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Seventy years after taking part in D-Day, the plane now housed at the National Warplane Museum in western New York is being prepared to recreate its role in the mission, when it dropped troops behind enemy lines under German fire.
At the invitation of the French government, the restored Douglas C-47 will fly in for 70th-anniversary festivities and again release paratroopers over the original jump zone at Sainte-Mere-Eglise.
"There are very few of these planes still flying, and this plane was very significant on D-Day," said Erin Vitale, chairwoman of the Return to Normandy Project. "It dropped people that were some of the first into Sainte-Mere-Eglise and liberated that town."
Museum officials say the twin-prop Whiskey 7, so named because of its W-7 squadron marking, is one of several C-47s scheduled to be part of the D-Day anniversary, with jumpers made up of active and retired military personnel. But it is believed to be the only one flying from the United States.
The plane will fly to France by way of Labrador, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland and Germany, each leg 5 ½ to 7 hours. Vitale compared it to trying to drive a 70-year-old car across the country without a breakdown. "It's going to be a huge challenge."
Among the 21 men it carried in 1944 was 20-year-old Leslie Palmer Cruise Jr., who also will make the return trip to France, his fifth, and be reunited with the craft - once it's on the ground. He is flying commercially from his Horsham, Pa., home outside Philadelphia.
"With me, it's almost, sometimes, like yesterday," Cruise, now 89, said by phone, recalling his first combat mission. "It really never leaves you."
Although the C-47 looks much the same today as it did on June 6, 1944, it looked very different when it arrived at the museum as a donation eight years ago. It had been converted to a corporate passenger plane.
"We had to take an executive interior out," said the museum's president, W. Austin Wadsworth. "It had a dry bar, lounge seats, a table with a nice map of the Bahamas in there. It was beautiful."
The museum's restoration of the historic plane to its original condition has been a roughly $180,000 project so far. Most of the money went toward two rebuilt engines and the rest to parts, equipment and service. The museum is trying to raise a total of $250,000 for the restoration and return to Normandy.
One upgrade it did allow was the installation of two GPS systems to keep the aircraft on course.
"The avionics in the airplane are modern. We're not going to go with what they had in 1943," Wadsworth said. "They would have had probably a radio beacon receiver and a lot of dead reckoning."
There is still no autopilot, said Wadsworth's daughter, Naomi, who will be among five pilots - one including her brother, Craig - taking turns at the controls on the way to Europe. That's fine with her, she said.
"It's history. It's real flying," she said. "With a lot of the computerized, mechanized things that you see in the airliners today, the airplane basically flies itself. ... This is not a situation where you can be asleep at the wheel. You really have to pay attention."
Said her father, also a pilot: "You don't just grab something and push it. There's a kind of feel to everything you do in these old birds. It doesn't have a soul obviously, but you don't just tell it what to do. You ask it."
Cruise still remembers being squashed between other paratroopers seated on pan seats as the plane left England's Cottesmore Airdrome. He was weighed down with probably 100 pounds of gear, including an M-1 rifle that was carried in three pieces, 30-caliber rifle ammo, a first-aid pack, grenade, K-rations and his New Testament in his left pocket, over his heart.
"We could hear the louder roar as each plane following the leader accelerated down the runway and lifted into the air," he wrote in an account of the mission. "Our turn came and the quivering craft gathered momentum along the path right behind the plane in front."
The airplane's engines were so loud he had to shout even to talk with the paratrooper next to him, he said, and the scenery through its square windows looked like shadows in the dark. Over the English Channel, a colonel pointed downward.
"In the partial darkness below we could make out silhouetted shapes of ships and there must have been thousands of them all sizes and kinds," Cruise wrote. "If we had any doubts before about the certainty of the invasion, they were dispelled now."
Wow this is really great, the C47 was a great aircraft, it was a DC-3 origianlly and many had been airliners prior to the war, and got recalled into service. Such a great design and enginneering went into building them like tanks and the ones left are still work horses. Many have been converted to turbine power, but there's still a few running the same old basic engines they came with. I wouldn't hestitate one second flying one that has been as well cared for as this appears to be.
I flew the Gooney Bird in Nicaragua as part of a merc operation in the early 80's. We had dozens of re-fit c-47's and probably the largest military operation that was "off the books" in US history. Our Cold War was hot, and we moved a lot of materials for Freedom Fighters in those old birds. Easy to fly and hard to land (they had so much lift they wanted to stay in the air).
I am surprized at the lack of people responding to this subject, because the US had one of the largest number of Paratroops in the Second World War, if you count the Paratroop Divisions & the Airborn Infantry, Korea and Vietnam. Most of us trained for the first jump out of the Dakota's, and formed an attachment to this incredible aircraft that carried us into action, and most of them made it back after dropping us. It says a lot for US aircraft manufacturers, as well as the guys like me that were thankful that they got us over the Drop Zone. I toke a ride in a Goony Birdin Nepal, a few byears ago, flying over some of the worlds highest and toughest terrain, but they made it, even if they sprung a few oil presure valves on every other flight.because they were not meant to fly so high loaded., and capable of landing on a make shift landing strip. In Korea, they flew out of designated strips of the few roads, where we had control of the mountain tops and rice paddies. But the aircrew were incredible, flying in ammo and more troops, and taking out the wounded. That generation was incredible, and I was proud to be part of it, I was to wind up being flown out by them myself, along with 30 other guys who were wounded. We never forgot them. I remember Bob Hope and his team flying out with us, after putting on shows for us, less than a mile from the front. Everyone ducking their heads, automatically when we head a shell coming in. He even made jokes about them as well. Seems to me that we should never forget those who have done so much for us, the survivers. At least we made it home!!!!!!! I will never forget, and I do not, each and every Veterans Day............strip, over loaded.
Thanks for your service
Great Job Thank you for your service and all the brave warriors that came after you !
As an Air force veteran, just reading about this undertaking is emotional. I rode in a C-47 three times from Moron Air Force Base (SAC) near Seville, Spain to Torrejon Air Force Base near Madrid, Spain on three occasions. It was quite an experience, but I still never took my parachute off while in flight. I applaud all the veterans of the D-Day invasion and thank them for their service. The people of Europe owe a debt of gratitude to these World War II veterans and, hopefully, the young people of our country will note their contribution to preserving the freedoms so many of them enjoy today.
You got it right on the head. Congradulations.
My first plane ride was on a C-47 or DC-3 in 1951. They were still in service with commercial airlines through the 60's as feeder lines throughout the U.S. Not much on comfort, but awfully reliable. They went out with the stick-shift for most of us who probably never had the pleasure of driving one or flying in a prop-plane along with steam engines. Time just rolls on leaving behind these relics in its wake.
I jumped out of Dakota 23 times, in training and into action, they were noisy as hell, narrow seating and static lines running fore and aft, down the main cabin, and something you did'nt want to leave, when the green light came on. When you went through the door, the static line automatically pulled the shute loose, and you went out, and you were hit by the slip stream, just as you passed under the tail, and suddenly you were above the plane for a few seconds, before falling away. We carried a regular size kit bag, with extra ammo, waterproof camo sheet, a digging tool, a set of four 'K' rations and your overcoat., The drop bag had a hole on the bottom so you could slip your right foot under and into it. It made going out a bit awkward, but when your chute opened, you kicked it free, which automaticallt deployed the kitbag on a eight foot rope, so you land without landing on top of it, and breaking a bone. I have flown them all over the world, and they all bring back that memory we paras never foreget. Great, simple, airworthy planes that could take a lot of beating, and still get you over the DZ. in rel;ative safety. The very first time I saw them, from the ground, was watching another company jump, and, an iron stove fell with the supply drop, but the four chutes on the field stove, failed to deploy, missing my squad by a matter of five to six feet, and burying its self several feet deep on impact. Yes, I know the DC3 or Dakota very well, with some very clear emotions.
I congradulate you for your number of jumps from the DC3. I'm sure you have much to tell your children and grandchildren. Thanks for your service. How many years were you in the Army (I assume)? My father, who is still living, served on the U.S.S. Neveda during the war. He was on the ship when it was in Pearl Harbor and had to beach it at Hospital Point. For 60 years they would have a reunion at a different place each year. Last year they finnaly had to dispand the reunions because of death and illnesses. But my father and one of his best buddies took a cruise in honor of all their shipmates as the last harra!!
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Took 27 men from the PI to VN and started building engines for the C-47 in country to keep the gun ships and flare ships flying. All night, on many nights, The sky would be lite and the sound of the gun ships is something that will always be with me. The troops built 200 in the first eight months and I never heard the first one complain. Great guys, terrible war!!
History must be remembered and taught to the younger generations lest they forget.Duty,Honor, Sacrifice, Victory!
Heros every one of em. Most people dont know that our pilots and bomber crews had a higher mortality rate than the Kamakazi's. Kamakazi's may not have a plane, fuel, target at any given time, our guys had all 3 all the time.
C-47 - a military version of what many consider the best flying aircraft ever designed, the DC-3!
Agreed. I grew up in DC-3s and reconverted C-47s as a kid in Alaska, even flew as co-pilot in one owned by a skydiving outfit a few years ago. One of the finest most reliable aircraft ever built.