She may not have an hourglass figure (think heavy, loud, no-frills), but she’s a true beauty in the eyes of these flyboys.
N24320 to the FAA, rechristened “Miss Montana,” is a 1944 DC-3 transport aircraft — a.k.a. the C-47 when in military use. Built to join the war effort, she just missed the last deployment. Yet even at her advanced age, in June she’ll finally get her chance to be part of the action. One of a breathtaking array of 40 C-47s, she’ll help fly 250 paratroopers (imagine that sight!) over the shoreline in Normandy, France on the 75th anniversary re-enactment of D-Day — the Allied invasion which turned the tide of World War II.
The American fleet of C-47s will take off next spring from Oxford, Conn., stopping in Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, Ireland and finally the coast of Scotland before formation flying en masse across the Normandy shores. Thousands of spectators will witness the recreation of that largest seaborne invasion in history on June 6, 1944, when 156,000 Allied troops executed “Operation Neptune” — opening a crucial gateway into Nazi-occupied Europe.
Miss Montana hasn’t been collecting dust since then. She earned semi-retirement at the Museum of Mountain Flying in Missoula by transporting smoke jumpers over Montana’s fires through the decades, including the deadly Mann Gulch fire in 1949. She can still fly, but to perform up to the FAA’s high safety standards and for such a long ferry across the ocean, she needs a serious tune-up.
And lots of help.
The team of pilots dedicated to getting her there includes North Idaho’s own Nolan Wylie, Coeur d’Alene Airport Board member and former airline exec; Bill Tubbs of Twin Lakes; Bryan Douglas of Missoula; and Eric and Dick Komberec (nephew and brother, respectively, of Hayden’s Empire Airlines president Tim Komberec). Technically speaking, Dick Komberec owns Miss Montana, which he flew years ago while working for Johnson Flying Service carrying smoke jumpers. Dick’s son, Eric, does the same for another firefighting contractor in Montana. Tim, Empire record specialist Kattie Lammon, and Wylie are focusing on the official side of the project — records, airworthiness certificates, and other requirements. Wylie and Eric Komberec are also aircraft mechanics.
They need our help. While Germany and Empire Airlines are making significant contributions, Miss Montana needs a lot more to make it to Normandy — Wylie estimates a total price tag nearing $500,000. Her engines, for example, are off to Anderson Aeromotive in Grangeville — Wylie believes they’re the only one left in the U.S. that rebuilds those old radial engines. Antique aircraft are very expensive to operate, relying on donations to “keep ’em flying.”
Wylie says the plan is to bring Miss Montana to Coeur d’Alene before heading to Normandy, so we’ll get a chance to see her.
For more information, or to donate, see: Missmontanatonormandy.com.
Sholeh Patrick is a pilot and antique aircraft lover, and a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.