Everett-based DC-3 leaves Saturday for D-Day, Berlin Air Lift celebrations

May 9, 2019, © Leeham News: D-Day is June 6, 1944. The start of the Berlin Air Lift is June 24, 1948.

The Historic Flight Foundation (HFF), located at Paine Field, Saturday afternoon embarks on a multi-week trip from Paine to England in its historic Douglas DC-3.

This Douglas DC-3, owned by the Historic Flight Foundation, saw service in World War II in the Pacific theatre. It leaves Saturday for Europe to participate with about 30 other DC-3s/C-47s in ceremonies for the D-Day invasion of Europe and the Berlin Air Lift. Photo by Scott Hamilton.

The trip includes 54 flying hours, event and rest stops along the way and rendeveouing with 30 more DC-3s/C-47s, D-Day events in France and Air Lift events in Berlin.

HFF’s DC-3 didn’t participate in the European theatre of war, but it is an historical airplane. It was in the Pacific theatre, operated by CNAC, a Chinese airline in which Pan American World Airways had a financial interest. The airplane is decked out in period Pan Am colors.

  • 9am Saturday, May 11, HFF has a “fly day” as a prelude to the 3pm departure of the DC-3 for Europe. Static and aerials displays are planned. Rides are possible. HFF is on the west side of Paine Field, with the entrance on Bernie Webber Drive.

For HFF founder John Sessions, this trip is especially significant. He was nearly killed in the crash of another HFF plane he was piloting last August at the Abbottsford Air Show. His left leg was amputated below the knee.

Now fitted with a prosthetic lower leg and foot, Sessions returned to flight status just a week ago after going through flight testing, including on the DC-3.

Following the wartime route

HFF will hopscotch across the upper US to Oxford (CT), where it will meet other DC-3s and C-47s (the Army designation) heading to Europe.

While in Oxford, final training for the trans-Atlantic flights and airplane checks will be performed. The formation of transports will follow the wartime route to Prestwick, Scotland and Duxford, England. Stops along the way will be in Goose Bay and Greenland.

In England, more DC-3s and C-47s will join up until there are about 30 in total, Sessions tells LNA. This is the largest collection of these aircraft in decades.

After going to France for D-Day ceremonies, the group will fly to Berlin for celebrations for the Berlin Air Lift.

The Air Lift began June 24, 1948, after the Soviet Union blockaded ground access to the wartime Germany capital. After World War II, Germany was partitioned, with England, France, the US and the Soviet Union taking over parts of the country. Berlin was also partitioned. Access was through the Soviet sector of the country.

Soviet Premier Marshall Stalin figured that by blockading Berlin, withholding food, coal and suppliers from West Berliners, the Western Allies would withdraw, turning all of Berlin over to the Soviets.

Stalin misread the resolve of President Harry S Truman, France and the UK, and the resolve of the West Berliners.

For the next 11 months, the Western Allies flew a steady stream of transports and cargo aircraft into the besieged city. In the end, Stalin blinked and withdrew the blockade.

Preparing for the trip

Preparing HFF’s DC-3, its crew, members and passengers, was no small undertaking.

John Sessions

“For the plane, we analyzed the risk,” Sessions said. “The one area where we thought we might be a little prone to failure was the carburetors. When the plane was restored, the engines and accessories were taken to zero time. The carbs were not. These have an old style diaphragm that were prone to failure. We overhauled them.”

HFF is taking its own spares, including relays, generators, starters and each kind of cylinder the ancient Pratt & Whitney engines require. Authorized mechanics are making the trip to fix the airplane en route if something fails.

“We have have tools to make key repairs. We made a kit of all kinds of fasteners,” Sessions said. “We will join many other airplanes with a high level of talent, so there should not be a problems. We will train at Oxford for four days and more at Goose Bay before heading for Greenland.” Iceland is also an intermediary stop.

Survival training

The group of airplanes with their passengers and crew will be over the Atlantic for hours. Piston engine flying, as well as instrumentation, is far different than today’s advanced jets and avionics. The people need to be ready for anything, including ditchings.

They will undergo survival training, using emergence suits, life preservers and kits and egress of airplane, Sessions said. There will be proactive formation flying training as well.

In Europe

Once in Europe, the group will engage in wartime events, such as parachute drops, ceremonies and speeches. David Hamilton, the only surviving US pathfinder from D-Day, will be on the trip.

After completing D-Day events, the group leaves June 9 for Berlin. Unfortunately this large number of DC-3s/C-47s will not be participating in the Paris Air Show, which begins June 17.

One of the Berlin airports that was key to the Air Lift, Templehoff, has been closed—much to the chagrin of historians. Sessions says there are hopes the Berlin authorities will reopen Templehoff for this event. Otherwise Tegal Airport, the other key Air Lift field, will have to suffice.

Recovering from near-death

For Sessions, this series of events is a milestone.

In August, he was piloting a de Havilland Rapide, a twin-engine biplane that was an early passenger airliner which had been restored in 2017 and acquired by HFF. Four passengers were aboard for a ride in the historic aircraft.

The de Havilland Rapide crashed during the Abbotsford Air Show when a gust of wind hit the airplane just after lift off. Pilot John Sessions nearly died in the accident. Photo via Everett Herald.

Just after liftoff, a major gust of wind caused the wing to tip into the ground. The plane crash. The cockpit was crushed.

Sessions stumbled out an applied his own belt as a tourniquet to his left leg. His foot had been severed in the crash. His quick action probably saved his life on the scene. Complications from his injuries a few weeks later nearly took his life.

His passengers suffered varying degrees of injuries, but all survived.

Sessions’ spirit never wavered, however. He told friends via Facebook posts of his plans to return to piloting as soon as possible.

His is not a unique circumstance. Others who lost limbs returned to licensed flying. Session did, too, after a battery of psychological and physical tests. His final check ride, just last week, included an engine-out scenario on the DC-3 in which he had to stomp the rudder with his left leg with prosthesis.

He was cleared to be a pilot in command.

10 Comments on “Everett-based DC-3 leaves Saturday for D-Day, Berlin Air Lift celebrations

  1. Stalin was general Secretary of the Communist Party, he never held an official government post like Premier or head of state but was of course absolute dictator.

    • Hello Dukeofurl,

      Regarding: “Stalin was general Secretary of the Communist Party, he never held an official government post like Premier or head of state but was of course absolute dictator.”

      Stalin was Premier of the Soviet Union (aka Chairman of the Council of Ministers after 3-15-1946) from 5-6-1941 to his death on 5-5-1953.

      Below is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article “Premier of the Soviet Union”, and a link to the article.

      “The Premier of the Soviet Union (Russian: Глава Правительства СССР) was the head of government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Twelve individuals became Premier during the time span of the office. Two of the twelve Premiers died in office of natural causes (Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin), three resigned (Alexei Kosygin, Nikolai Tikhonov and Ivan Silayev) and three had the offices of party secretary and Premier simultaneously (Lenin, Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev). The first Premier was Lenin, who was inaugurated during 1922 after the Treaty on the Creation of the Soviet Union.”

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Premier_of_the_Soviet_Union

      This concludes today’s Russian history lesson.

  2. John Sessions reminds me of old “Tin Legs” himself, Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader, and the less well known Alexey Maresyev.

    In case anyone is able to make it, the route the Daks will take is here https://www.daksovernormandy.com/news/daks-over-normandy-historic-route-revealed/ they will be escorted by a number of World War II fighters.

    I’m planning to be at Beachy Head at 14:50 on 5th June to remember all those who over the years have fought for our freedom.

    Confirmed aircraft here https://www.daksovernormandy.com/aircraft/

    • Thank you, just the man I was thinking of. I will look up Alexey

  3. Interesting story about these historic planes and kudos to John Sessions for keeping his interest going after his horrific accident.

    I will definitely be following the progress of the planes.

  4. One way to follow HFF’s DC-3 is using https://www.flightradar24.com/data/aircraft/n877mg

    Just as I clicked Post Comment on the last post, I heard a distinctive sound, got up just in time to see G-AVAV heading towards the channel. On a good summers day I’ll hear or see one or other of the local Spits four or five times as they take fare paying passengers on a short hop to the White Cliffs, and back.

    Quite often I see a lucky Spit driver flinging a single seat Spit around the sky, looping, and rolling, has to be a candidate for the best job in the world.

  5. I spent a lot of hours in a DC-3 when I was a kid. Frozen solid from Northway (Ak Canada Border on the Alcan) a to Fairbanks one time at -40.

    Wild turbulence from Chicago to Milwaukee with oil pouring out of the left engine and rivets popping.

    There may have been aircraft as solid but none more solid.

    We had one come up here with modified square windows for sight seeing. Blew a jug on a brand new overhaul. Mechanics were not impressed.

    • A Dak driver once told me never get in a Dak if the engines are not leaking oil.

      Not sure that applies to the Turbo Daks though.

      • Well there is leaking oil and seeing it pump out in spurts!

        My wife and I had the delight of being at the Boeing g Museum (renamed now) at Boeing field the day they did a B-17 demo flight for the big wig donners.

        Doing its run up and smoke is pouring out of the engines. My wife a Farm girl asks, is that normal?

        I said, wait till they get to take off and a load, it will clean right up.

        It did.

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