Miss Montana’s adventure to Normandy didn't start Thursday, and with the weather outlook it may be a few days before it does.
Still, Eric Komberec, project director and co-pilot, said they'll try again Friday morning.
The airplane itself was "pretty well ready" on Thursday, but there were some odds and ends to finish up, Bryan Douglass, logistics director, said earlier in the day.
“We’ve got to pack, and we have a little weather looking at us, so our crew’s trying to decide when we’re going to leave and make smart decisions,” Douglass said.
The final call on departure time is left up to chief pilot Jeff Whitesell, chief mechanic Randy Schonemann and Komberec, as representative of the family that owns the plane.
"They don’t need another person weighing in on it. They’re all very competent and represent a ton of experience," Douglass said.
All three men and several others were busy at various tasks on and around the airplane, which was backed into the museum that has been its home since 2001. A steady stream of onlookers walked into the hangar, hoping to give Miss Montana a warm sendoff.
When the Douglas DC-3/C-47 does leave the Missoula airport, it’s scheduled to head in hops across the country to Oxford, Connecticut, where some but not all of the other 14 warbirds in the D-Day Squadron are gathering. On Saturday morning they'll fly in formation down the Hudson River and around the Statue of Liberty and the lead planes will start early Sunday on their overseas flight to England.
“Even if we left today, I don’t think we’d make it to the New York flyover unless we flew straight across,” Douglass said.
The National Weather Service forecast indicated the potential of severe thunderstorms across southern Montana will dissipate by Friday morning. General thunderstorm activity is possible throughout the day.
Organizers have said the ultimate target date is June 2 to be in England to practice formation flying with the three dozen or so Dakotas taking part in Daks Over Normandy on June 5.
Douglass said the D-Day Squadron won’t be flying across the North Atlantic together anyway. Stops along the Blue Spruce Route used by American aircraft in World War II are scheduled for Goose Bay, Newfoundland; Narsarsuaq, Greenland; Reykjavik, Iceland, and Prestwick, Scotland. The final leg is to the Duxford Aerodrome north of London.
“It’ll be probably in ones and twos," Douglass said. "Probably the crucial jump is from Goose Bay (Newfoundland) to Greenland to Iceland. Goose Bay is notorious for bad weather, changing weather, and it’s got pretty small ramp space and limited fueling capacity. So you put all that together and you don’t want 10 planes coming in there and taking all day to fill them.
“You’re talking about an hour, hour and a half cycle time to fill a plane, so it wouldn’t make sense if everybody gets there and weather rolls in.”
Douglass said the D-Day Squadron has smart people working on the logistics, including a Coast Guard helicopter pilot from Kodiak, Alaska. He's familiar with military planning logistics in Arctic-type conditions.
“They’re saying we’re going to wait for a good weather window and then we’ll start launching (from Connecticut),” said Douglass. “It’ll probably be two planes at first light and they get to Greenland and fill up in a couple of hours and launch, and then have another pair, so you don’t have people backing up in Narsarsuaq (Greenland).”