The following morning it was again an early rise as I prepared for a long day. The Cherbourg Kyriad Hotel served an excellent breakfast with fresh croissant, Baguette's and black coffee. The view from the breakfast room was wonderful, showing the Bay of Querqueville and its harbour entrance. It was time to head out to the airport and meet Mr Pacal Marcoux, the airport operational manager. I had written to him several months in advance, requesting official ramp permission for this D-Day DC-3 event. Roger and myself, we introduced ourselves in the office and sure enough our names were on the authorized photographer's list. Due to a language barrier, there was some confusing amongst the local airport staff as to how we would move about on the ramp. There were no official ramp passes issued.
But we were handed over to the airport Gendarmerie who would escort us out on the ramp. I did enquire about the advertised airport DC-3 rides and public Open Days, but apparently nothing was going to be organized! There was no airshow, no flying program, no public announcements and no public access on the ramp. While the rest of the Normandy province was celebrating the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Allied invasion in a grand style….nothing much was organized at Cherbourg-Maupertus airport! Good thing we had fixed our official ramp permission. Roger and I spent the morning inside the small but cosy airport cafeteria, awaiting the news of the Dakota fleet departure from the UK shores.
Already out on the small ramp was the National Warplane C-47 Skytrain N345AB, also known as 'Whiskey 7', normally based at Geneseo New York State. She had crossed the 3600 mile Atlantic Ocean a few of days before, routing via Greenland, Iceland, Scotland and England and was tasked to commemorate the WW2 veterans and Allied jumps for the US Liberty Jump Team (LJT).
The other D-Day survivor on the ramp was the immaculate DDA Classic airlines DC-3 PH-PBA. She was originally built as a C-47A (1944) and delivered to the 44th TCS – 316 Troop Carrier Group of the 9th US Air Force with tail code '42-100971' based at Cottesmore England. On the morning of June 5th 1944 she participated in Operation Neptune and the following night June 6th dropped 18 paratroopers from the 82 Airborne Division over drop zone 'O' just west of Ste-Mere-Eglise. Currently in full passenger configuration she was invited to Normandy to fly over the many historic landmarks in memory of the thousands of Airborne Troopers that jumped that faithful morning.
Around noon Bjorn and Derek joined us at the small airport cafeteria. According to the official RCPT flight schedule the DC-3 armada was scheduled to depart from Lee-On-solent airfield (UK) around midday and make the historic cross channel flight and then fly onwards to Carentan (Normandy) for the first air droppings. The local weather at Lee-On-Solent was dreadful, but improving and it delayed the mass take-off. Information from our local French airport guide was scarce. Apparently the departure time was delayed to 14.00 hours local. The weather at Cherbourg was fine with scattered clouds, around 18 degrees Celsius with a cool brisk wind from the west. We decided to hang out at the airport cafeteria once more. Approaching the UK departure slot time Roger contacted the Lee-On-Solent tower control and inquired about the DC-3 departure. It turned out they had just left about 10 minutes ago! With the help of the friendly Gendarmerie we were then escorted to the nearby fire station next to the Cherbourg ATC tower. According to Mr. Marcoux and his ramp controller, the grassy plot of land opposite the fire station would become the Dakota's parking spot for the next several days.
Around 15.00 hour, much to our relief faint DC-3 silhouettes could be seen in the Northern horizon. The Dakota armada was coming closer and crossed the Cherbourg coastline. Leading the pack in a three ship formation was C-47 N473DC, C-47 N74598 and the Air France DC-3 F-AZTE escorted by a French T6. Closely followed by the second loose formation of Dakota Norway LN-WND, Finnish Airlines OH-LCH, DC-3 Vennerne OY-BPB, Breitling HB-IRJ and the Malev Li-2 HA-LIX
The formation flew parallel the runway and broke off for the planned Carentan jump site. Little did we know this was going to be cancelled due to the high winds. Some 30 minutes later DC-3 Vennerne OY-BPB 'K-682'was first to arrive on the scene and made a smooth landing. The rest of the pack followed suit and this created some confusion amongst the DC-3 as to their individual parking position.
Crossing the English Channel from Lee on the Solent to Cherbourg by Rebecca Williamson Bazeley
9 DC-3s and one Li-2 sat waiting under pensive skies in Lee on Solent on the morning of June 5, 2014. There was a palpable sense of anticipation and excitement, laced with a touch of nervous energy. To mark the anniversary of D-Day, these 10 aircraft were preparing to fly in formation across the English Channel to commemorate the surprise feat that had first been accomplished 70 years prior. There were multiple pilot briefs on this grey, windy and drizzly June day in 2014. Over one hundred jumpers paced in their gear, preparing for a planned reenactment jump over Carentan. Rumors swept through--maybe a delay for the flight (a 24 hour delay would, after all, be historically accurate!), or perhaps no delay, but the formation itself would be canceled due to unfavorable weather conditions. However, the weather held steady in Lee. High winds were still expected in the Carentan area.
It was finally decided that the formation flight would go ahead, although looser than first planned due to weather considerations. The question of whether or not a jump would occur wouldn't be answered until nearer to the drop zone. Finally, the time came to load into the collection of DC-3s, C-47s, and the Li-2, and begin turning engines. There is nothing like the sound of a DC-3. Any enthusiast knows that the rumble of a pair of round engines is the most beautiful sound to experience--now multiply that majesty by 10 aircraft!
I had the distinct pleasure of flying in the Breitling sponsored DC-3 HB-IRJ. A DC-3A model, she was originally operated by American Airlines, and is thus distinguished by her passenger door located on the right side of the aircraft. I fly DC-3s for our business Aerometal International at home in the USA, (although really it can't be called a job!); however on this flight, I had the pleasure of just being a passenger and soaking in every sight. We were piloted by the ever accomplished owner of HB-IRJ, Francisco Agullo, and Jon Corley, a highly capable pilot for Air Atlantique.
We lined up behind the other venerable Douglas aircraft (also accompanied by a Beech staggerwing and a T-6 camera ship), and took our turn departing the misty airfield. Once airborne, we took our place in formation (outside left). To our right, we looked at the Li-2 and the Norwegian DC-3 (originally built as a C-47.) Ahead of us flew Union Jack Dak and Drag Em Oot C-47 Skytrain. There was no idle gazing in the back--instead every one of us sat with our faces glued to the windows. As we flew over Portsmouth, we looked down to see WWII naval ships gathered below us. During moments like these, with no modern boats or other objects giving away the era, one could almost imagine how it must've felt 70 years ago. Flying with just nine other aircraft seemed momentous, and imagining what the full force of hundreds of C-47s would have looked like from the air and ground was simply mind boggling.
The flight went by in what seemed like mere minutes, but was actually closer to two hours. The only disappointment of the formation was that the jumps could not occur--the winds remained too high for the paratroopers to risk, although they certainly seemed game! Nearing Cherbourg Maupertus Airport, we watched as the DC-3s, C-47s and Li-2 around us peeled off for landing. As we landed, we were treated to an accompaniment of the T-6, capturing low fly-by photographs. Upon disembarking, we joined two more aircraft already at Cherbourg--KLM's Princess Amalia, which flew in the first wave of D-Day, and Whiskey 7, a C-47 that journeyed from the USA to participate.
Thus, a week of unforgettable experiences honoring the sacrifices and achievements of D-Day began.
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