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Breitling Normandy Flight

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Amongst the RCPT Dakota aircraft listing was the immaculate 1940 vintage Breitling DC-3A HB-IRJ with construction number 2204. This a/c was originally built as a civilian DC-3-277B model, which included a RH side passenger entrance door. After delivery March 1940, she flew with American Airlines as Flagship "Cleveland"NC25658 and also later with Trans Texas Airways. During WW2 she was enlisted by the USAF and was used an Army personal transport. During my 1980's Miami spotting trips I photographed this a/c operating for PBA Airlines out of Miami International as N34PB. Some years later she was offered 'FOR SALE' by Prop-Jet Fortis Aviation group with a total of 73730 airframe hours. During 1992 she was bought by Champlain Air Inc and received a new registration N922CA. Since November 2008 she calls Switzerland her new home and now flies with the Super Constellation Flyers Association.
The Breitling DC-3 was invited to take part in the historic D-Day over Normandy event to provide aerial sightseeing flights. Several weeks before, I had contacted DC-3 captain Francisco Agullo and asked him if he was part of the crew and perhaps we could meet up again. I had met Francisco twice before as a passenger onboard the Super Constellation Flyers Association Lockheed C-121C Super Constellation, once at Zurich and once at Bern. Since then we had always kept in contact.

Late in the afternoon, inside the buzzing terminal, I caught up with Captain Francisco and his crew: Captain Jon Corley and flight attendant Rebecca Williamson Bazeley. Rebecca who I just met on social media is a corporate DC-3 pilot for Aerometal International LLC. They are an Oregon based company dedicated to the Continuing Airworthiness of Aging Aircraft. Several DC-3s have been restored, maintained and operated.

The historic Dakota channel crossing was incredible and set a new chapter in the life of the remarkable Douglas DC-3/C-47 Dakota…probably never to be repeated again. The Breitling DC-3 was flying in the aft group in a loose 4-ship formation. Due to the high winds over the drop zone the jump was cancelled. All paratroopers landed back at Cherbourg. Captain Francisco told me that both the Breitling and DDA DC-3 where tasked for pleasure flight over the Normandy coast. Several flights where planned over historic landmarks and Normandy beaches. Captain Francisco invited me and my friends to join him on a sunset flight the following day which was planned together with a French and Swiss television team.

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The following morning we turned up refreshed for another day of action. Both C-47s Dragg-Em-Oot N473DC and 'Whiskey 7' N345AB were already airborne, delivering paratroopers over Foucarville and Utah Beach. While DDA DC-3 PH-PBA and Breitling DC-3 HB-IRJ were taking turns with pleasure flights over Normandy beaches. In between all this Dakota action, the USAF got 4 Lockheed C-130s in the air and made several low passes over the runway. 'Whiskey 7' made an additional flight over Amtreville carrying WW2 veterans and a team from the US Liberty Jump Team.
Around 18.00 hours we got the call from Francisco to head out on the ramp and assemble at HB-IRJ. Captain Corley and F/A Rebecca where already busy preparing the a/c, for its last scenic evening flight of the day. This DC-3 features 18 leather seats and soundproof side panels and head linings…this cabin was nothing like an Spartan interior of a war weary C-47 Skytrain. Captain Francisco welcomed our group of Dutch, German, English and American aviation photographers onboard, plus the French and Swiss team.

He gave a short safety briefing and provided some info of our intended route over Valogness, Ste-Mere-Eglise and Utah beach. I settled my self in the RH Forward seat and gazed out the window….and captured the scene of two olive drab C-47s, a Dutch naval PBY-5A Catalina and the Air France DC-3 on the ramp…was this 1944?
With in minutes both Pratt & Whitney R1830-92 radial engines were fired up and running smoothly. The mood inside was cheerful with all us franticly snapping away. We slowly moved out of the parking spot and we taxied to our engine run-up point at the threshold of runway 01. I could see the other five DC-3s and Li-2 scattered around the field. I guess this was transported in to Douglas Dakota heaven. The engine run-up's were smooth and swift and then Captain Francisco moved the throttles forward to Take Off power (2700rpm and 48in manifold pressure). Moments later we were thundering along the runway. With a short take-off roll off about 700m the tail came up and we rotated into the smooth evening air at a speed of 84 knots. The landing gear was pulled up and engines were set to climb power (METO) of 2550rpm with 42in manifold pressure). We made a gradual turn to the south and climbed to our cruising altitude. The engine settings were reduced once more for cruise to 2050rpm and 28in manifold pressure). With a cruising height of 1000ft/AGL and a comfortable speed of 125 knots we set course for Valognes.

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Little remains of Valognes famous architectural heritage as many of the aristocratic mansions were reduced to rubble during the battle of Normandy. We then followed the local N13 highway also known as the Auto-route Normandie. All too soon we were overhead the most famous towns of Normandy: Sainte-Mère-Église. Founded in the eleventh century, its main claim to fame is that it played a significant part in the World War II Normandy landings because this village stood right in the middle of route N13, which the Germans would have most likely used on any significant counterattack on the troops landing on Utah and Omaha Beaches. In the early morning of 6 June 1944 mixed units of the U.S. 82nd Airborne and U.S. 101st Airborne Divisions occupied the town in Operation Boston, giving it the claim to be one of the first towns liberated in the invasion.
As we circled overhead it was obvious the small town was taken over my many thousand of tourist with their campers and WW2 vintage military jeeps and tanks.

Saluting the small town of Ste-Mere-Eglise we turned towards the coast passing the Passe de Carenten inlet, which lies to the south of Utah Beach. Captain Francisco lined up the DC-3 above the shore line so we could have a good view of the peaceful beach which passed by under the shiny wings off the HB-IRJ. Utah Beach was the furthest west of the five beaches designated for the D-Day landings. Located at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula, it was added by General Dwight Eisenhower to the original D-Day plan to ensure the early capture of the vital port of Cherbourg, at the north of the peninsula. The landing at Utah was scheduled for 06.30 and the Allied force came from the US 4th Infantry Division. The plan for Utah included an airborne drop by the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions at various points two to five miles inland of the beach. On the first full day of the landing at Utah, 20,000 men and 1,700 military vehicles had landed on the beach. Casualties were less than 300 men. Flying over the beach nothing reminded me of that terrible early morning when the American assault wave hit the beaches. The golden beach and blue coastal waters lay calm and peaceful. A vast contrast of 70 years ago!

Our aerial tour of Utah Beach was coming to an end and we left the coast near St-Vaast-la Hougue bound for the nearby Cherbourg-Maupertus airfield. We landed back on runway 01 and taxied past two Normandy veterans, PH-PBA and N473DC and stopped near the small terminal. I would like to thank Captain Francisco and his crew for having us onboard for this memorable flight over Normandy coast – date June 5th 2014.

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With thanks to Mr Hans Combee (Merville C-47 Snafu), The Round Canopy Parachute Team (RCPT) team, National Warplane C-47 W7 team, Paul van den Berg DDA Classic Airlines, Francisco Agullo & Rebecca Williamson Bazeley - Breitling DC-3 team, Pacal Marcoux Cherbourg Airport – Andre van Loon and From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


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