After Jill and I watched the island horseback riders vanish into the woods on their way to the West Bluff (see yesterday’s blog), we continued on to the airport to chronicle the original reason we were out biking through the middle of the island on a Saturday morning. According to the Town Crier, a 1944 World War II Douglas C-47 Skytrain was circling the Mackinac Bridge twice that morning, before landing on the island around 10:30 a.m. The plane would be available for public tours all day and would leave the island around 5:30 p.m. to return to its base at the Yankee Air Museum at Willow Run Airport in Belleville, MI. The plane was being flown here by the Dispatch Riders, a motorcycle group affiliated with the museum.
The Town Crier stated “the C-47, the military version of the old DC-3 airliner, saw heavy service as a transport plane, both for supplies and paratroopers, during World War II”.
I wanted to see the plane for two reasons. First, it was over 60 years old, and I could remember my daddy talking about these planes from his WWII days. Second, it would be one of the largest planes to ever land on the island. Published reports stated that it was going to be very noisy, and we would be able to hear it coming 40 miles out.
The Mackinac Island Airport is small, but modern. The terminal is only a year old, and it is bright, roomy and spotlessly clean. There are a lot of small private planes that fly in and out of the airport on a regular basis. Some summer residents own and fly their own planes, and many visitors take the airport shuttle from St. Ignace to the island.
By the time we arrived at the airport, a small crowd had gathered, and it grew as the morning progressed.
We stood and talked with Dennis Bradley, the Assistant Manager of the airport (he is also the Fire Chief), and a reporter from the Town Crier. The reporter got permission to go sit out on the runway under the wheel covering of a small plane. From that position, she would be able to get a fantastic shot of the plane as it landed (you can see her feet sticking out past the wheel in the second photo below). Boy, I wanted to do that! I wonder where I can get a media pass printed.
It wasn’t long before we heard the low hum of the big engines. As the plane approached, the noise got louder, and we could finally see it coming in over the treetops.
As the C-47 taxied in, a small plane was taking off. Seeing both of them together shows the huge difference in the size of this plane and the size of the planes normally landing at the airport on Mackinac.
The plane almost immediately took off again, with a group of VIP’s, for a 15 minute flight. Jill and I rode over to British Landing Road, which the plane would fly over on its second landing. I wanted to get a “close-up”!
We got on our bikes and rode back to the airport terminal where, by the time we arrived, the plane had been opened for tours. I wanted to go inside and see where the paratroopers had hooked their parachute cords as they were advancing to the door of the plane to jump out. There are no seats in this plane, just cushions along the sides.
I inched my way up to the cockpit and tried my best to figure out a way to sit in the pilot’s seat without getting yelled at, but I finally gave up. How in this world pilots know what to do with all those gadgets is beyond me.
When I was getting ready to “deplane”, someone on board said that with my bike helmet and backpack, it looked like I was ready to parachute out myself – which, of course, cracked me up.
Outside the plane, you realized once again how big it was. Compared to the jumbo jets we have today, of course, this plane was not big at all. But in 1944, it had to be an impressive sight coming in to land on foreign soil.
By the time we left the airport, a much bigger crowd had gathered. Some came alone, but I saw quite a number of grandfathers and great-grandfathers ride up with children in tow. Here was something senior citizens “of a certain age” could talk to children about from their own youth. There were youngsters listening to these stories with wide eyes as, hand-in-hand, they were told tales of a time not so long ago when planes like this one were the giants of the sky.
What a great Saturday on the island!