D-Day Squadron – Missions Accomplished!

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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’.

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. 

They all made it! The D-Day Squadron assembled in England, and made the epic parachute drop on schedule on June 5th. Afterwards, some of the aircraft began their journeys home while others stayed in Europe for various events line a commemoration of the Berlin Airlift and a celebration in Italy. When this was written on June 22, 2019, one aircraft had just arrived in Minnesota, while others were still in Italy. -ed.

Editor’s notes: This story was written by Mike Colaner, and contains photos from Mike, Robert C. Gerard, Ken Middleton, Bill Sarama, Scott Zeno and Alice Leong – all contributors to our trio of digital aviation magazines Photorecon.net, ClassicWarbirds.net and CivilAviationWorld.com 

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Mike Colaner

Mike Colaner is a native of Central New Jersey and still resides there today with his family. I always had a fascination with aviation with both NAS Lakehurst and McGuire Air Force Base nearby to my boyhood home. Upon graduating High School, I went to work for Piasecki Aircraft Corporation at NAEC Lakehurst. I worked in the engineering department on the PA-97 Helistat project as a draftsman. I soon enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served four years active duty with both the 2nd Marine Division and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. After completing my enlistment, I went to college and became a New Jersey State Trooper. I recently retired after serving 25 years and I am looking for my next adventure. I am very glad that I have been able to join this team and to share my passion with all of you.

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