. For more information please visit www.flabobairport.org .

‘Pan American Airways System’ N877MG, a C-47B-1-DL Skytrain (43-16340) is owned by The Historic Flight Foundation of Mukilteo, Washington. Pan American Airways System rolled off of the Douglas Aircraft Company’s Long Beach, California plant as one of 300 C-47s built specifically for the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater of operations. Unique features include long-range fuel tanks and supercharged engines for performance at altitude. Delivered to China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) in Calcutta, it supplied U.S. armed forces and Nationalist Chinese from 1944 to 1945. Pan American Airways partnered with the Nationalist Chinese government to operate CNAC. Many CNAC pilots had flown with the Flying Tigers, by then disbanded. These pilots sought cloudy weather or flew at night to avoid Japanese fighter planes. From April 1942, when the Burma Road was lost, until the end of the war in August 1945. CNAC crews made more than 38,000 trips over the Himalayan mountains, or ’the Hump’ as it was referred to colloquially. They transported approximately 114,500 tons of people and supplies. Post-war, CNAC continued its operations as the leading airline in mainland China. In 1949, Civil Air Transport (CAT) acquired CNAC. Claire Chennault, of Flying Tigers fame, had formed CAT with the support of the U.S. State Department to keep CNAC aircraft out of Communist hands. Even so, the Communist and Nationalist Chinese disputed ownership of 71 former CNAC aircraft through British courts in Hong Kong.

During this aircraft’s three-year stay at Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport, waiting for the dispute to be resolved, she suffered damage when a booby-trap, apparently the work of a Nationalist agent, exploded and created a hole in the starboard wing. The court case ended favorably for CAT, and as a result, N877MG was soon on a ship bound for the USA. Grand Central Aircraft Company in Glendale, California converted the aircraft into a ‘Super DC-3’. Its new life as a VIP aircraft spanned five decades and included many owners, such as the International Shoe Machine Company and Johnson & Johnson. The Historic Flight Foundation acquired N877MG in 2006 and based her at Paine Field, their home in Mukilteo, Washington State. Shortly thereafter, they began to restore the historic transport with the intention of recreating a Pan American Airways DC-3 airliner from 1949, while preserving the interior luxury enjoyed by corporate executives of the period. For more information please visit www.historicflight.org.

‘Miss Virginia’ N47E, a C-47A-60-DL Skytrain (43-30665) is owned by Dynamic Aviation of Bridgewater Virginia. This aircraft rolled of Douglas Aircraft’s production line in Long Beach, California during the late summer of 1943, being delivered to the U.S. military on September 23rd. She remained based in the USA for her entire military service career, which lasted until her retirement in the early 1970s. She performed a variety of missions during those decades, including time with troop transport, special weapons center, research and development units and even the National Guard. The military retired the aircraft to the boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB near Tucson, Arizona in December, 1974, but she didn’t stay there long before sale onto the civilian market as N48065. The Wycliffe Bible Transport and Jungle Aviation and Radio Service ( JAARS) operated her for many years in the jungles of Colombia. In 1990, Dynamic Aviation of Bridgewater, Virginia purchased the aircraft and modified her for mosquito and gypsy moth spraying. They eventually retired her again in 1999. However, in 2010 they chose to restore the aircraft back into her military guise and named her ‘Miss Virginia'. Dynamic Aviation continue to fly ‘Miss Virginia' on the air show circuit. For more information please visit www.dynamicaviation.com .

‘Placid Lassie’ N74589, a C-47A-40-DL Skytrain (42-24064) is owned by the Tunison Foundation , a nonprofit organization. Placid Lassie was built at Douglas Aircraft’s plant in Long Beach, California and delivered to the U.S. Army Air Forces in early 1943. They assigned her to the 74th Squadron, 434th Troop Carrier Group of IX Troop Carrier Command in England in preparation for D-Day. On that fateful day, June 6, 1944, Placid Lassie, along with 832 other C-47s towed WACO CG-4A and AirCo Hadrian cargo gliders and dropped more than 24,000 paratroopers over Normandy. Thereafter, Placid Lassie participated in additional WWII combat engagements including Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands (September 17- 25 1944), Operation Repulse , the relief of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge (December 23-25, 1944), Operation Varsity (March 23, 1945). Like many of her brethren following WWII, the aircraft went through a number of civilian owners, plying her trade as a cargo plane. ‘Placid Lassie' is still equipped to drop paratroopers and she carries her original wartime name. Lassie and her crew appear at aviation events across the United States each year, including EAA AirVenture Oshkosh Charitable gifts to the foundation keep this aircraft flying as a living-history tribute to the greatest generation. For more information please visit www.tunisonfoundation.org .

‘Betsy’s Bisquit Bomber’ N47SJ, a C-47B-5-DK Skytrain (43-48608) is owned by the Gooney Bird Group in Templeton, California. This C-47 rolled off Douglas Aircraft’s production line in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma during the summer of 1944. The U.S. Army Air Force accepted her on September 4th, 1944. She served with the 9th Air Force in Europe, but was obviously too late to see service during D-Day. She remained in U.S. military until after the war. Her nickname, ‘Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber', derives from her time taking part in the Berlin Air Lift during 1948. She also served with the Belgian, French and Israeli Air Forces, retiring from the latter in the early 90s. The aircraft was brought back to the USA in 1999, where she has since received a restoration back to airworthy condition as probably the lowest total airframe time C-47 known to exist (under 10,000 hours). Never having received a civilian conversion, she is one of the most authentic original C-47s currently flying. For more information visit www.betsysbisquitbomber.com .

‘D-Day Doll’ N45366, a C-53-DO Skytrooper (42-68830) is owned by the Commemorative Air Force(CAF) Inland Empire Wing from their home in Riverside, California. ‘D-Day Doll’ was built at Douglas Aircraft’s plant in Santa Monica, California in July 1943 and delivered to the U.S. Army Air Corps soon afterwards. She was assigned to the 434th Troop Carrier Group, 72nd Troop Carrier Squadron at RAF Aldermaston, Englan. She is a veteran of Operations Overlord (D-Day, Normandy France), Market Garden (Holland), Repulse (Bastogne, Belgium) and Varsity (the crossing of the Rhine, Germany). The aircraft had many civilian owners as an airliner and cargo transport following WWII. She has been owned by the Commemorative Air Force since 2001, and flies regularly at air shows in the western US with the CAF’s Inland Empire Wing from their home in Riverside, California. For more information please visit www.inlandempirecaf.com .

‘Virginia Ann’ N62CC, a C-47A-60-DL Skytrain (43-30647) is owned by Mission Boston D-Day LLC, of Newport Beach, California. ‘ Virginia Ann' was built at Douglas Aircraft’s factory in Long Beach, California, and was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Force on September 21st, 1943. She was initially assigned to the 12th Air Force in January, 1944, but transferred to 59th Squadron of the 61st Troop Carrier Group in the 9th Air Force shortly thereafter. On D-Day, based at RAF Barkston Heath in England, Colonel Willis Mitchell chose ‘Virginia Ann’ to lead the 61st TCG with her four squadrons, the 14th, 15th, 53rd and 59th, 72 C-47s, on Serial 24. They were carrying elements of the 2nd Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne. Colonel Mitchell received the Purple Heart for injuries he sustained that early morning. ‘ Virginia Ann' was involved in resupply and injured evacuation operations in the days following the June 6th invasion. The aircraft went on to participate in Operations Market Garden and Varsity. Following WWII, 'Virginia Ann' went on to a life in the civilian sector as a transport. Mission Boston D-Day LLC have owned the historic aircraft since 2016, and she is presently painted in the same livery she wore back in June, 1944.

‘That’s All Brother’ N47TB, a C-47A-15-DK Skytrain (42-92847) is owned by the Central Texas Wing of the Commemorative Air Force in San Marcos, Texas. This aircraft rolled of Douglas Aircraft’s production line in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma during the tail end of February, 1944, being delivered to the U.S. military on March 6th. She arrived in the UK, initially for service with the 8th Air Force, on April 26th, 1944, before transfer to the 9th Air Force the following day for service with the 87th Troop Carrier Squadron of the 438th Troop Carrier Group, based at RAF Greenham Common. Her crew nicknamed her ‘That’s All, Brother'. In the late hours of June 5th, 1944 'That’s All, Brother' took off as the lead ship in Serial #7, the initial element for the main U.S. paratroop force to go into battle in Normandy. The C-47, flown by Lt.Col. John Donalson and was carrying members of the 2nd Battalion, 502nd PIR, 101st Airborne Division towards Drop Zone A near Ste-Mère-Église, releasing them at around 00:48 hrs on June 6th.

'That’s All, Brother' went on to serve, and survive, several further significant WWII combat missions including Operation Dragoon (the invasion of Southern France in July, 1944), Operation Market-Garden (Holland, September, 1944), the Siege of Bastogne (‘Battle of the Bulge’, Belgium in December, 1944) and Operation Varsity (the crossing of the Rhine into Germany during March, 1945). Following WWII, she was declared surplus to requirements and placed up for disposal at Walnut Ridge, Arkansas in October, 1945.

She went through a number of civilian owners in the following half century before ending up with the Randsburg Corporation in Wisconsin, who dressed the historic transport up as a Vietnam War era AC-47 Spooky gunship of all things, not realizing the history that lay hidden beneath her paint. After decades of use and abuse, the aircraft was very tired and in need of an expensive overhaul. Given the lack of knowledge about her history, it was really beyond economic sense to carry out the repairs, so she soon found her way into Basler Turbo Conversion’s bone yard, destined for conversion into a turbine-powered transport. Happily her true identity was discovered about ten years ago. After this, the Commemorative Air Force made a successful campaign to both acquire and restore the aircraft back into her pristine wartime condition. She is now based in San Marcos, Texas with the Central Texas Wing of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information please visit www.thatsallbrother.org .

Legend Airways ‘Liberty’ N24641, a C-47-DL Skytrain (42-32833) is owned by JB Air Services LLC of Brighton Colorado. This aircraft was built at Douglas Aircraft’s factory in Long Beach, California, rolling off the assembly line on February 11th, 1943. Initially, she was stationed in Oran, Algeria during the North Africa Campaign, arriving on August 17th, 1943. By June 6th, 1944 ‘Liberty’ was based at RAF Barkston Heath, England, with the 61st Troop Carrier Group. As Chalk #21, with Capt. Lyon in command, she flew on Serial 24 of Operation Overlord and dropped elements of the 82nd Airborne’s 2nd BTN, 507th PIR over the drop zone in Normandy, France. Work orders for the “repair of bullet holes” are still amongst her records. She was then transferred to the 8th Air Force for the remainder of the war and arrived back in the United States on August 17th, 1945, two years to the day from the time she first touched down in the Algerian desert.

At the conclusion of the war, ‘Liberty' was decommissioned, sold into private hands and upgraded from military freighter to a corporate executive aircraft. She led a very pampered life, flying out of Shreveport, Louisiana for nearly 25 years. After another 25 years and five owners later, Erik L. Fleming, President of the Fleming Corporation, purchased the historic aircraft.

In early 1993, after amassing 18,500 hours flight time, 42-32833 began a total restoration at Basler Turbo Conversions in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Completed in 1995, at a cost of nearly $2 million, she had undergone a major make over – right down to her original polished aluminum – in that classic ‘40s / ’50s style. The interior was gutted in the process, with the traditional spartan seating replaced by 14 large and very comfortable club-style chairs richly upholstered with fabric imported from Italy. The carpet was custom made in Spain. The cotton headliner was woven in France. And of course, the aircraft’s avionics and cockpit were upgraded to the state-of-the-art, as were the heating and air conditioning systems. The latest technology in soundproofing and insulation make her the quietest, most comfortable ‘DC-3’ ever to ride in. Rich, hand-made hardwood accents give her interior a very appealing, club-like ambience.Her life is now very relaxed, flying being limited to aircrew training, pleasure excursions, and the occasional air show. For more information please visit www.legendairwaysfoundation.com .

‘Hap-Penstance’ N341A, a C-41A (40-0070) is the one and only Douglas DC-3 variant designated as a C-41A. The U.S. Army Air Forces ordered her in 1938 and delivered her to Bolling AFB on September 14th, 1939 at a cost of $105,611.29. This was one of two aircraft requisitioned by Major General Henry ‘Hap’ Arnold as VIP transports for himself and military command staff, as well as other high ranking officials including the Secretary of War. Interestingly, her sister ship (designated as a C-41) is also still flying today – as N41HQ. These aircraft were based at Bolling Army Airfield in Washington, D.C. as a part of the 1st Staff Squadron. The aircraft was well appointed, and the main cabin was equipped with swivel seating to allow for inflight meetings. The forward cabin was originally configured with four sleeping berths and upper skylights, similar to those found on the original DSTs (Douglas Sleeper Transports). The military disposed of the aircraft soon after the end of WWII, and before too long, she entered civilian life as an executive transport, passing through various owners until her rarity brought attention from flying museums in the late 1980s. She has passed through several museums, including Planes of Fame East and the Lone Star Flight Museum. The airplane is currently owned and operated by Golden Age Air Tours in Sonoma, California. N341A today retains her original distinctive tail insignia and bare metal finish, albeit now highly polished and with the addition of dark blue highlighting along the fuselage window line. This unique aircraft is one of the lowest time DC-3 variants currently flying, with less than 10,000 hrs total time – there are examples still flying today with well over 90,000 hrs on the clock! For more information please visit www.goldenageairtours.com .

Miss Montana’ N24320, a C-47A-90-DL (43-15731) is owned by the Museum of Mountain Flying in Missoula Montana. This aircraft rolled of Douglas Aircraft’s production line in Long Beach, California during the spring of 1944, being delivered to the U.S. Army Air Forces on May 6th. She served initially as part of Air Transport Command at the Specialized Night and Instrument Training School at Rosencrans Army Airfield in St. Joseph, Missouri. This was followed by a move to Memphis, Tennessee in June, 1945, but her stay there did not last long as she was retired for storage and eventual resale at the massive Walnut Ridge site in Arkansas. While she did not see combat in WWII, she has had a significant, although somewhat sobering civilian career, being one of the aircraft used to pioneer the concept of ‘smoke jumping’. Smoke jumpers are firefighters who parachute into the wilderness to combat forest fires. In fact, N24320 is the airplane that flew smokejumpers to fight the infamous Mann Gulch Fire near Helena, Montana in 1949. Sadly, twelve smokejumpers and one smoke chaser perished in this tragic episode, when they were overrun by the intense conflagration. Unfortunately the aircraft was involved in another tragedy while under the ownership of Johnson Flying Service. On December 22nd, 1954 the aircraft was forced to ditch in the Monongahela River near McKeesport, Pennsylvania due to lack of fuel. While no one was hurt during the initial accident, and the plane floated for long enough for everyone to exit the fuselage onto the wings, nine passengers and the pilot drowned trying to get to shore through the frigid waters. Amazingly, the airframe was salvaged, repaired, and returned to service. The aircraft has passed through several different operators since, and is now owned and displayed by the Museum of Mountain Flying in Missoula, Montana as a tribute to those smokejumpers who perished in the Mann Gulch Fire, and to all smokejumpers who continue to help protect America’s precious forests. Interestingly, Johnson Flying Service, which was a FBO in Missoula, Montana is also significantly represented at the Museum. Indeed, the FBO provided much of the training and first piloting opportunities for many museum members. N24320 was located by Museum founder Dick Komberec, a retired Delta Airlines pilot whose early flying experience included working for Johnson Flying Service. Komberec spotted N24320 near Atlanta, Georgia during one of his flights to that area, and the Museum undertook fundraising efforts to purchase her, which they accomplished in 2002. She has been a centerpiece at the museum ever since.

The museum decided to fly their C-47 to Normandy to honor the participation of over 57,000 Montana citizens who served during World War II in all branches of the military, and also to honor the citizens of Montana who served in the war effort on the home front. The Miss Montana art work was actually the nose art on a B-25 Mitchell medium bomber flown by Capt. Malcolm W. Enman in the Pacific Theater of Operations. Capt.Enman was resident of a Drummond, Montana and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross with a cluster, the Air Medal with 5 oak leaf clusters, and the Asiatic-Pacific Theater and American Defense ribbons, along with three stars for participation in three major campaigns, the Gilbert, Marshall and Caroline Islands. ‘Mac’ Enman, now sadly deceased, was museum founder Dick Komberec’s father-in-law and grandfather to Eric Komberec, both of whom plan to make the trip to Normandy as pilots. For more information please visit www.missmontanatonormandy.com .

Clipper Tabitha May’ N33611, a C-47B-50-DK (45-1108) is owned by PMDG Flight Operations of Alexandria Virginia. ‘Clipper Tabitha May’ was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Forces at Douglas Aircraft’s plant in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on October 12th, 1945. She was one of the last C-47 / DC-3 variants made from original parts. Her military service was brief, with the aircraft going into storage in Augusta, Georgia in March, 1946. Her initial operator was the Columbia Broadcast System, better known today as CBS, who registered the aircraft as NC54542 in 1947. She passed through two further operators before donation to the Experimental Aircraft Association in August, 1983, where she was flown by Paul Poberezny and others before her sale to Grand National Air in April, 1984. She passed through several other civilian outfits before ERA Alaska Airlines bought her in 1995. ERA, working with Basler Turbo Conversions in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, effectively rebuilt the ship before placing her on their air carrier certificate. In this condition, she would operate in Alaska as the last DC-3 to fly in scheduled passenger service in the United States. She was withdrawn from scheduled service in 2003 and remained for sale until 2011 when she was acquired by PMDG Flight Operations in 2011 for the purpose of creating a flying homage to Pan American Airways employees worldwide. For more information please visit www.clippertabithamay.com/ .

DC-3-201 N1812 is a rare, original DC-3A built at the Douglas Aircraft plant in Santa Monica, California during 1937. She is one of the oldest DC-3’s still flying and the highest time example left in the world. The aircraft is now privately owned and flies regularly. The aircraft’s date of manufacture is recorded as October 25th 1937. She was the 119th DC-3 to roll off the production lines and the 7th built for Eastern Airlines. She was originally certificated as a DC-3-G2 (powered by Wright GR-1820-G2 engines.) WWI ace Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, then vice president of Eastern airlines, signed for the aircraft at the Douglas plant on December 20th 1937. Captain Rickenbacker then flew her to Newark, New Jersey, beginning the historic aircraft’s long and unique career, spanning six decades with some of the United States’ most prominent airlines. The United States military requisitioned the aircraft for war service during 1943. She became C-49G 42-56631 with the U.S. Army Air Forces on June 1st, 1942. She served her country, remaining stateside, before her return to Eastern Airlines on June 24th, 1944. The aircraft then continued on in commercial service for another 40 years, flying with companies such as Trans-Texas Airlines (TTA) and Provincetown Boston Airlines (PBA) until 1988, when she finally retired. The aircraft went into private ownership with Neil Rose in 1993, moving out to Vancouver, Washington. The aircraft, by this point, had accumulated over 91,400 hours total airframe time, and was in need of major work and restoration. The aircraft changed hands three further times before the present owner completed her rebuild back into flying condition during 2006. McDonnell-Douglas, the successor to the Douglas Aircraft Company recognized this historic aircraft as the highest time DC-3 in the world during the late 1980’s. Flying only sparingly since then, the aircraft has accumulated just over 91,600 hours, setting a new world record every time she flies.

‘101st Airborne Tribute’ N150D, a C-47-DL (41-18401) aircraft was originally ordered as a DST (DC-2), or Douglas Sleeper Transport, in 1941. However, with the U.S. Army Air Forces took over her contract, impressing her for war service before her completion. She was delivered to the USAAF as C-47 41-18401 at Douglas Aircraft’s Factory in Long Beach, California on June 23rd, 1942 one of very few C-47s completed at this facility. The aircraft never became part of a formal military squadron however, heading straight into service with Pan American Airways on July 2nd, 1942. She served mostly out of North Africa and the Middle East at this time.

Following WWII, the aircraft was transferred to the French Air Force, joining them on November 20th, 1945 and serving faithfully for the next two decades before being sold on to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in January, 1967. There is some indication that the aircraft served with the Ugandan Air Force for a period before her retirement from the IDF in November, 1995.

The aircraft then appears as N155JM on the U.S. civil registry in August 1999, with Global Aircraft Industries of Phoenix, Arizona. The Ozark Airlines Museum in St.Louis, Missouri then acquired the DC-3 in October, 2001. Her present owner purchased the aircraft 3 or 4 years ago, being drawn to the aircraft because it still had the radio operator and navigators areas with bulkheads and a celestial dome. Over the years, almost all of these aircraft have had these items removed, so to find one so complete and authentic was quite astonishing. The owner commissioned Basler Turbo Conversions to bring the aircraft to Oshkosh for a restoration and have it completed for the D-day 75th. The restoration work was extensive. Over the span of a little over two years, the wings were almost completely rebuilt, the fuselage and center wing extensively repaired, while the fuel tanks and landing gear were also overhauled. All of the flight controls were overhauled and re-covered along with corresponding stabilizers. All of the fuel lines and electrical wiring were replaced and the hydraulic system was about 95% replaced. Modern avionics were installed in a new instrument panel that now includes a pair of Garmin 750 GPS along with Garmin transponders with ADSB, TCAS and SATCOM. All in all, Basler put close to 40,000 man hours into the restoration. The aircraft went to the paint shop in mid-January, 2019 and it was ready to go by March 7th.

About the D-Day Squadron

The D-Day Squadron is the part of the Tunison Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization. In June 2019, the D-Day Squadron will lead an American fleet of historic, restored C-47 World War II military aircraft in Daks Over Normandy, a flyover of more than 30 international aircraft to drop 250 paratroopers over the original 1944 drop zones in Normandy commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The event will honor the citizen soldiers of the War, whose bravery led the Allies to the liberation of France, and then to an end of the devastating War in Europe. The Squadron’s education program takes the compelling story of the citizen soldier to audiences at airshows and events off the flight line to honor these brave Americans and ensure their memory and significance is appreciated for generations to come. The group’s efforts are funded through the generous tax-deductible contribution of their supporters. Learn more at DDaySquadron.org .

It is estimated by the organizers of this event to cost as much as three million dollars to accomplish this mission.The D-Day Squadron asks that you support their mission. As time marches forward, fewer D-Day veterans remain with us. The D-Day Squadron believes in the importance of remembrance and education to ensure the memory of these brave soldiers and the significance of World War II is fully appreciated for generations to come. Donor support is crucial to this effort. Funds raised will be used for the safe passage of the American C-47 fleet to France. Join us and support history in the making. Your donation will be judiciously used to safely transport the American fleet of C-47s to the Daks Over Normandy event in June 2019, and help make preparations for an ongoing educational outreach program honoring the civilian soldiers who’s bravery helped end a world war. http://ddaysquadron.org/donate/ .

Sponsorship and Support

Without the commercial sponsorship and private donations the aircraft preservation and the vision of the D-Day Squadron, no of this would be possible. Please take the time to recognize the massive undertaking and effort involved in this historic mission by visiting and supporting the aircraft and sponsors. Most of the aircraft and the D-Day Squadron have special items available at their websites to help defray their costs.

Civil Aviation World, Classic Warbirds and Photorecon wish to thank D-Day Squadrons Moreno ‘Mo’ Aguiari, Director of Marketing and Media Relations and Stephen Lashley, Director of Communications for all of their assistance and information they provided and is included in this feature. I wish to also thank The ‘Mighty Fifteen’ for all of their assistance especially the pilots and crews of ‘Betsy’s Bisquit Bomber’, ‘D-Day Doll’ for the media flights they provided us with.

Many thanks to my friend and colleague, Robert C. Gerard for sharing this experience with me and contributing his amazing photographic images.

Be sure to keep up with the latest news and events as the D-Day Squadron will be making the final push to Normandy in few days.

Editor's note: They all made it, and the parachute drops were accomplished. Many of the Squadron went on to participate in other events in Europe through the end of June. And a few of the "Fifteen" that went "over there" will be at this year's EAA AirVenture Oshkosh too. This was written before the eastbound Trans-Atlantic trip, (Editor's notes).

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