MISSOULA- First, it was testing; now it’s thunderstorms. But if all goes well, Miss Montana should soon depart for its historic flight to Normandy, France.
It’s been a week of tune-ups and careful consideration for the volunteer crews working on the Miss Montana to Normandy project, as they make final preparations before heading east in the classic C-47 cargo plane.
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After finally solving a pesky generator problem a week ago, “Miss Montana” was finally ready to become airborne for the first time in years on Sunday afternoon. As the plane taxied into position at Missoula International Airport it provided a contrast to the big commercial jets — and then lifted off smoothly.
Accompanied by a helicopter getting additional footage for an upcoming special for CBS News, “Miss Montana” made several “laps” around the valley to the cheers of the volunteers who’ve spent thousands of hours getting her ready for the trip to the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
“Like she was just so willing and so ready. In fact, she surprised me. She was off the ground before I was ready. After all this work I think she was the one that was most impatient,” said Miss Montana test pilot Jeff Whitesell.
“To reach the point where it was culmination for all of us is obviously a big rush. But, you know, to do it safely is number one,” he continued.
Even with the plane making repeated test flights all week, safety continues to be the highest priority.
The team of pilots must become familiar with the aircraft, spare parts must be loaded and checked, and systems checked and double checked. Now the weather has become a factor and is being carefully watched before departure.
“You just can’t beat that sound. I mean everybody hears it fly over and what a sound. They hear it taxi — what a sound. And you know, just to make it official, you know what that sound is? The sound of money,” Whitesell said.
Acknowledging, that restoring this iconic aircraft has been a labor of both love — and loot — to make it all possible.
We’re told that the Miss Montana crew is still evaluating the forecast to try and determine the next window for departure. The weather and final equipment prep means the plane won’t be able to take part in a planned flyover of New York City on Saturday.
Reporting by Dennis Bragg for MTN News