The last living WWII C-47 Pathfinder pilot who flew in many missions, including the D-Day invasion, is celebrating his 101 birthday at AirVenture, honored by the Commemorative Air Force and the D-Day Squadron. Lt. Col. David Hamilton turned 101 on July 20 and his life and aviation achievements will be celebrated Thursday and Friday at AirVenture.
Hamilton in a DDS flight to Normandy in 2019
On Thursday, Hamilton will be at the WWII Encampment in the Warbirds area. Friday, Hamilton can be found at the CAF Tent in the Warbirds area and later at the Salute to Veterans parade. He will speak with reenactors and airshow attendees, even with the WWII aircraft crews on the flight line. He can be seen wearing his Class B uniform and Class A uniform throughout the various celebratory engagements.
Hamilton was just 21 when he piloted aircraft number 14 of 20 C-47s that took off on the evening of June 5, 1944 and carrying “Pathfinders” from the 82nd Airborne to drop behind enemy lines in Normandy, France. The Pathfinders made the jump at about 1:00 a.m. on June 6 with a primary mission to set up electronic homing equipment and help guide the aerial armada of more than 800 C-47s, already on its way across the English Channel and just an hour behind. From those aircraft, 13,000 paratroopers would drop into Normandy and begin the Allied invasion of Europe and bring about the end of WWII.
David Hamilton, 1944. Photo Courtesy of Warbird News.
“We cannot express how honored we are to host Dave with our friends at the CAF, at the largest gathering of WWII aircraft, aircraft owners, aviation enthusiasts and patriots in the world,” said Eric Zipkin, director of operations for the D-Day Squadron and pilot for the C-47 Placid Lassie in a press release on Warbird News. “Dave joined us in 2019 as we flew 15 C-47/DC-3 type aircraft to Europe from North America to commemorate DDay75 and Berlin70. Many of these aircraft flew during WWII and are D-Day veteran aircraft. He got a chance to fly several of our C-47s, and even pilot a C-47 on the cross-channel formation from Duxford, UK to Normandy, France on June 5, 2019.”
That flight with the D-Day Squadron was Hamilton’s second time flying a C-47 across the English Channel into Normandy. His first flight was for Operation Overlord on June 6, 1944 dropping paratroopers behind enemy lines. The DDS, in collaboration with the CAF, is planning a return to Europe in mid-May next year for the 2024 Legacy Tour. DC-3 variants representing WWII and Cold War aircraft will travel from the U.S. to the United Kingdom, crossing the English Channel to Normandy, France and then on to Berlin, Germany and Venice, Italy. The 2019 trip, as a part of the 75th-anniversary celebration, included period-correct uniforms and jumping out in parachutes as the soldiers did in 1944. The trip is still being organized as the historic anniversary tour takes a great deal of preparation time and cost.
“We look forward to replicating this in 2024, as once again, more than 150 parachutists will fill the skies, symbolizing freedom, the sacrifices made during the Normandy invasion, and the overall war effort!” DDS Executive Director Lyndse Costabile said. “Many of the aircraft in the formation were beautifully restored C-47s that had seen battle over the beaches of Normandy in 1944,” Costabile continues. “We hope that we will have this honor again next year.”
The restored aircraft are flown by retired service members and experienced civilian pilots. The crews are volunteers and fly with the honor and privilege of flying one of the historic warbirds carries. The C-47 is one of the most iconic planes of the war, performing missions all over, including in North Africa, Burma, New Guinea, Normandy and Holland.
At AirVenture, the DDS has seven DC-3 type aircraft and several are planned to fly in the warbird show on Friday and Saturday. A booth is set up to display the vintage aircraft, including a C-47 “Miss Virginia,” a fully restored DC-3 type.
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