By: Will Burchfield
According to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, there were four keys to victory for the Allies in World War II.
The atom bomb, the Jeep, the bazooka and the C-47 Skytrain.
Known within the U.S. Air Force as the Gooney Bird or the Yankee Doodle Dandy, the value of the C-47 was in its high carrying capacity. It transported everything from soldiers and nurses to cannons and Jeeps.
On Thursday, it carried six lucky passengers on a tour above Willow Run Airport.
Between the the loud, pulsating fuselage and the smoking engines — this is normal, we were told — it was a visceral experience.
“When we get started,” said Capt. Howard Rundell, who flew in the Navy for 22 years, “think of these engines as seven Harley Davidson engines hooked together. They’re 14-cylinder radial engines, so there’s a lot of cough and smoke, that’s all 100 percent normal. In fact, if it didn’t do that we’d be concerned.”
Capt. Rundell was accompanied in the cockpit by Capt. Jerry Nichols. “He’s been flying C-47’s since he was a pup,” said Rundell.
This particular C-47, owned and operated by the Yankee Air Museum at Willow Run Airport, wasn’t actually used in World War II. It was delivered to the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1945 and served until 1962. It then flew with the University of Michigan for 20 years as an airborne research platform.
The Yankee Air Museum purchased it in 1982 and restored it to its current condition.
On Thursday, six of us passengers clambered into the C-47 and sat down facing each other, three to a side. After a briefing from Capt. Rundell, we strapped in and prepared for off.
“As we say,” Capt. Rundell told us, “let’s commit aviation.”
As we were descending after a comfortable 20-minute cruise, one passenger remarked to another, “Rather be landing here than in Normandy.”
We all agreed.