D-Day 75: Flying the D-Day Squadron’s Dakotas across the Atlantic

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From the 16th-19th May, ten aircraft of the D-Day Squadron convened in Oxford, CT, ahead of their transatlantic flight to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day in the UK and France. The Tunison Foundation had assembled a fleet of 15 aircraft from the  Second World War era, meticulously restored to flight, and many wearing the black and white invasion stripes of Operation Overlord.

Ten planes from the D-Day Squadron gathered in Waterbury–Oxford Airport (KOXC), Connecticut, for the D-Day Squadron Kick-Off Event, with four more departing from other regions to join them on the road to Europe and a further aircraft one was grounded due  to technical problems.

The Tunison Foundation is a non-profit organization with the purpose of organizing and support “living history” events via airworthy historic aircraft, and preserving and exhibiting related historical collections to educate young people and adults. They coordinated and raised funds for the return from to Europe of several C-47, C-53 and DC-3 aircraft of the D-Day Squadron, allowing them to participate in the Daks Over Normandy event at Duxford in England and Caen in France.

The aircraft of the D-Day Squadron are all privately owned and their respective operators also raised funds for the flight to Europe, along with more than 35 major aviation industry partners and donors.

During the week at Oxford, these giants of aviation history flew together on training flights twice per day to prepare for their transatlantic crossing on Sunday 19th May. The intensive daily flight sessions were intended to allow pilots to familiarize themselves with multi-aircraft formation flying and to thoroughly test their 75-year-old aircraft to eliminate any potential technical problems prior to their major crossing.

This is Flight had the opportunity to fly on board C-47 Dakota “Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber” N47SJ (USAF 43-48608/180746, cn 25869/14424) on one of these flights – one of eight aircraft which participated in the sortie. It was the first time so many aircraft of this type had flown together in North America since the Second World War.

On Saturday 18th May, an open house was held at the Waterbury–Oxford Airport, with the public invited to  see the planes and meet the crews. Thousands of people attended the historic event and watch another record breaking flight when all ten aircraft staged a flight over the Statue of Liberty  in New York, some with journalists and passengers on board. On their return, the public had a unique chance to see in the sky over Oxford ten C-47s, C-53s and DC-3s flying in close formation.

During the open house,  many dressed in period uniforms, while military re-enactment groups recreated scenes from that era with vehicles, weapons and other equipment around the planes. The Oxford Police Department, under the supervision of Sergeant Daniel Semoesky of the Connecticut State Police, ensured that all weapons and ammunition on site were inert and disabled.

On Sunday morning, the historic D-Day Squadron planes were blessed by Chaplain Rev. Ted Leenerts of the Anglican Catholic Church and left Oxford for their week-long trip to France. The fleet completed their 2,200 nautical mile crossing on June 5, when they joined over a dozen other Dakotas to cross the English Channel together and land in Caen.

During their flight from the United States, these aircrafts made stops to refuel and crew rest at Goose Bay Airport in Newfoundland, Canada, Narsarsuaq in Greenland, Reykjavik in Iceland and Prestwick, Scotland, before making a longer stop at the Imperial War Museum Duxford in the UK. They followed almost the same route as American planes headed for the European theater would have used during the Second World War.

According to D-Day Squadron officials, there have not been so many Dakotas having crossed the Atlantic together since the end of the Second World War. This great adventure involved the engagement of experienced pilots and crews, as well as the support of many donors, sponsors and volunteers.

Follow continued coverage of Daks Over Normandy and the D-Day 75th Anniversary commemorations on This is Flight.