MISSOULA – The Miss Montana crew received a hero’s welcome as they returned to Missoula Monday afternoon after spending a month flying 16,000 miles in an antique airplane.
After a year-long volunteer restoration effort, a scramble to make the schedule, and a successful flight to Europe and back, it’s “mission accomplished” for Miss Montana, the venerable C-47 from the Museum of Mountain Flying.
The “Miss Montana to Normandy” project transformed a legendary plane, which hadn’t been in the air for years, into an ambassador from the Rockies to pay tribute to the thousands who served in the epic D-Day Invasion.
Monday afternoon, following a long, but uneventful flight back, the sturdy plane came into view, completing a couple of flyovers of the Missoula Valley, and a picture-perfect touchdown and welcome.
“We were the ones that had the farthest to go when we started and they were worried our first flight was on May 12th, and we had left on May 19th,” said Bryan Douglass of Miss Montana to Normandy.
“And they were shocked and questioned a little bit of our intelligence actually. But they were very fun to be around. Very welcoming. And very complimentary of everything we’d done.”
While the pilots and flight crew were basking in the warm greetings, they pointed out the project wouldn’t have been possible without a dedicated, and knowledgeable army of volunteers, who worked for hundreds of hours getting the plane ready, and the dedication of local sponsors.
“We’re the only plane in the fleet that’s supported by an entire state. Everybody else had donors and benefactors and organizations behind them. But we had really the support of the state and people all over the world,” Douglass told MTN News.
“But our volunteers, I wish we could have taken all of them with us. We took them on our flag. They all signed our flag and we were proud to display that everywhere.”
Douglass and the others are quick to point out there was a much deeper meaning to this journey.
“When you’re making that flight over the Channel with paratroopers on board, you can’t help but think about those people 75 years ago that day, the day of. And what they went through and most of them were kids, by our standards,” he said.
“And then not only that but the flight across the North Atlantic. Those were young men in their 20s doing that flight with equipment that, nowhere near what we had in our plane. So it gives a huge amount of respect for that generation.”
The year isn’t finished for Miss Montana and her crew as plans are being made for her involvement in the anniversary of the Mann Gulch Fire disaster later this year.
-Reported by Dennis Bragg/MTN News