Tuesday, October 19, 2010
The Last Time
Half of the DC-3s in America celebrate the Gooney Bird’s 75th
Gryder’s DC-3, wearing the red and silver livery of its sponsor Herpa, a German toy manufacturer, made its first trip to Europe in pieces on a transport boat in 1938. It wore Swiss colors during the war, carried passengers for Ozark Airlines until 1967, then served as an executive transport for several corporations. In 1974, the seats were yanked and a sturdier metal floor installed as part of a freighter conversion. The landing gear got upgraded to C-47 status, increasing gross weight to 26,900 pounds.
Gryder bought the airplane, which came with a built-in contract, to train FAA employees. Ten years later, still expecting the DC-3 flight-training business to dry up any day, he routinely fields queries and accepts new students for his DC-3 school. You can’t keep a good Gooney Bird down.
Every one of the 28 DC-types on the ground at The Last Time event had its own long, colorful history for the eager crowds to discover.
The big Cyclones pull the DC-3 onto the runway. Dan takes in the lush green heartland of Illinois, imagining the landscape hasn’t changed all that much from when his bird first flew in the year of Neville Chamberlain’s “Peace for Our Time”—mere months before Hitler’s war engulfed Europe, then America.
Below, on the interstate highway and on country roads for miles around the airport, thousands of cars lined up to see the The Last Time fleet depart for EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh. Behind him, in a stunning execution of superb flight planning and pure piloting skill, 22 more Gooney Birds launched and pulled into formation to head north.
The 23-plane group crosses at 2,500 feet over Wittman Field in a tight, beautiful formation. Joe and Bee look down at thousands of planes and the huge air-show crowd. How many of them will ever know the full story of the DC-3s’ contribution to military and civilian aviation? Or of their generation’s personal sacrifices, triumphs and tragedies?
No matter. They went, so long ago. They endured. Those who made it home built lives in the free world they gave everything for. Donald Douglas’ immortal DC-3 changed the world 75 years ago. There likely never will be another airplane like her, nor ever again so many in one tight, proud, defiant formation. For Dan Gryder, Joe Colmer, Bee Haydu and the other Gooney crew and passengers crossing over, the tears well up unbidden and without shame.
Check out Dan Gryder’s DC-3 Training Ops at www.thedc-3network.com, The Last Time at www.thelasttime.org, and Wings Across America WASP at www.wingsacrossamerica.us
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