The Lead Plane of the D-Day Invasions Returns to the Skies


“That’s All, Brother” is flying again!

Just after 1 pm local time, the C-47 plane lifted off from Wittman Regional Airport for a test flight with Doug Rozendaal at the controls. He says every C-47 is unique to fly and a pilot has to get to know each one. Tom Travis, the co-pilot, joked that he was glad all the switches had labels.

The C-47 military transport plane led the attack during the D-Day invasion in WWII, on June 6, 1944. The offensive was the beginning of the liberation of France and the eventual fall of Nazi Germany. Since then, the plane has had fifteen different private owners, eventually winding up in an airplane graveyard in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Two Alabama historians worked with the Commemorative Air Force to rescue and restore the historic aircraft. They are a Dallas-based group that purchases and renovates landmark aircraft returning them to flight-worthiness.

The CAF purchased “That’s All, Brother” in 2015. Working with technicians from Basler Turbo Conversions, the boneyard where the plane was found, the group have been busy restoring the aircraft ever since.

US Army Air Forces Douglas C-47A Skytrains towing Waco CG-4A gliders during the invasion of France in June 1944. On 6 June 1944, the squadron dropped the 101st Airborne Division’s 502d Parachute Infantry Regiment soon after midnight in the area northwest of Carentan, France. Glider-borne reinforcement missions followed, carrying weapons, ammunition, rations, and other supplies.

Andy Maag is another member of the CAF and he live-streamed the event on Facebook from his smartphone. Hundreds of viewers tuned in for the flight. Maag’s phone nearly ran out of battery just before takeoff, but he was, fortunately, able to scrounge up a cord and took his place on the observation deck. The plane made multiple flybys and then came in for a smooth landing.

Keegan Chetwynd is the curator for the CAF. He said the flight was successful in every respect and was even able to make two more flights later that same day.

Next up for the plane is a move to the Central Texas Wing of the CAF in San Marcos, where it will receive a new coat of paint and a finished interior. The goal is to make the plane look just like it did when it led the invasion 74 years ago. If all goes as planned, it will be ready in time to fly over Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day, on June 6, 2019.

Chetwynd considered the test flight to be bittersweet. For him, it illustrated how much more work they still have to do. Now that they have an operational airplane, they can start working on making it a flying museum.

US Army Pathfinders and USAAF flight crew before D-Day, June 1944, in front of a C-47 Skytrain at RAF North Witham

The CAF has preserved one of each type of aircraft that the US flew during WWII. They used money from a donor to buy “That’s All, Brother” from Basler and utilized crowd-funding to raise the $350,000 they needed for the restoration work.

Stephan Brown, President of the CAF, advised they needed more money to renovate the airplane completely. It will take between $1,000,000 and $1,500,000 to complete the work.

Jim “Pee Wee” Martin is a volunteer for the CAF who took part in the D-Day invasions, flying in on a C-47 behind “That’s All, Brother.”  He was a member of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which eventually became part of the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army.

Martin said they flew in so low that the machine-gun fire from the Germans came through the floor of their plane. They saw planes around them exploding, after being hit by German fire. The troops in the aircraft could not wait to get out on to the ground, where they felt they would be safer.

Still, he says the invasion could not have happened without the C-47. “(If) they tried to go in by sea, they’d been annihilated.”