Crowds at Duxford line up to see Miss Montana

Crowds at Duxford Airfield in England lined up Tuesday to see Miss Montana. 

The epic Miss Montana to Normandy project reaches Normandy on Wednesday.

The C-47 Dakota from Missoula will join the rest of the Daks Over Normandy to fly to France from Duxford Airfield in England to re-enact the fateful flights and parachute drops of D-Day, 1944.

But that’s only the half of it, or more accurately, the quarter.

The airplane that has turned heads in England among a fleet of head-turning warbirds will make four flights on the eve of D-Day Plus 75, three of them loaded with parachutists eager to jump out of her.

They didn’t get a chance on Tuesday in Duxford. Wind and rain scrapped two practice jumps, though Miss Montana flew twice for the estimated 11,000 people in attendance.

“We are heroes here,” said project director Eric Komberec, who sent a picture of lines of people visiting the Montana aircraft.

“We’ve been pleasantly surprised by how we’ve been welcomed if not kind of a darling in some ways,” said Bryan Douglass, pilot and spokesman for the group.

“More practically, we’ve got a static line (inside the plane that opens the parachute). Only five planes of the 15 have one. That makes us jump-able, and jumps tomorrow are going to be a big deal.”

For Tuesday’s first flight, jumpers from Sweden and Norway climbed aboard Miss Montana.

“They were a hoot,” Douglass said. “They were just so jacked to be there. All of them were so thankful and excited and fun. We made three passes but had to land with the jumpers.”

Jumpmaster Al Charters and his 14 Missoula-based parachutists were set to parachute on Miss Montana’s second flight. They didn’t even board the plane, Douglass said.

Miss Montana has been invited to take an early-morning flight Wednesday (late Tuesday in Montana) across the English Channel with four other planes to Cherbourg on the north shore of the Cotentin Peninsula in France. They’ll be loaded with extra crew and family, along with baggage and tools to drop off to make room for jumpers.

At Cherbourg they’ll pick up a group of jumpers and fly southeast to drop them over Carentan, between Utah and Omaha beaches in Normandy. Carentan was “kind of the center of the American airborne drops” on June 6, 1944, Douglass said.

Then it’s back across the water to Duxford to refuel and pick up the main event jumpers. It still hadn’t been confirmed that Miss Montana’s jumpers would be Charters and his parachutists, many of whom spent months working on Miss Montana.

“We’re thinking about invading the field and establishing a perimeter if they don’t let us take our jumpers,” Douglass joked.

The Daks Over Normandy jump program at Sannerville is scheduled for 4:30 p.m., France time, or 8:30 a.m. in Montana. It has been the climactic event of Miss Montana, the rest of the 15-plane American D-Day Squadron and some 15 others from Europe for a year or more.

All are keeping eyes on the weather.

“It’s not forecast to be good in Normandy tomorrow, but it’s not forecast to be horrible,” Douglass said.

It will take winds of under 10 knots and a cloud ceiling of at least 1,500 feet to allow the jumpers to drop safely.

Even then, the day won't be over for Miss Montana.

The Round Canopy Parachuting Team-USA isn’t taking part in the main jump but has specifically requested Miss Montana to do an evening jump nearby, along with Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber, Placid Lassie and Drag ‘Em Oot of the D-Day Squadron.

“That’s the day,” Douglass said. “If the weather holds it’s going to be an incredible day. Incredible.”

The Miss Montana crew received confirmation Tuesday they will be part of a presidential flyover on Thursday, during the main D-Day events, at the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, above Omaha Beach. Presidents Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron of France will be there.

Miss Montana is one of 14 civilian planes selected for the honor. They’ll be accompanied by U.S. Air Force C-130s and the French equivalent of the Blue Angels.

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Mineral County, veterans issues

Outlying communities, transportation, history and general assignment reporter at the Missoulian