SLO County pilots fly to France to re-create D-Day on 75th anniversary — in a WWII plane

On June 6, 1944, more than 156,000 troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, taking part in the single largest seaborne invasion in history.

D-Day, as it came to be called, was the turning point in World War II, allowing the Allied forces to gain the necessary foothold to liberate German-occupied France and the rest of western Europe.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of that historic day, and thousands of people are expected to take part in a series of celebrations across Europe. Some of those participants hail from San Luis Obispo County.

Pilots Sherman Smoot and Scott Stelzle, both from Templeton; Bill Frost of San Luis Obispo; John Doyle of Paso Robles; Shane Wallace of San Diego; and Hector Camacho of Andover, Kansas, took off from the Estrella Warbirds Museum in Paso Robles on May 3.

Their destination? The Duxford Airfield in England and Caen-Carpiquet Airport in Normandy, France, to participate in a massive D-Day re-enactment called Daks Over Normandy this week.

From World War II to 2019

The local pilots embarked on their trans-continental journey in a World War II-era C-47 airplane called Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber.

Douglas C-47s were military transport planes used extensively by the Allied forces during World War II, though some are still in operation today.

Betsy was built in Oklahoma City in 1944, flown by the U.S. Air Force during World War II, and then over the next decades was loaned to other foreign air groups before eventually being acquired by the Gooney Bird Group in Paso Robles.

Gooney Bird Group, LLC, is a non-profit organization dedicated to “preserving and maintaining airworthy historical planes, and educating current and future generations of the engineering achievements, and personal sacrifices made by our military men and women,” according to a news release sent ahead of the D-day re-creation flight.

Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber underwent a three-year renovation before becoming flight-ready once again in 2009.

Paratrooper drops in Normandy

When the time came for this year’s 75th anniversary celebration of the Normandy invasion, Betsy was a perfect choice to undertake the 13,000-mile journey.

After stop-overs across the United States, the crew flew Betsy across the pond to take part in training in England for this week’s re-enactments in France.

The five-day event, from June 2 to 6, commemorates the crossing of the English Channel into France with an assembly of more than 30 World War II-era planes, including a 20-strong fleet of American C-47s.

It’s the largest assembly of authentic C-47 World War II-era aircraft and paratroopers since D-Day itself, according to the event website.

On Wednesday, 250 men and women boarded the planes at Duxford Airfield, and flew across the Channel to jump into historic Normandy drop zones — following the path of the Allied paratroopers 75 years ago.

Videos posted to Facebook by Gooney Bird Group, which owns Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber, show dozens of people dressed in World War II-era uniforms jumping out of the plane above France.

“You can do it!” one re-enactor yells as he hypes up the other volunteers before their jump.

Some of the jumpers can be seen wearing Go-Pro cameras on their helmets before leaping out the aircraft.


Next week, Betsy and crew will fly to Berlin to participate in the 70th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift, followed by other reenactments across Europe, before heading back to the states for a Fourth of July celebration in Cody, Wyoming.

The plane and crew will then return home to Paso Robles, where Betsy is a featured display at the Estrella Warbirds Museum.

The Gooney Bird Group is still trying to raise money to pay for the trip.

For more information on the group’s overseas activities, or to donate, visit www.betsysbiscuitbomber.com.

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