THUNDER BAY – A former military aircraft that dropped paratroopers to help support the D-Day invasion will be spending the next few weeks in Thunder Bay.
A DC-3 plane flown by the Royal Air Force during the Second World War and was restored earlier this year is being hosted by Thunder Bay Aviation at the Thunder Bay International Airport following its arrival on Saturday.
Thunder Bay Aviation maintenance director Jay Caldwell, who was enlisted to help with the restoration, said it’s very special to have the plane in Thunder Bay.
“There hasn’t been DC-3s at this airport for a very long time,” Caldwell said on Tuesday.
“It’s a pretty iconic airplane. People are stopping on the road, coming up to the fence, taking pictures and asking questions. With the roundel on it and the invasion stripes, that also stands out.”
The plane was built by the Douglas Aircraft Company at its Oklahoma City plant in January 1944, quickly joining the Royal Air Force in Montreal one month later and subsequently heading overseas.
On D-Day, the plane’s mission was to deploy paratroopers to destroy bridges, limiting the ability of German reinforcements to reach the beaches of Normandy.
Caldwell said a tour of the plane is being arranged for local air cadets, and there could be an opportunity on a future weekend for members of the public to get a close look.
“It’s probably the last piston DC-3 you’ll see sitting at this airport,” Caldwell said.
“There’s a lot of airplane enthusiasts who just love that nostalgia. Even if it hadn’t been to D-Day, the aircraft being that old itself is one thing but being that it was at D-Day to survive the mission, come back and still be flying is quite something.”
Following its military service, the plane was repurposed as a passenger transport aircraft. It flew commercially for Trans-Canada Airlines from 1947 to 1957. It was then acquired by Transport Canada during the 1960s.
After it was withdrawn from service in the late 1980s, the plane sat dormant in Saint-Hubert, Que. for 27 years. Efforts to make the plane airworthy began in 2017 but picked up steam in December 2018 when the aircraft was purchased by Mikey McBryan, general manager of the Northwest Territories-based Buffalo Airways.
With a goal of returning the plane to the skies on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the painstaking restoration began with assistance from staff and students at the Ecole Nationale d’Aérotechnique in Saint-Hubert.
After thousands of hours of volunteer hours over just two months, the mission was accomplished when the aircraft took its first test flight on June 6. The plane was flown from Saint-Hubert to Thunder Bay, where Thunder Bay Aviation staff will look after it until it leaves for the Oshkosh Airshow in Wisconsin next month.
More information about the plane's history, and restoration process, can be found online.