That's All, Brother

That's All, Brother[a] is a Douglas C-47 Skytrain aircraft (the military version of the civilian DC-3) that led the formation of 800 others from which approximately 13,000 U.S. paratroopers jumped on D-Day, June 6, 1944, the beginning of the liberation of France in the last two years of World War II. After the war it was returned to the United States and sold to civilian owners, eventually falling victim to neglect until it was found in an Oshkosh, Wisconsin, boneyard in 2015, facing imminent disassembly to be converted into a modern turbine aircraft. It has since been restored and is part of the Commemorative Air Force.[2]

That's All, Brother
A drab green 1940s aircraft with "3X" painted in white near the cockpit and "W" on its tail faces right on a runway
That's All, Brother taxiing at Waterbury–Oxford Airport, 17 May 2019.
Type Douglas C-47 Skytrain
Manufacturer Douglas Aircraft Company
Manufactured March 7, 1944
Registration N88874
N47TB[1]
Serial 42-92847
First flight March 8, 1944
Owners and operators United States Army Air Force, various civilian operators, Commemorative Air Force (CAF)
In service April 8, 1944 – August 5, 1945
Status Restored, airworthy
Preserved at Based with the CAF's Central Texas Wing

The C-47's name, painted on its nose, was chosen by Army Air Force Lt. Col. John M. Donalson, commander of the 87th Troop Carrier Squadron, who flew the plane during the operation, as a "message to Adolf Hitler" that Nazi Germany's days were numbered.[3] It was successfully flown again in 2018, and has been exhibited at air shows.[2] After further refitting it has been flown across the Atlantic with other historic aircraft that took part in the invasion, to commemorate its 75th anniversary.[4]

HistoryEdit

Military serviceEdit

When the war began, John Donalson, who normally flew with the Alabama-based 106th Observation Squadron, which was assigned to the Pacific theater during the war, was transferred to Europe. Normally, he flew a Douglas C-47 Skytrain that he had named Belle of Birmingham, in honor of his home state's largest city. But for Operation Overlord, the 1944 invasion of Normandy which opened the western front, it was necessary to cut holes in the plane's fuselage for extra equipment. Donalson, by then commanding the 438th Troop Carrier Group of the 87th Troop Carrier Squadron, part of IX Troop Carrier Command, refused, and so he was issued another C-47 to lead the formation of those aircraft which dropped paratroopers onto the shores of France.[5]

The C-47 issued to Donalson had been built three months earlier at the Douglas Aircraft plant in Oklahoma City. It was delivered the day after completion to what was then the United States Army Air Forces at Love Field in Dallas; from there it was flown to Baer Army Air Field in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Five weeks later it was flown to England by the Air Transport Command.[6] Donalson named his new plane That's All, Brother, as a personal message to Adolf Hitler that Nazi Germany's dominance of Europe would soon be ended.[3]

 
Paratroopers on their way to the drop zone on D-Day morning

On the morning of June 6, That's All, Brother led 800 planes that dropped over 13,000 American paratroopers onto the French coast. It was chosen for the job because it had been equipped with radar that could find the beacons dropped to mark drop zones by an earlier group of paratroopers known as The Pathfinders.[4] Allied troops held their beachhead despite heavy initial losses, and slowly began liberating France. The C-47 was used in other operations in Western Europe later that year, including Market Garden, and Repulse (part of the resupplying of Bastogne), and in 1945's Operation Varsity, part of the invasion of Germany.[7]

Civilian useEdit

By the end of the war, the plane had been flown back to the United States and decommissioned. It was sold on the civilian market as surplus. During the decades after the war it passed through 12 private owners, who generally kept it in good condition, never crashing or seriously damaging it as they put it to a variety of uses, although none of them were apparently aware of its historic importance.[4] It was modified into a more conventional DC-3 configuration and painted in a scheme common to such craft during the Vietnam War.[3]

RestorationEdit

The plane's rediscovery began in 2006. That year Staff Sgt. Matthew Scales, assigned to the 106th, began researching the unit's history. Most of that focused on the squadron's work in the South Pacific, but he learned that a member of the 106th had flown the lead plane on D-Day. "I didn't understand how this was possible, as, on June 6, 1944, my squadron was about as far away from Normandy as humanly possible," he recalled later.[5]

The next year Scales transferred to the Air Force Historical Research Agency to better do his research. He found the records of Donalson's transfer from the 106th to fly the D-Day C-47s. Along with those records was That's All, Brother's military serial number as well as the tail number it had borne as a civilian aircraft, allowing him to track it to its owner in Mesa, Arizona.[5]

Initially, Scales thought the man's plane was the Belle of Birmingham, Donalson's usual aircraft. The current owner had restored it to airworthiness, and promised to keep it in good condition when he learned of its historic importance. Later, Scales learned of its true identity, and called the owner back.[5]

By then, however, it had been sold to Basler Turbo Conversions of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to be converted into a BT-67, one of four the company makes from the old DC-3s every year,[b] a process which leaves only 30% of the original craft and scraps the rest. The owner had flown it to Wittman Regional Airport, where Basler is based. The company had put it in their boneyard to await the procedure, which it was scheduled to begin within six months.[3]

After the plane's serial number was found, proving it was That's All, Brother, stories were published. Organizations and private collectors called Basler making offers to buy the plane. Eventually the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), an organization which restores and flies vintage planes, primarily to exhibit at air shows, took possession of the C-47.[3]

The CAF set itself the goal of restoring the aircraft not only to the point of airworthiness but having it participate in the D-Day 75th anniversary ceremonies in 2019. While the organization's Minnesota Wing provided sufficient volunteer labor to assist the experts at Basler, it needed money as well.[3] In 2015, after the rediscovered plane was put on public display for the first time at the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh air show,[8] a CAF executive started a Kickstarter campaign; its original goal of $75,000 was quickly surpassed, ultimately raising around $330,000 in what has been described as one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns ever.[3]

Contemporary film footage revealed the aircraft's name, which made raising money to save it even easier. Basler's expertise quickly proved necessary when the initial assessments revealed substantial metal corrosion, requiring 1,600 hours of repair work. The Kickstarter money also went to buy replacement wiring for much of the plane.[8]

During the corrosion repair, research was able to find some patches of the original paint remaining, allowing experts to match those colors with modern paints. When repainting the plane as it was in 1944 for the invasion, some imperfections found on pictures of the plane from that era were replicated for historical authenticity. The black and white invasion stripes near the plane's tail were done crudely, much as they had been done hastily, with whatever brushes were available on the day before the invasion when they were originally applied. The stripes were left off one of the troop doors, again consistent with That's All, Brother's appearance on the morning of D-Day, since planners chalked numbers on each plane to guide troops to their assignments.[9]

In 2017 That's All, Brother was assigned to the Central Texas Wing of the CAF, based in San Marcos. Filmmaker Nik Coleman began a feature-length documentary about the restoration. The wings were rebuilt and most of the mechanicals installed,[8] including the original Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engines[9] and propellers. According to Basler's president, about 85% of the original plane was restorable. Volunteers from the CAF, especially one from Oklahoma, looked all over the world for authentic World War II-era parts to cover the rest. A removable plate with vintage gauges hides modern avionics equipment for navigation and communications, including automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast.[3]

At the end of January 2018, the restored aircraft made its first flight in years, a short test circuit from Wittman. It was livestreamed to viewers around the world on Facebook.[2] Pilot Doug Rozendaal, who had been part of early efforts to find and restore the C-47, described it as "almost squawk-free".[3] Afterward, it was flown to San Marcos so the Central Texas Wing could finish the restoration, turning the plane into a flying museum.[2] "We want this to be the most authentic D-Day C-47 on the planet," said the CAF's Adam Smith.[5]

Air showsEdit

External video
  "'That's All, Brother' C-47 Ride Along at SUN 'n FUN 2019"; video shot from aircraft by passenger
External video
  "'That's All, Brother Paris Airshow from the Cockpit"; in-cockpit and external video from the Paris Air Show

In the year after its first flight, That's All, Brother, logged 100 more hours in the air going to and from various air shows. At Wings over Dallas, a World War II-themed show in October 2018,[3] attendees paid $249 a seat for short rides, with the aircraft's interior rebuilt to look exactly as it had on D-Day, with bare metal seats, belts, and an overhead line for paratroopers to attach their rip cords to.[9] All seven flights sold out.[10] The aircraft was also featured during the 2019 Paris Air Show.

Another goal of the restorers has been to identify the paratroopers who went to Normandy aboard That's All, Brother and reach out to them or, more often, their descendants.[5] Two grandchildren of Donalson, who had died in 1987 after having risen to the rank of major general, rode the aircraft at an Alabama air show in early 2019.[4] In March 2019, the CAF learned that one of the few surviving D-Day paratroopers was not expecting to attend the 75th anniversary ceremonies in France due to his own failing health. They took the plane on a special trip to Dayton, Ohio, where he lived, so he could see the restored aircraft (which was not the one he had jumped from) and ride in it.[11]

D-Day 75th anniversary ceremoniesEdit

On May 18, 2019, That's All, Brother made a ceremonial flyby of the Statue of Liberty before joining other restored American World War II aircraft that had participated in the invasion for "Daks Over Normandy",[c] a ceremonial re-enactment of the air operations using the original craft, organized in Britain. The convoy flew the same multi-segment route across the Atlantic Ocean to the U.K. airfields as all American aircraft used on D-Day did. After spending several days training in safety procedures in Oxford, Connecticut, the convoy flew through the same airbases, hopping a northerly route across the ocean: Presque Isle, Maine; Goose Bay, Labrador; Narsarsuaq, Greenland; Reykjavik, Iceland, then to Prestwick Airport outside Glasgow, Scotland and finally to Duxford Aerodrome in southern England for "Daks Over Normandy" on June 6, 2019.[13]

That's All, Brother's schedule includes participation in anniversary events for a week, including a re-enactment of the original drop on June 6 with paratroopers jumping into the original drop zone, followed by return to the U.S. to resume its air show schedule.[3] The CAF plans to add speakers and sensors to make it a "living classroom", where schoolchildren on the plane can understand what it was like to be the paratroopers heading for their drops.[5] According to Joe Enzminger of the Central Texas Wing, the plane is in good enough shape to keep it flying for possibly another century.[3]

See alsoEdit

NotesEdit

  1. ^ Styled as "That's All--Brother" on the airplane itself
  2. ^ That model is considered particularly desirable for such conversions, according to one pilot. "There is no other airplane out there that will do what a turbine DC-3 will ... It's a 200-knot (230 mph) cruise airplane that will hold 10 to 12,000 pounds (4.5 to 5.4 t) with lots of cubes, and you can land it on gravel or snow with skis. It literally has no peers."[3]
  3. ^ Dak is an abbreviation for "Dakota", the RAF and RAAF designation for the C-47 Skytrain.[12]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "N47TB (1944 DOUGLAS DC3C owned by AMERICAN AIRPOWER HERITAGE FLYING MUSEUM) Aircraft Registration". FlightAware. Retrieved 9 June 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d Fortin, Jacey (February 1, 2018). "A D-Day Plane Is Flying Again". The New York Times. Retrieved May 24, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Bergqvist, Pia (October 3, 2018). "Return to the Front Line". Flying. Retrieved May 24, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d Reeves, Jay (May 21, 2019). "WWII plane from D-Day to join in 75th anniversary". AP News. Associated Press. Retrieved June 6, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Goss, Heather (August 2015). "Crowdsourcing Saves D-Day's First Airplane". Air & Space/Smithsonian. Retrieved May 25, 2019.
  6. ^ "Military history". Thatsallbrother.org. Commemorative Air Force. 2018. Retrieved May 26, 2019.
  7. ^ "That's All, Brother". ThatsAllBrother.org. Commemorative Air Force. 2018. Retrieved May 25, 2019.
  8. ^ a b c "Timeline". Thatsallbrother.org. Commemorative Air Force. 2018. Retrieved May 27, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c Johnsen, Frederick (May 19, 2019). "That's all, Brother: A veteran for the ages". General Aviation News. Retrieved May 28, 2019.
  10. ^ "Fly in The D-Day Veteran C-47 "That's All, Brother"". World War II Heritage Days. Commemorative Air Force. 2019. Retrieved May 28, 2019.
  11. ^ "Historic World War II aircraft flies to Dayton to honor D-Day veteran". General Aviation News. March 16, 2019. Retrieved May 28, 2019.
  12. ^ "C-47 Skytrain Military Transport". Boeing. Retrieved June 6, 2019.
  13. ^ Boatman, Julie (May 23, 2019). "D-Day Squadron Marks Milestone Atlantic Crossing". Flying. Retrieved May 29, 2019.

External linksEdit