“Oh my, here it comes,” said World War II veteran Gwen Niemi, who, even at 99-years-old, could hardly contain her excitement as the C-53D Skytrooper airplane landed at the Tucson International Airport.
The historic aircraft, nicknamed the “D-Day Doll” flew in the Normandy Invasion of France in 1944, dropping paratroopers, delivering supplies and evacuating the wounded. Now, 75 years later, it is flying across the U.S. for a seven-week, 12,000 mile journey back to France. The plane is returning to Europe as part of a commemorative gathering of World War II aircraft honoring veterans. This June, the C-53D will join 250 other historically significant aircraft for the “largest gathering of war birds since WWII.”
The C-53D can hold 26 paratroopers, plus two pilots. But now instead of troops, the plane holds cargo to take the pilots on their historic tour from the states to Greenland, Iceland, England and finally France. In total, only 380 C-53 Skytroopers were ever constructed.
Starting its tour in Riverside, California, the C-53D was not originally planned to stop in Tucson. But support and interest from the Tucson aerospace community brought this historic aircraft into town the afternoon of Wednesday, May 8.
“There was a lot of interest and help for this program out of Tucson,” said D-Day Doll pilot Bill Prosser. “And we’re here to thank them for supporting us.”