Paso Robles warplane takes off


Gary Corippo stopped mid-step, extended his arm and pointed to the air.

“Hear that?” Corippo, co-founder of the Estrella Warbirds Museum in Paso Robles, asked with an exuberant and knowing smile. “Hear that hum? Only the C-47 makes that sound. You can tell it’s coming without even seeing it.”

Soon after, the dual-engine, olive green airplane was visible in the clear North County sky.

On a recent morning, pilot in command Sherman Smoot of Templeton took it on a test run from its home at the museum on the city’s east side to San Luis Obispo and back.

Built in 1944 by Douglas Aircraft Co., this C-47 was one of about 11,000 that the U.S. Army Air Corps used in World War II.

Crews outfitted the plane to fly 4,800 miles from Paso Robles to Oshkosh, Wis., to be in the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture Convention today with about 2,500 other planes.

“People that like aviation enjoy seeing things from the past,” Corippo said. “And this is a page right out of history.”

About 450 of these planes are still used around the world today, including in the Haiti earthquake assistance effort, Corippo said.

C-47s began as DC-3s when used commercially in the 1930s, but when the Army got them, the name was changed.

Commercial airlines used them until the 1960s.

“The DC-3 was the airliners’ plane of choice,” Corippo said, noting how many people flew in them to get from Los Angeles to New York. The trip took about 17 hours, with one stop for gas.

When used in the war, the planes were designed to haul 28 fully loaded combat paratroopers or about six tons of cargo — including rations, ammunition and medical supplies.

The Paso Robles C-47 was built in 1944 and took part in most of the World War II parachute and supply drops in Europe, except in Normandy. It made drops in Belgium’s Battle of the Bulge, the Battle of Arnhem and on the Drop on the Rhine.

A C-47 such as the Paso Robles one dropped the late Robert Rader of Paso Robles, whose airborne infantry company was made famous by the HBO series “Band of Brothers.” The 13th Street Bridge in Paso Robles is also named after him.

After the war, the Paso Robles plane changed ownership many times, with stints in Belgium, France and then Israel, where it sat in the desert for 32 years as part of the Israeli Defense Forces war-ready stock.

In 1999, it was sold to Canada and later purchased for $90,000 by the late Glen Thompson and donated to the Paso Robles-based nonprofit Gooney Bird Group, of which he was president.

In June 2008, the group brought the plane back to the United States, and after a two-year revamp and a fresh coat of the U.S. Army’s olive green, it was renamed “Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber.” A woman in a blue dress is painted near the nose.

It honors Betsy Thompson, the wife of Thompson, who founded the Estrella Warbirds Museum with Corippo and was a longtime plane enthusiast.

C-47's journey

The C-47 and its 14 passengers are on a journey that began Friday from Paso Robles. The plane first took part in the 75th anniversary of the Douglas DC-3 — DC-3 is the civilian name of the Army’s C-47 — in Rock Falls, Ill. It’s due to arrive in Oshkosh, Wis. today to be showcased in the Experimental Aircraft Association’s AirVenture Convention with about 2,500 other historic planes.