Plane

The Douglas C-47’s crew includes Jake Stelzle (from left), Scott Stelzle, Sherman Smoot and John Doyle.

One high-flying highlight of this year’s Independence Day parade in Cody was the appearance of a historic aircraft in the sky above.

The twin-engine transport that lumbered through the skies after each day’s parade is a Douglas C-47 skytrain, “Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber.”

The aircraft was brought to Cody in cooperation with the Buffalo Bill Center of the West to commemorate the grand reopening of the firearms museum. It dropped a skydiver over the festivities. In addition to the flyovers, the plane sat on the tarmac behind Choice Aviation for public viewing.

The plane had recently flown many miles, crossing the Atlantic to take part in the Daks over Normandy D-Day commemoration. It joined 34 other aircraft in the single largest gathering of C-47’s and their civilian counterpart DC-3’s since the war. The aircraft had the special honor of dropping reenactors over the original D-Day drop zones. The plane’s originality helped cement that spot.

“She’s as original as they come,” said copilot Scott Stelzle.

The plane was one of six jump-rated aircraft that soared over Normandy for the drops. One Norwegian aircraft blew an engine and was unable to participate. The crew flew between 15 and 20 flights over the channel during the event, sometimes flying as many as seven drops in a day.

“It was kind of sad, because we had people from all over the world show up to jump,” Stelzle said. “We had more jumpers and fewer planes than expected, so not everyone got a chance to go.”

One unexpected consideration for the flights was that the aircraft were designed to carry 19-year-olds weighing about 180 pounds, plus gear. Many of the reenactors weighed more than that, leading to the aircraft being consistently overweight on takeoff.

The stop in Cody was the end of a nine-week odyssey for the crew, which left home base at Paso Roubles, Calif., in May. Aboard were chief pilot Sherman Smoot, copilot Scott Stelzle, crewman Jake Stelzle and crew chief John Doyle. It was the experience of a lifetime.

“It was an honor,” said Smoot. “There are many greater pilots than me that have flown it.”

The aircraft was built at Douglas Aircraft’s Oklahoma City plant in April 1944. It was delivered to the United States Army Air Force in September, serving with the 27th Air Transport Group.

“It flew in every major airborne operation after D-Day,” said Stelzle. “It was a troop carrier, particularly a glider tug.”

The plane saw its fair share of battle scars. Technicians working on the restoration found a large number of patched-up flak holes in the plane’s skin.

At the close of the war, the plane was loaned to the Belgian air force. Returned to the United States in 1952, she was again loaned out, this time to France. From there, the aircraft was loaned to Israel in 1967. It was maintained in a state of war readiness for over 30 years.

Following its stint in Israel, the plane went into private hands. It flew to Canada in 2001 and was stored for five years before purchase by the Gooney Bird Corporation; its current owner. It underwent a three-year restoration project and returned to the air in its current configuration in 2009. It has been flying at airshows, special events and parachute jumps since then. The name Betsy’s Buscuit Bomber dates back to its first ownership by a museum.

“The museum president’s wife was named Betsy,” Stelzle said. “They knew it had been used to deliver food, so biscuit bomber came with that.”

Following their time in Cody, the crew returned to their home base, a 750-mile flight over two mountain ranges. There, plane and crew could get some much-deserved rest.

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