The Modern Pilot News

Crowdsourcing Saves D-Day’s First Airplane

On the morning of June 6, 1944, the first Douglas Skytrain crossed the coastline of Normandy, France, and let loose the paratroopers that began the invasion. Newly painted across the fuselage was a message to Adolf Hitler: That’s All, Brother. Seventy years later, the that dropped the first fighting forces sat in a Wisconsin yard, just weeks from being converted to a BT-67 turboprop.

When he discovered the aircraft’s fate, “a chill ran down my spine,” says Matt Scales, a historian with the U.S. Air Force Reserve. He sent out word to every museum and organization that might save the airplane, but couldn’t find a taker—some already had other C-47s; others simply thought Scales was wrong about the airplane’s identity. But then he received a message from Adam Smith at the Commemorative Air Force; Smith had stumbled upon a blog post about Scales’ search and confirmed the story by following the chain of ownership from the aircraft’s military days to present: He went through Federal Aviation Administration records and physically checked placards and dataplates on the aircraft to match them with the paperwork. When he confirmed the identity, “instantly you understand the significance, and the vision appears in your mind of saving and restoring the plane.” Through a crowdsourcing campaign, the CAF raised $75,000—in only 48 hours—to buy the airplane, and then increased their goal to $250,000 for the restoration.

The discovery of the D-Day leader began with a rumor. In 2006, Scales was a staff sergeant with the Alabama Air National Guard’s 106th Air Refueling Squadron. He became fascinated with the history of his squadron, especially the period in World War II when it flew B-25s in the South Pacific. One day he heard that a member of the 106th had flown the lead C-47 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,” says Scales.

In 2007, he volunteered for a tour with the Air Force Historical Research Agency, where he discovered records showing Lieutenant Colonel John M. Donalson, a member of the 106th in the 1930s, and then again in the late 1940s and ’50s, had been transferred to Europe when the United States entered the war and was indeed the on the lead aircraft behind the pathfinders—paratroopers who had jumped into Normandy the night before to mark drop zones for the troops.

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