December 20, 2022

Photo Essay: Nightflying the Skies In the D-Day Doll, a WWII-Era DC-3 Warbird

I typically prefer cars and trains to boats and planes—but I can't resist a good historic excursion on any of 'em.

So I was excited when my friend Charity texted me asking if I'd heard of or done the nighttime DC-3 flights over the city of Riverside, California offered during the Christmas season. My answer? No and no!

It's one of the offerings of the Inland Empire Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, which operates four different heritage aircraft out of the Riverside Municipal Airport.

Our flight was on the C-53D Skytrooper—built by Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica, delivered to the United States Army Air Forces in 1943, and part of the CAFIEW's fleet since the late 1990s.

It's a real vintage warbird, nicknamed the "D-Day Doll," which served primarily as cargo transport during WWII. It actually made drops at Normandy—three missions, in fact—on D-Day in 1944.

And it was a totally different experience than the last DC-3 plane I took a flight on, which had been outfitted for civilian passenger use. In this one, we sat in original paratrooper-style seats (mine was missing a cushion, so it was straight upon the cold metal seat for me) with our backs to the windows.
All 12 passengers (the maximum they book, though the plane could've fit more) were taken care of by a crew of three—who amazingly offered to hold the plane 5 minutes for me when I hit a lot of traffic driving out from LA. 

Fortunately, I made up some time and managed to buckle my lap belt at 6:01 for our 6 p.m. flight.

The D-Day Doll DC-3, tail number 830, is powered by two 1,200-horsepower engines, which are loud enough to require earplugs...
...and powerful enough to make you really grateful for that seatbelt during takeoff.

It's a rumbly ride at just 2,000 feet altitude, remarkably in the same aircraft that served the skies in the UK (while assigned to the 434th Troop Carrier Group) and elsewhere in Europe (while assigned to the assigned to the TCG's 72nd Squadron CU) nearly 80 years ago.

And it's still very much airworthy—having returned to Normandy for a memorial flight commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day in 2019.

Sitting over the huge wing, which contributes to 830's total wingspan of 987 feet, it was hard to discern anything really specific that we were flying over. 

We were supposed to be able to see the Mission Inn's Festival of Lights from above...

...but in the moment, I marveled more at the contrast between the city grid, the candy cane-patterned traffic, and the blackness of the foothills beyond. 

After about a half-hour in the air, we made the smoothest landing I'd ever experienced—and then it was time to unbuckle and disembark. 

Fortunately, we got a few minutes to take a few final looks at the bird before the 7 p.m. passengers' boarding time.

The Commemorative Air Force operates a museum out of Riverside Municipal Airport, where you can see the D-Day Doll as well as the non-profit's other vintage planes—all of which can fly (and can be booked for a flight). For a daytime look inside the D-Day Doll, watch the video above.

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1 comment:

  1. That's a great write up of your wonderful flight. Thank you for sharing it.
    Claire ✈🤗🎅🦌