My flight in a DC-3 airliner | Editor's Note

By Sara Bruestle | Sep 21, 2016

I found myself thinking of “Catch Me If You Can” as I flew in the Historic Flight Foundation's historical Douglas DC-3.

In the 2002 film, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Frank Abagnale Jr., a famous con man who posed as a Pan American Airways pilot, among other impersonations. It’s one of my favorite movies.

The HFF’s DC-3 was flown for military transport during World War II. It features the 1949 Pan Am livery, including an American flag with just 48 stars.

I was invited to ride along with two WWII veterans on Sept. 1 who would be speaking at the foundation’s ninth annual Vintage Aircraft Weekend in honor of the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. (It was as much of a treat for me as it was for them.)

The annual festival at Paine Field, held this year Sept. 2-4, featured more than 80 restored aircraft from the Golden Age of Aviation – including the DC-3 – as well as flying demonstrations, airplane rides, vintage displays and historical re-enactments.

The DC-3 was built in 1944 in Long Beach, Calif. It was one of 300 to fly military supplies and personnel across the Himalayas, a route commonly referred to as the “Hump.”

“It was immediately put in service supporting the Nationalist Chinese, at the time, opposing the Japanese in China and Tibet,” founder John Sessions said. “If it could talk, it would talk about being overloaded going to amazingly short runways, being always near fuel exhaustion, and being flown by Hump pilots who preferred bad weather.”

After the war, it served as a regional airliner by the China National Aviation Corp. until the Chinese civil war in 1949.

It was purchased by the Johnson & Johnson Co. following a complicated legal battle between the Nationalist and Communist governments. It was converted into a “super” DC-3 in 1953.

The DC-3 served as the company chairman’s private airplane for about five years. It still has the 1950s executive-style interior with luxurious seating for 12 passengers.

Sessions and his co-pilot, Eugene Vezzetti, flew us all in the DC-3 in a lunchtime flight to Seattle and back.

One of the veterans I met before my flight was Elden Larson, who was a U.S. Air Corp bomber pilot during WWII. He served in the U.S. Air Corp from 1944-45.

At 93 years old, Larson still remembers what it was like to fly the B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, B-25 Mitchell and the PBY Catalina bombers. He flew on 30 missions. He also ferried the C-47/DC-3, but not many of them.

“When we came back from overseas, they had to put us to work doing something,” Larson said. “They had a bunch of planes all over the world they wanted to bring back. These planes had to be moved, so we did it.”

I also met Bill High. Though he isn’t a WWII veteran, High was at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He was 8 years old.

His father was stationed at Pearl Harbor at Hickam Field, serving as an engineer in the U.S. Coast Guard. He was on the USS Roger B. Taney when the Japanese attacked.

“I was standing in the street, looking up at the airplanes when I was hit by a piece of shrapnel,” said High, who is now 82. “I have it as a souvenir. It hit the street first and then bounced up and hit my leg.

“It actually might have been shrapnel from American guns. Everything that comes up, comes down.”

After the attack, High, his mother and two sisters stayed at Hickam Field for about a year. It wasn’t a priority to move them. He didn’t see his father for three weeks after the attack.

“As an 8-year-old, I thought I had joined the military,” High said of his stay on base. “I served as the waist gunner on B-17’s – the B-17’s were, of course, all over there – and my job was to kill the damn Japs.”

While flying in the DC-3, I picked up the vintage telephone next to my seat. I imagined talking to the pilot – a Mr. Abagnale – in the cockpit.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "Rudeness is a weak imitation of strength." – Eric Hoffer

CALL OF THE WEEK: From 100-year-old Dorothy Larson: “I wanted to thank you for the wonderful write-up and the front-page picture [‘Centenarian was librarian for 32 years,’ front page, Aug. 31]. It was more than I ever expected, and I have received many compliments on it. Thank you very much.”

EMAIL OF THE WEEK: From arcade aficionado Jason Lundgren: “I finally did what I set out to do for nearly a year: I broke the world's high score of the 1989 beat-'em-up game Final Fight at Replay Cafe [‘Arcade aficionado holds two world records,’ front page, June 1]. I beat out Bryan Schillo's score of that game with 2,796,386 points! It hasn’t even been a year since I started playing competitive high-scoring arcade games, and I already have five world records. I'm not stopping anytime soon!”

POLICE LOG OF THE WEEK: A caller reported that his 15-year-old son was given a credit card number by a subject via PlayStation Network. The subject was asking personal information about the son and his parents. The case is under investigation.

FIRE LOG OF THE WEEK: A caller reported that a man at the Everett Clinic appeared to be in need of immediate medical assistance. He was transported to a hospital for treatment of an undisclosed medical issue.

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