President Eisenhower credited the C-47 Skytrain as one of the seven weapons that won World War II. It was a very effective way to move cargo. It is presently the largest airplane that Palm Springs Air Museum flies. We decided to get up close and personal.
The teardrop object under the pilot’s window is a pathfinder system called Rebecca Eureka to help pilots triangulate coordinates. GPS had not been invented yet. There is also a navigation dome where a crew member could look out to get the position of the sun and stars for navigating, similar to dead reckoning on a boat.
The C-47 Skytrain was developed in the 1930s from DC-3 technology. It had a 4-man crew; a Captain, co-pilot, radio operator and navigator. It could carry 28 paratroopers or 6,000 lbs. of cargo, such as a 75 mm gun or a Jeep. The plane was extremely reliable. The museum’s C-47 was built in 1944.
The C-47 Skytrain is a twin-engine airplane with two 1830 radial engines, which are cooled by oil. The plane has a clam-shell door. The back of the plane’s tail is flat, without a stinger on it like similar models, because it has a reinforced glider toe-hook inside. There are still about 400 C-47’s operating globally.
The plane’s stripes were put on rather quickly in the field right before D-Day, June 6, 1944, so allied gunners would not shoot at them. The stripes were not decoration, they were for identification.
This particular C-47 at the Palm Springs Air Museum was named after a person, co-pilot Paul “Doc” Jones. The plane was dubbed “What’s Up, Doc,” with a logo of a cartoon of Bugs Bunny, a popular animated character voiced originally by Mel Blanc. Doc painted the nose art on the airplane himself. The plane flew in every major operation in the European Theater in WWII.
Paul “Doc” Jones had a long career as a pilot, transitioning from the Army Air Force to the United States Air Force. He flew 235 missions as a forward air controller in Viet Nam before he retired, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Some C-47 planes went to the British under the Loan-Lease program. The British called it “Dakota,” which is an acronym for Douglas Aircraft Company Transport Aircraft. Some people debate other possible origins of the name.
The What’s Up Doc C-47 flew under many different flags up until the 2000’s. It was last flown by the Israeli Air Force. When it was retired, its crew wrote “Nothing replaces a Dakota except a Dakota.” Crews worldwide loved the C-47’s, which were very economic to operate. One of the docents at the Palm Springs Air Museum was an Israeli paratrooper who actually jumped out of the same C-47 the museum now owns.
In addition to Doc’s namesake, Palm Springs Air Museum proudly displays Doc’s log book and pilot’s jacket on the premises. One of Doc’s stories is that when he was involved in Operation Varsity during a night drop, the crew chief discovered a paratrooper tangled in the lines dragging behind the plane. Doc went to the back of the plane and cut the paratrooper loose so he was able to parachute to land. Doc recalled he later saw the paratrooper with a girl on each arm.
We booked our flights online months in advance. A friendly docent greeted us on the tarmac and accompanied us to the plane. During a safety briefing we were instructed how to exit the plane in an emergency and how to use the seat belts. You don’t want to use the door nearest the pilot, which is called the “‘sausage door” since it is so close to whirling propellers. A uniformed paratrooper mannequin named Stan sat at the end of one row of seats. We taxied down the runway and we were off to the wild blue yonder! Stan was pretty stoic, but we were delighted.
Scenic views over Palm Springs lay like patchwork below us. There are about 140 golf courses in the greater Palm Springs area, both public and private. Their manicured greens were in sharp contrast to the sandy desert surrounding them. Because we were flying at a much slower speed and lower altitude than a commercial jet, we were able to soak in the sights and the experience.
Just don’t expect refreshments or air conditioning. I tried to imagine the emotions of paratroopers during WWII on their way to fight for our freedom. Thank you for your service!
Each passenger was escorted to the cockpit if they wished, and were able to meet the pilot and co-pilot. It was noisy so communication was mainly through nods, big smiles and a thumbs-up. We felt confident that the pilots were well-trained and had much military flying experience.
Palm Springs Air Museum opened its doors in 1996 and has maintained its status as a museum that flies its aircraft.
“Hearing the engines roar and seeing these amazing Warbirds in flight reinforces the connection between the machines and people who sacrificed so much to make them fill their role in history’s greatest conflicts.” ~Palm Springs Air Museum website
The aircrews who flew in these planes were incredibly brave. Bailing out was difficult if they received a direct hit from the enemy. They tried to keep the plane level so paratroopers could jump out but aircrew often went down with their planes.
Soon the flight was over and we touched down smoothly at the airport. It felt good to be back on terra firma, yet we felt a little saddened our flight was over. However, we enjoyed touring the huge museum, gift shop and getting a bite to eat at their snack bar. John even flew in an authentic flight simulator, and only crashed a few times.
We highly recommend taking a flight on a Warbird. It cost $99 dollars a ticket to fly on the air museum’s C-47 Skytrain. The flight lasts about 20 minutes. Other planes are available for flights, as well. You can fly on a T-28 Trojan, P-51D Mustang, or a T-33 Shooting Star Jet for even more adventures. Check out the Palm Springs Air Museum’s website for details. Thank you to the volunteers who keep the magic alive.
On May 1, 2020, three vintage warbird aircraft (C-47 Skytrain, P-51 Mustang, and the P-63 Kingcobra) departed the Palm Springs Air Museum to make Frontline Friday Flights Over the Coachella Valley in honor of healthcare workers. On Memorial Day, Monday May 25, they commemorated all those who have given so much in service of our country by flying eight vintage warbird aircraft.
Palm Springs Air Museum reopened on June 2, 2020, after being closed for months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Look for another article coming soon about us visiting the Palm Springs Air Museum, as well as a video on our YouTube channel featuring our memorable flight on this C-47 Skytrain.