“If you look up and behind you, you’ll see something you don’t see every day,” I told the grizzled older gentleman walking south toward Battery Park with his family. He and his entourage turned and looked where I was pointing. A younger man studied the oncoming phalanx of aircraft – nine vintage C-47s (and variants) from World War 2, escorted by a handful of what I think were mostly T-6 Texan trainers. “Oh wow,” he said. “Are those B-52s?”
Aircraft recognition may not be at a peak among the youth of America today, but I think they enjoyed the show. The D-Day Squadron made a leisurely pass down the Hudson, ancient engines droning softly, then – some minutes later – turned somewhere beyond the Verrazano and flew back in the same leisurely fashion. The Dakotas still looked solidly functional – not glamorous, but sturdy and capable. In their heyday, they were turned out literally in their thousands: the nine flying over New York were survivors of more than 10,000 that were built during the 1940s, and which continued to serve for decades afterwards.
Seeing them reminded me that my parachutist father had probably jumped from aircraft very much like these. As someone who can feel somewhat nervous even in hyper-safe modern aircraft, I suspect that riding in one of these things might be only a little less frightening than jumping out of one. I’m full of admiration for the pilots who will shortly be taking their ancient charges on the long flight across the Atlantic to join their fellows over Normandy. And I’m even more admiring of the pilots who flew them over France three-quarters of a century ago, back in the long-ago days when fascists were unequivocally the enemy, and not ‘very fine people’ with interestingly contrarian points of view.