75th D-Day Anniversary

Today marks the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion. One of the biggest allied operations or WWII which lead to the downfall of Germany’s Occupation of Europe. Thousands of men, aircraft, machines, supplies, and more went into making the operation a success. Today you can watch as a special memorial is taking place over the skies of France as over a dozen C-47’s are taking part in a flight over Normandy.

 

Riding in History

The P-40’s were certainly the highlight of Atlanta Warbird Weekend but there were many other planes there to enjoy and some of those planes offered rides. Those that do aviation photography know the joy that comes when doing an air to air shoot. Being able to ride in one plane and photograph another. The same joy can be felt when riding in these old birds. We are lucky in that sense and need to remember that because for others coming to these airshows and events is the only way that they get to enjoy these planes.

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The SNJ here is on taxi about to depart. It was one of several Texans on display and while not the bearer of rides like it’s fellow planes it still put on a good show. The DC-3 on the other hand was busy going up and down selling rides both days. Just like when it comes to showing the people and the details in the hangars, the other planes tell the story too. In this case a video would’ve been better because it was the sound of these planes going up and down all day that told the story more then the image.

The Douglas DC-3

This week I thought I would talk about one of the most well used aircraft in the last seventy years. The Douglas DC-3, or C-47 Skytrain as it was designated by the US Military and known as the Dakota in the UK, has been in service since its first flight in 1935. It has been used as a cargo plane, troop transport, jump platform for airborne infantry, a civilian airliner and in more recent years as an aircraft for smugglers. The DC-3 has had many names, none more affectionate then the Gooney Bird. During WWII the marines in the Pacific noticed lots of Gooney Birds on the islands. When a Gooney Bird would take off it would run along the ground, flapping it’s long wings trying to get its fat body in the air. When the C-47’s were loaded the tail wheel would bounce on the ground, like the birds, and so the name stuck. The Gooney Bird.

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Whatever name that it went by, it was a mainstay for the army; however, this plane didn’t start with the army. In 1933 TWA asked Donald Douglas, Douglas Commercial or DC, to design an aircraft to compete against United Airlines Boeing 247. It started with the DC-1 in 1933 and then the DC-2 in 1934, however American Airlines wanted a replacement to the Curtiss Condor II and asked Douglas to create a bigger DC-2 with sleeping berths. The new aircraft designated the DST, Douglas Sleeper Transport, first flew December 1935. The prototype was fitted with 21 seats and became the DC-3. Originally powered by its two Wright R-1820 Cyclone 9s engines, later models including most military versions were equipped with Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp engines, The DC-3 was able to travel eastbound across the country in 15hrs, westbound 17 1/2 hours, with three refueling stops. This was a huge improvement in airline travel compared to previous aircraft.

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In all 16,079 DC-3 variants were built. In this total are 4,937 built by the Soviet Union, known as the Lisunov Li-2, and 487 built by Japan, known as the L2D Type 0 transport. American Airlines had the first inaugural flight in 1936 and almost overnight it became the most popular way to travel. Over 400 DC-3’s were ordered by various airlines which rapidly replaced the favored method of travel by trains. These airlines, American, TWA, Eastern and United, along with the DC-3 paved the way for commercial travel as we know it today. But it didn’t stop in the US. The DC-3 was so popular that planes starting flying all over the globe, including one of the longest routes at the time, Amsterdam to Sydney.

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During WWII over 10,000 DC-3’s were built for the army and were licensed to several allied countries. The C-47 was the standard cargo plane with a larger two door entry system and lifting arm. The C-53 is the paratrooper model with bench seating on either side of the plane and a single, detachable rear door. Because of the ruggedness of the aircraft design and the ease of maintenance, thousands of these planes were still flying after the war and the demand for such planes has remained in existence to this day. This particular example belongs to a couple of brothers down in Mesa, AZ home of the CAF Airbase. It’s painted in a desert camouflage as would have been seen if the plane was flying out of North Africa.

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Speaking of flying, since this is a multiengine plane it has, like most multiengine planes do, a pilot and copilot seat. Flying the Texas Flying Legends Museums, C-53 Skytrooper, is Casey Odegaard and with him Mark Murphy. Having had the chance to fly and talk with Casey about the C-53, I can honestly say that it is a comfortable plane to fly in and according to Casey a rather simple multiengine plane to fly. As with most warbirds, one of the greatest challenges is being able to see when taxiing, especially with a wingspan of 95ft. Despite any such challenges, the DC-3 still remains as one of the most reliable aircraft ever built. A common saying has been engrained with the aircraft, “the only replacement for the DC-3 is another DC-3.” While not many DC-3’s still fly for the airlines, many are seen at airshows. Another of the most common warbirds to frequent the airshow circuit, the C-47 is often used as a platform for sky jumpers and like most airshows where the air is hot and the sun is bright, its great wings provide shade for the masses.

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After the fame the aircraft brought to the airlines, it made an even greater impact on historical events as it took part in several famous WWII battles. Two of the most noteworthy were of course the Invasion of Normandy and Operation Market Garden. Both of these operations have become so well known in todays generation in part because of series like Band of Brothers. The C-53, army designation, supplied the transport of paratroopers that dropped behind enemy lines in both operations. At one time the sky was filled with hundreds of these planes and thousands of men were jumping out of them.

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Prior to the invasion of Normandy, every aircraft that was going to take place over the French coastline, was painted with black and white stripes so that ground personnel would be able to distinguish between enemy aircraft and friendlies. However due to the secrecy of the mission planes were not painted until the night before the invasion. In a handful of hours, every ground crew, pilot and officer grabbed brushes and mops to paint on the stripes to every aircraft. These included not just C-47’s but P-51 Mustangs and P-47 Thunderbolts, to name just a few.

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At EAA Airventure, Oshkosh in 2013, the Texas Flying Legends took their freshly painted C-53 and with the help of over a dozen reenactors, painted the invasion stripes on the wings and the fuselage. In under thirty minutes they were able to paint, “The Duchess of Dakota” (above), with all the markings needed. While at a distance the stripes look perfect, close up they show the crookedness of the brushes, the dirt, bugs, and bristles of the brushes. In all it was pretty amazing to behold and to think about how many other planes that same treatment had to be applied to. The end result was a sky filled with aircraft like this C-47, “Whats Up Doc” from Palm Springs Museum (right), being seen below from guys on the ground.

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The Gooney Bird has remained a fan favorite of the aviation community ever since it’s conception. It can be seen across the country at various museums and remains an attraction to all.

Images captured with Nikon D3, D4, 14-24 f/2.8 AF-S, 24-70 AF-s f/2.8, 70-300 VR, 200-400 VR II

In Honor of the 70th Anniversary of DDay

Seventy years ago today, one of the greatest and deadliest military feats of WWII occurred which shaped the rest of the war as we knew it. Over four hundred thousand men took part of the Normandy invasion as part of Operation Overlord. This was the first major offensive that the United States took part in for the liberation of Europe. It was a massive endeavor that required months of training, planning and victories in order to pull off. The biggest was having air superiority over Europe. At the time of the landings the Allies had complete air superiority over the skies to the point where no German fighters appeared over the skies during the invasion. It took years to accomplish this feat and many lives were lost in the process.

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The dropping of allied airborne infantry was a major part of the invasion as thousands of men were dropped into occupied territory over miles of landscape. The skies were filled with C-53’s as the chutes opened below. The invasion led the way for every major offensive in the European theatre. Many brave men died in this offensive and many more went on to fight from France to Germany.

Getting Ready for the Invasion

One of the most iconic subjects on warbirds today are the black and white invasion stripes. For those of you that don’t know these stripes were painted on the wings of every plane that flew during the Normandy invasion or, D-Day. The idea was that the men on the ground would be able to tell friendly planes from foe by seeing these stripes. It would help keep our pilots safe as they made their ground attacks on enemy installations so that the boys of the invasion fleet could keep pushing back through the fifty miles of beach that they needed to secure.

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This past year at Oshkosh the Texas Flying Legends did a great salute to our veterans with a panel of vets and a recreation of the D-Day invasion with their C-53, which just came out of paint, and a paint crew putting on the invasion stripes. Using mops, buckets and brushes they used a water based crayola paint that washed right off but looks real and made these stripes across the plane. Up close you can see that the stripes aren’t perfect with bristles and imperfections in the paint but from far away you can’t tell. The reality is this is how it was done. It was an all hands on deck project the night before the invasion that made this all possible and everyone at every rank was involved at the England bases to get it done.

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Today of course we see these lines all over the place. On different Mustangs, C-47’s and P-47 Thunderbolts. They can be seen on a variety of different aircraft as they have become a very symbolic part of WWII. It was these three planes though that were among the biggest players during the invasion.

I’m going Back to Oshkosh!

That’s right I’m heading to Oshkosh next week! I’m so excited to be going back this year after going in 2011 and missing last year. It is just so much fun with so many different planes and people you never know what to expect. Photographically it is a challenge, not because of the lack of subjects but for having to many subjects to choose from! It’s like a smorgasbord of planes, there’s something for everybody! I can’t wait!

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Now for those of you wondering I will be camping all week but not to worry the blog will still be going!

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 24-70 AF-S f/2.8, 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

The front doesn’t have it all

The one thing that I see all the time is that photographers only look at the front of the aircraft as they walk around and never go around the whole plane. I never understood why this is because quite often the best background is actually when you’re looking at the tail. The day we were at Fantasy of Flight for Precon we had great skies everywhere we looked. The way the plane was parked we had the brown hangers in the background. Well I don’t like the brown hangers and with those great skies I had to do something about it. By getting low and using the wings as cover most of the hangers disappeared and with a little help in post, the plane now looks like it’s on a English base.

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One of the reasons the tail looks so good is because it gives the allusion that the plane is going out somewhere. The last thing anyone sees of a plane as it goes off is the tail. This brings to life the mystery of the mission, where the plane has been, where is it going? All questions that make you scratch your head. The more mystery you bring to your images the more time someone spends looking at them trying to figure them out.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, AF-S 24-70 f/2.8, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

A New Museum, New Stories!

This past weekend I was up in Missoula looking for a plane that i thought would be in the neighborhood. The B-25J “Maid in the Shade” that stopped Bozeman is still on tour up in the north and made a stop in Helena last week and starting this previous Monday in Missoula. Well being one day early i missed getting a chance to see those guys again but found time to spend at a museum i didn’t know about. The Museum of Mountain Flying located at the Missoula International Airport has some pretty darn cool history too it.

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Missoula is known for many things one of which is having the Smoke Jumping Academy which plays a huge role in forest fires throughout the country. The Museum there is partly dedicated to the academy and has a wide collection of planes and history about forest fire management. One of the really cool planes they have is a DC-3 “Mann Gulch” which was used for dropping smoke jumpers into hot spots. It was named after a 1949 jump into a hotspot where 15 men were dropped into Mann Gulch and 12 were killed. Sadly the plane is not flying yet but it is a great piece to the collection of Fire Fighting aircraft. Also is a TBM, part of Johnson’s Flying Circus, also on the way to being air worthy.

I didn’t get a good shot of either aircraft, so in case you were wondering this is a shot of 4 DC-3’s from Oshkosh 2011.

In the Camera Bag:
Nikon D3, 70-200 VRII, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

A Transport this Time

It’s been a while since I updated my Gallery with some new aircraft so this week seemed to be a good enough time as any. This one if the Douglas C47 Skytrain. It was developed after the DC-3 Airliner with some improvements for the Allies combat action, including a strengthened floor and a rear door. This aircraft played a huge part of the war effort. Over ten thousand were made for dropping troops, carrying cargo and transferring wounded. Some of its greatest uses came in the naval battle in the Pacific where the need to move as quickly as the Japanese in jungle fronts was essential. The Navy designated the plane R4D where in the European front it was later modified to drop paratroopers then known as the C53 Skytrooper. The men on the ground had another name for it, the Gooney Bird.

C47 Skytrain

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Images Captured with Nikon D3, AF-S 70-200 VRII, AF-S 200-400 VR, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

Playing with the Statics

Here are a couple more static’s from CAF headquarters Arizona. I love playing with statics there are so many possibilities. This is a DC-3 and as you can see with the oil drums under the engines it hasn’t been flown for a while.

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This one is one of my new favorites. It has a great look to it, almost like a mustache. It is a T34 Mento, basically the plane that replaced the T6 Trainer from training new pilots.

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Images captured with D3, AF-S Nikkor 24-70 f2.8, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film

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