World War II-era C-47 lands at Benton
She’s called Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber and two guys from Andover are part of her crew.
An authentic World War II version of a C-47 plane flew in to the Stearman Airfield in Benton on Monday night, where it will be on display until at least Thursday morning. Then it will head back into the air on its way to Europe to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion and the 70th anniversary of the Berlin Airlift.
Father and son Hector and Nick Camacho of Andover were among the seven crew members that brought the plane from California for what is its third landing in nine years at Stearman Airfield. Betsy stopped at the Benton airfield in 2010 and 2017 while en route to other air shows in the United States, Hector said.
In previous visits, plane rides were offered, he said. But this time, she’ll just be on display.
She’ll likely be available for tours inside during the evenings, said Scott Stelzle, vice president of Estrella Warbirds Museum in Palo Robles, California, where Betsy is housed, and president of The Gooney Bird Group that owns Betsy. Tour donations will be $5 per family or $3 per individual.
Betsy is a modified military version of the Douglas DC-3, which were among the first models used by U.S. airlines in the 1930s. As a retrofitted plane for the U.S. Army Air Forces, the DC-3s were known as C-47s and became an integral part of the WW II effort, moving manpower and materials. Many GIs called the plane Gooney Birds, while British and Australian troops often called them Dakotas or Daks. The D-Day re-creation is being called Daks over Normandy.
The Camachos have a close tie with Betsy and C-47s.
Both are among the volunteers who helped restore the plane. As a college student at his father’s alma mater, California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo, Nick — a 2005 Andover Central High School graduate — started helping on Betsy’s restoration after the plane was acquired by The Gooney Bird Group in 2007.
During visits to see his son in California, Hector also helped with the restoration. A former Air Force mechanic from 1960-64, Hector had experience working on radial engines, like those on the C-47, and had worked on a C-47 at Topeka’s Forbes Field in the 1980s. Nick’s Facebook page displays a family photo of Nick as a preschooler, sitting on his father’s lap as Hector piloted a C-47 in Kansas.
As a crew member for Betsy’s D-Day trip, Hector is serving as a mechanic. He’s the owner of Camacho Aviation in Andover since 2007, following a 27-year career as a flight instructor with Beech Aircraft and Flight Safety International.
Nick Camacho, a mechanical engineer for Zone 5 Technologies, won’t be with the crew for the entire trip, but when he is, he’ll help co-pilot the plane.
As it makes its way to Europe, the plane will make other stops and fly-ins like the one at Stearman Airfield, including the 80th anniversary gathering of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and a flyover over the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
It will meet up with several other C-47 planes for formation flight training. The planes comprise the D-Day Squadron, the American contingent of about 15 planes taking part in the D-Day re-creation. During WW II, C-47s flew in what was known as “Vs within Vs” formation, with each single V being made up of three planes.
Then it will fly across the Atlantic Ocean to Duxford Airfield in England, home of an Imperial War Museum branch, where it’s scheduled to be on display with about 30 planes, both from America and other countries, from June 2-5.
“It’s dangerous,” Stelzle said of the overseas trip. “But we figure if a bunch of teenage boys could do it, we can too.”
For the 75th anniversary D-Day re-creation on June 5, Betsy is to be among the 20 or so planes scheduled to carry about 250 men and women wearing WW II-style Allied uniforms who will drop into the original D-Day drop zone. Of the 160,000 or so Allied Forces soldiers who participated in the massive invasion, about 24,000 parachuted in, from C-47 planes like Betsy, or came in by glider, according to the D-Day event website, daksovernormandy.com.
“Because we’re jump ready and 100% authentic, we’ll be at the front of everything,” said Stelzle.
The plane is scheduled to be in Normandy from June 5-9 at Caen Carpiquet Airport. Betsy will then travel to Germany where she will be in four different locations from June 10-19, including Berlin, to commemorate the Berlin Airlift. The 1948-49 airlift was a humanitarian effort by U.S. and British pilots to drop food and supplies by plane to Berliners after a Soviet blockade isolated the city.
The plane was also invited to an event in Italy, Stelzle said.
C-47s for the war effort were made in two plants in California and one in Oklahoma City; Betsy was made at the latter. She was delivered to the USAAF in September 1944 and was reportedly used in missions in the United Kingdom and over France during the war.