Workhorse airplane involved in D-Day to be restored
Most of the windows had been lost over the years. Those that remained were spiderwebbed with cracks. The interior was stripped nearly to its frame.
At one time, this aircraft had soared over the beaches of Normandy delivering paratroopers during the D-Day invasion.
The hope is that in the next two years, this piece of American military history will fly again. Members of a local aircraft preservation group have moved the plane to the Greenwood Municipal Airport to restore the body, electrical system and engines.
Their mission not only will preserve an important part of the past but will also provide Indiana Air Search and Rescue with an aircraft that will help during times of crisis.
“We’re losing all of our World War II veterans. This is one veteran we’re not going to let drop,” said Charles Walker, founder and president of Indiana Air Search and Rescue.
Visiting its current resting place in Greenwood, Walker walked close to the plane’s body, pointing out features and aspects of the plane.
The plane was so rugged and well-built it could do a “belly landing” without its landing gear down. The only seats outside the cockpit were folding canvas benches.
He ran his hand just below its nickname, “Tooie,” painted in cream letters just below the cockpit. His tone was similar to a child on Christmas morning when he described the plane in flight.
“When it turns and makes a big bank, it’s one of the most beautiful silhouettes you’ve ever seen. The way the wingspan tapers off, it’s beautiful,” he said.
The Douglas C-47 Skytrain was developed for the U.S. Army at the start of World War II. Based on the DC-3, the first commercial airliner, it could carry 6,000 pounds of cargo or 28 troops in full combat gear.
The plane was used extensively to deliver supplies and soldiers in the Battle of Guadalcanal, as well as in fighting in Burma and New Guinea. When the United States needed to resupply troops fighting the Japanese in China, it was the C-47 that flew the most dangerous missions.
During the D-Day operation, swarms of C-47s dropped American soldiers behind German lines to take out bridges, sabotage communications and prevent the enemy from sending reinforcements.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the aircraft one of the most vital pieces of military equipment in the Allied war effort.
“This is designed to take off or land in a field. Eisenhower wanted it that way. He didn’t want to need an asphalt runway. He wanted to be able to deliver everything and anything and land in a field,” said Tom Foreman, a crew chief with Indiana Air Search and Rescue.
Tooie took part in the Normandy landing and flew other missions in Europe up to the end of World War II. The plane had been equipped with a ring on its tail section, allowing it to tow gliders high in the air and then release them into combat zones.
After the war, it was used by the Federal Aviation Administration to help set up a cross-country navigation system.
“If you look closely, you’ll see some areas of orange paint, because the FAA repainted it,” Foreman said.
Walker and Foreman have taken the lead in the restoration project. They were tipped off about the old C-47 by a fellow aviator in Chicago. A friend had located the rusting plane at an airport in Nashville, Tenn., where it was attached to the former 101st Airborne Museum and Restaurant.
After the museum closed, the plane fell into disrepair. The airport owners wanted it gone, or they were going to cut it up for parts.
“Look at her profile. The beauty of this is ridiculous,” Walker said. “This was the plane that every little kid, growing up, played with or got for Christmas. You see them holding it in their hands and moving it all around.”
Walker collaborated with Foreman and others in Indiana Air Search and Rescue to bring it north safely. On a weekend in 2008, they traveled to Tennessee to disassemble the wings and tail from the fuselage.
The parts were loaded onto trailers and taken to Georgia then Ohio, before finding a resting place in Greenwood.
Jill Fewell, executive director of Indiana Air Search and Rescue, had grown up in Greenwood. Her father had spent hours flying out of the municipal airport, and she thought it would be an ideal location for a project such as this.
This won’t be the first aircraft the organization has helped preserve.
Indiana Air Search and Rescue first restored a UH-1H Huey helicopter that Walker had discovered in danger of becoming spare parts in Bangor, Maine.
Most recently, Indiana Air Search and Rescue brought back the frame of a C-47 and restored it as an exhibit for the Indiana Military Museum in Vincennes.
But this project will be more extensive, as it actually will be flown and used in community emergencies, Walker said.
Indiana Air Search and Rescue is responsible for almost all of its own repairs, and all of the work will be done in an unused corner of the Greenwood airport.
The first step is to remove the chipped and faded paint. The group is experimenting with a new process using carbon dioxide (dry ice) to blast the paint away, as opposed to sandblasting or using noxious chemicals.
Foreman, who has a metalworking and machine shop, will repair nicks and dents in the body himself.
When the exterior is finished, the crew will reconnect the more than 1,000 bolts that connect the wings and centerpiece to the main body of the plane.
“Most people, they’ll just go buy an aircraft. We’re basically building an aircraft. It’s a love affair,” Foreman said.
The engines will be repaired and overhauled by contractors the organization has worked with in the past. Where some restorers take out the old-school piston engines and replace them with more modern and reliable turbo propellers, Indiana Air Search and Rescue plans to use the original engines.
“We want that burp, that belch, that roar when you start the engine,” Walker said.
To redo the plane themselves, considering all of the parts, labor and equipment to move the massive sections, would likely cost $200,000 or more, Walker said.
But they have found on other projects that the community often helps lower that cost considerably. As soon as the public learns about what they’re trying to do, offers of spare parts or the use of a crane are easy to come by.
“I love getting human beings involved with the passion we share in our hearts to get it done,” Walker said. “Then, all of the sudden, you get things done. ‘Oh, I can give you this equipment,’ or ‘Oh, I have this crane you can use.’”
The hope is that over the next two to three years the group can have all of the plane put back together, the proper inspections made and the plane safe for flight.
Together with its Huey helicopter, the C-47 will allow the organization to reach even more people. They also can hang on to the fact that they rescued a valuable piece of military history and allow surviving remaining World War II veterans to share in the experience of it flying again.
“It’s a veteran, too. We’re wanting to do justice to it and the people who worked on it,” Foreman said.
Information from: Daily Journal, http://www.thejournalnet.com
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