Sound­ings Gooney

Air & Space Smithsonian - - Front Page - ■■ ■ HEATHER GOSS

Bird saved

ON THE MORN­ING of June 6, 1944, the first Dou­glas C-47 Skytrain crossed the coast­line of Nor­mandy, France, and let loose the para­troop­ers that be­gan the in­va­sion. Newly painted across the fuse­lage was a mes­sage to Adolf Hitler:

. Sev­enty That’s All, Brother years later, the air­plane that dropped the first fight­ing forces sat in a Wis­con­sin yard, just weeks from be­ing con­verted to a BT-67 tur­bo­prop.

When he dis­cov­ered the air­craft’s fate, “a chill ran down my spine,” says Matt Scales, a his­to­rian with the U.S. Air Force Re­serve. He sent out word to ev­ery mu­seum and or­ga­ni­za­tion that might save the air­plane, but couldn’t find a taker— some al­ready had other D-day C-47s; oth­ers sim­ply thought Scales was wrong about the air­plane’s iden­tity. But then he re­ceived a mes­sage from Adam Smith at the Com­mem­o­ra­tive Air Force; Smith had stum­bled upon a blog post about Scales’ search and con­firmed the story by fol­low­ing the chain of own­er­ship from the air­craft’s mil­i­tary days to present: He went through Fed­eral Aviation Ad­min­is­tra­tion records and phys­i­cally checked plac­ards and dat­a­plates on the air­craft to match them with the pa­per­work. When he con­firmed the iden­tity, “in­stantly you un­der­stand the sig­nif­i­cance, and the vi­sion ap­pears in your mind of sav­ing and restor­ing the plane.” Through a crowd­sourc­ing cam­paign, the CAF raised $75,000—in only 48 hours—to buy the air­plane, and then in­creased their goal to $250,000 for the restora­tion.

The dis­cov­ery of the D-day leader be­gan with a ru­mor. In 2006, Scales was a staff sergeant with the Alabama Air Na­tional Guard’s 106th Air Re­fu­el­ing Squadron. He be­came fas­ci­nated with the his­tory of his squadron, es­pe­cially the pe­riod in World War II when

it flew B-25s in the South Pacific. One day he heard that a mem­ber of the 106th had flown the lead C-47 on D-day. “I didn’t un­der­stand how this was pos­si­ble, as, on June 6, 1944, my squadron was about as far away from Nor­mandy as hu­manly pos­si­ble,” says Scales.

In 2007, he vol­un­teered for a tour with the Air Force His­tor­i­cal Re­search Agency, where he dis­cov­ered records show­ing Lieu­tenant Colonel John M. Don­al­son, a mem­ber of the 106th in the 1930s, and then again in the late 1940s and ’50s, had been trans­ferred to Europe when the United States en­tered the war and was in­deed the pi­lot on the lead air­craft be­hind the pathfind­ers—para­troop­ers who had jumped into Nor­mandy the night be­fore to mark drop zones for the troops.

He also found the air­craft tail num­ber, 42-92847, which had been regis­tered as N88874 and, in 2007, was owned by some­one in Mesa, Ari­zona. (At first Scales thought he had un­cov­ered the , the

Belle of Birm­ing­ham C-47 that the Alabama-bred Don­al­son or­di­nar­ily flew while abroad, but Scales dis­cov­ered the pi­lot hadn’t wanted to cut holes, re­quired for in­va­sion equip­ment, in that air­plane, so he had been as­signed a new C-47, on which he had painted his mes­sage to the Nazis.)

Scales called the Ari­zona owner, told him the his­tory, and found out the owner had re­stored the air­plane to fly­ing con­di­tion. Scales moved on, “with con­fi­dence that the cur­rent owner of the air­craft not only knew what it had done, but also that he had a love of his­tory or else he wouldn’t have re­stored the air­craft as he had.” But a few years later, Scales looked up the reg­is­tra­tion again and dis­cov­ered it had been sold to Basler Turbo Con­ver­sions.

Now the CAF is gear­ing up for a once-in-a-life­time restora­tion. “The goal is crys­tal-clear,” says Smith, who is also in charge of build­ing the group’s new na­tional head­quar­ters and air­craft mu­seum in Dal­las. “We want this to be the most au­then­tic D-day C-47 on the planet,” he says, adding, “and yes, that means scruffy D-day stripes, not neatly man­i­cured ones.” Lucky for them, they have lots of ref­er­ences, in­clud­ing film show­ing troops board­ing the air­craft to head to Nor­mandy.

The fundrais­ing en­abled the CAF to pur­chase a col­lec­tion of rare parts, in­clud­ing ra­dios, nav­i­ga­tion equip­ment, even parts for the lava­to­ries. The group plans to use the air­plane as a “fly­ing class­room,” where hid­den speak­ers and sen­sors will re-cre­ate the ex­pe­ri­ence of D-day while schoolkids play para­troop­ers. Then, in 2019, the CAF plans to fly

to Europe That’s All, Brother to par­tic­i­pate in the 75th an­niver­sary of D-day.

Scales, mean­while, is still search­ing: He wants to iden­tify the para­troop­ers who jumped from

That’s All, that morn­ing. That Brother knowl­edge may help those who tour the air­craft bet­ter ap­pre­ci­ate the men who stood first in line to bring an end to the largest war in his­tory.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.