EAA offers up-close look at two planes critical to the D-Day invasion

OSHKOSH, Wis. (WFRV) – Two planes synonymous with the legendary battle in France during World War II are on display at EAA.

“Every airplane has a soul,” said Chris Henry, who coordinates the programs at the museum. “This hangar is full of the souls of the people who built them, took care of them, and flew them. Plus, the folks who restored them.”

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The first plane is the P-51 Mustang, located inside the hangar. Even with a very American-sounding name, it was originally made for the British. The plane’s maker, North American in California, churned out a prototype within just 120 days.

“It had the range and the performance to go all the way to Germany and back and escort American bombers while fending off enemy fighters and allowing our bombers to strike,” said Henry.

The only thing the British changed was the engine. They put in a Rolls Royce Merlin engine that gave it its distinctive sound. Both engines are on full display.

“What happened at D-Day is that P-51s, even though they weren’t allowed over the beaches, provided cover to make sure no German aircraft were able to get over the beaches. So, what we were doing was destroying the German airforce before they could get to our troops who were trying to land on the beaches of Normandy.”

The blue and yellow paint job is in honor of EAA founder Paul Poberenzy, who owned the plane, restored it, and then donated it to the public when he no longer flew it. Henry says it was his favorite.

The black and white painting underneath, known as invasion stripes, is historically accurate.
“They realized early on they had to let people know on the ground that these were friendly forces,” explained Henry. “Either from above or below. Somebody came up with the idea, let’s just paint, in the middle of the night, black and white stripes on anything that was going to be allied. Especially if they were flying at low altitudes, so you knew it was friendly.”

EAA will allow folks to climb into the cockpits of some of the planes, hoping it will help bring history to life.

“As a lover of the black and white film, there’s something to be said for coming out and seeing it in person,” Henry emphasized.

The second plane is a Douglas C-47 outside at the EAA museum entrance.

Henry says it wasn’t originally designed for the military.

“When the war broke out, everyone had something to do with the war effort. So, this aircraft was originally ordered for Eastern Airlines. They had to give it up to the Army Air Force.”

Henry says students who volunteer and help clean the plane are shocked at the thin, aluminum shell.

“There are some iconic planes and pieces of equipment. No matter what branch of the service, when you see one, you identify it. The Army Jeep. In Vietnam, it was Huey (helicopter), and in World War II, the C-47 was that.”

Those entrusted with the care and preservation of these planes say it is the least they can do for the service members who are no longer here to tell their stories.

“It’s very important to make sure the stories are told.”

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During its AirVenture in July, EAA is dedicating an entire day to the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

Tuesday, July 23: “Turning the Tide in WWII and D-Day 80th anniversary,” featuring Timeless Voices interviews with D-Day vets, plus in-person commentary from those who keep the historic aircraft flying.