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Dec. 4, 2020

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Flying ‘back in time’ to Normandy in D-Day’s honor

1937 DC-3 carries 11-man crew from Oregon to site of Allied invasion for 75th anniversary

By , Columbian Staff Writer
Published:
3 Photos
The 11 passengers on a trip from Aurora, Ore., to Normandy, France, in honor of the D-Day anniversary. Two Clark County residents were on the trip: Bob Irvine, fourth from left, and Jeff Petersen, sixth from left.
The 11 passengers on a trip from Aurora, Ore., to Normandy, France, in honor of the D-Day anniversary. Two Clark County residents were on the trip: Bob Irvine, fourth from left, and Jeff Petersen, sixth from left. RememberNormandy2019.com Photo Gallery

Bob Irvine grew up reading about planes taking the “Blue Spruce” route over the North Atlantic during World War II, and the Vancouver pilot finally got to take his own trip on the path in the last two weeks.

“It’s been in the forefront of my mind forever,” Irvine, 79, said. “To be able to fly this route in a DC-3 has been the culmination of my wishes and dreams for my whole life.”

Irvine was one of 11 people from the Portland metro area aboard a 1937 DC-3 that traveled from Aurora, Ore., to Normandy, France, as part of an event honoring the 75th anniversary of D-Day. He was one of two Clark County residents on the journey, along with Jeff Petersen, 67, of Ridgefield. Irvine was invited as the former owner of the DC-3, and Petersen snagged an invitation because his cousin is one of the pilots making the trip.

The two were on the plane Wednesday as it made a flyover in Normandy as part of Daks over Normandy, an event where Douglas DC-3 planes and C-47 Dakotas from around the world flew over the same beaches Allied troops stormed on June 6, 1944. There were more than 30 planes participating, and a few of them had paratroopers jump out over the beaches, as well, though Irvine’s plane didn’t.

Irvine and Petersen spoke with The Columbian over the phone from Duxford, England, a few days before their flight to France. Both said they’re World War II buffs, so it’s been fun to live in that history on their trip, which started May 24.

To learn more

For more information about the D-Day anniversary flight from Oregon, visit RememberNormandy2019.com, and for more information about Daks over Normandy, visit DaksoverNormandy.com.

Petersen has been involved with the Slo Pokes Car Club for more than 20 years and said he likes vintage vehicles.

“It’s fun to take a road trip in an old car,” Petersen of Ridgefield said. “It’s like traveling back in time, and this is that 10 times over. It’s in the air. It makes you reflect on what you’re doing on an aircraft put into service in 1937.”

Petersen said it’s been an “easy and slow-paced journey.” The plane stopped in Montana, North Dakota, Michigan, New York and Maine before leaving the country. It stopped in Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland and England before making it to France.

“That’s the route you had to go before planes had fuel to go directly across the Atlantic,” Petersen said.

Everyone along the route was friendly, and many were excited to see the old aircraft still in use, Petersen said. The crew of 11 got a private tour of Presque Isle, Maine, from a city councilor and stayed overnight in a desolate city in Greenland with a population of roughly 90 people.

Petersen isn’t a pilot and never served in the military, but said his father and uncles served in World War II.

“I grew up with an interest in it,” he said. “I built a lot of model airplanes and ships as a kid. Part of growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, you had an interest in the war.”

Irvine grew up flying, eventually joining the Air Force and flying 223 combat missions while serving during the Vietnam War. He started hanging around the former Evergreen Airport and taking flying lessons when he was 12. He took his first solo flight at 16 and got his pilot’s license a year later. After serving, he flew commercial for years, including plenty spent in a DC-3.

“It is probably the best airplane built ever,” he said. “It’s an easy airplane to fly. It’s a dream to fly. There’s so much history involved with DC-3. It’s been everywhere in the world.”

That’s part of the reason he jumped at the opportunity to purchase one when given the chance in 1993. When Irvine owned the plane, it sat next to the hangars at Pearson Field while he worked to restore it. He eventually sold the plane in 2007.

Before Irvine bought the plan, it flew in Eastern Airlines, Trans-Texas Airways and Provincetown Boston Airlines. According to Irvine, the aircraft has logged 91,700 total hours of flight time, or more than 10 years flying.

“Our plane hummed across the ocean,” Irvine said. “Everybody got here no problem. Not bad for a bunch of 70-year-plus-old airplanes.”

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