Over the Hill

Paso plane a flying history lesson

Fourteen people will soon fly from Paso Robles to Illinois in an airplane that’s old enough to collect Social Security. That twin-engine plane was built in 1944 by Douglas Aircraft Co. Douglas built it and thousands more like it for the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II.

Army officials called those planes C-47s. They were the military version of a civilian airliner that Douglas first flew in 1935, and called the DC-3. In 1936 or ’37, my whole family went to the airport in Rochester, N.Y., to see American Airlines’ newest 21-passenger airliner, a DC-3. I was 6 or 7. I only remember it was shiny.

The 14 prospective passengers for the Paso Robles C-47 are connected with the Estrella Warbird Museum on Dry Creek Road along the southern edge of Paso Robles Municipal Airport. They plan to fly July 23 to Rock Falls, Ill., for a DC-3 reunion. Then they’ll fly to Oshkosh, Wis., for that city’s big annual air show.

I learned that from Gary Corippo, a cofounder of the museum and a member of the Gooney Bird Group, which actually owns the C-47.

Mr. Corippo said his group’s plane wasn’t in Europe for the D-Day invasion but did drop paratroopers in the subsequent airborne actions. Several owners acquired the plane after the war: first Belgium, then France and then Israel. Eventually a Canadian company bought it. The Paso Robles people bought it from them in January 2008.

For the next two years, they scraped and sanded the old plane and repainted it olive-drab brown. They made it look like the C-47s that dropped American paratroopers early D-Day morning behind the Normandy beaches. One of those paratroopers was the late Robert Rader of Paso Robles, whose airborne infantry company was made famous by the book and TV series, “Band of Brothers.”

Last week I joined a dozen or so people who got to ride in the C-47 on a flight over Paso Robles and Templeton. We sat facing each other on benches that protruded inward from the plane’s sidewalls like long window seats with scooped-out rump recesses.

My rump recess was kitty-corner from the door hole. (The door had been removed to permit photography.) So I had a good view of the local geography as it passed below us.

I also tried to imagine being one of the 27 young men who jumped D-Day morning from a similar door hole into that dark, predawn sky, filled with anti-aircraft fire and uncertainty. Of course, I couldn’t really imagine the terror they overcame.

Contact Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.