Another chapter of American history officially touched down at the San Marcos Airport March 6.
While it may not look historic on the outside, what lies within the nuts and bolts of “That’s All Brother,” a refurbished C-47 aircraft, can tell a tale or two.
The aircraft, which reached its permanent home at the Commemorate Air Force Central Texas Wing hangar, led more than 800 C-47s in dropping paratroopers over Normandy, France during D-Day on June 6, 1944.
While there is still much work to be done, members of the CAF CenTex Wing celebrated the culmination of a two-year restoration process to bring the craft to its former glory.
“We are honored and humbled to be entrusted in the care of this iconic aircraft,” said Joe Enzminger, CAF CenTex Wing leader. “Over the coming months, we hope thousands will come visit That’s All, Brother and help us by playing a part in returning the aircraft to Normandy, France for the 75th anniversary of D-Day.”
The journey to restore “That’s All Brother” almost didn’t happen. Prior to 2015, the airplane had been in an aircraft boneyard in Wisconsin with other derelict aircraft for a decade.
According to the CAF, the plane, which had survived World War II, was used in a variety of post-war civilian roles, hauling people and cargo across the country.
Richard B. “Doc” Heckert, maintenance officer of “That’s All Brother,” said the C-47 was the state-of-the-art airliner in the world in 1935 and 1936. Heckert said the plane was so popular, Russian and Japanese armies flew the American-made aircraft.
“In World War II, these were the state of the art Mack Trucks for the military,” Heckert said. “They flew it all over the world with many nationalities.”
But it wasn’t until 2015 when Matt Scales, a U.S. Air Force historian, discovered a disintegrating aircraft in the boneyard that was “That’s All Brother.” The process involved researching the tail number on the back of the aircraft.
Once the CAF discovered the significance of the find, the organization known for restoring military aircraft, launched its effort to restore the C-47.
To do so, the CAF relied on donations to help fund the refurbishment. The CAF ran a Kickstarter campaign online that raised just under $400,000, Enzminger said.
Several ownerships and foundations stepped in and soon began making “significant” monetary contributions.
All told, roughly $3.5 million in donations and contributions have gone to get the plane in working condition, Enzminger said.
“It was a Herculean effort,” Enzminger said. “We did it to honor the men who flew this plane and the women who helped build it.”
Restoring the craft didn’t come without its challenges and intricacies.
Enzminger said enough C-47s were built so that individual parts and pieces can still be found. The commercial airline version of the C-47 is the DC-3.
While finding some parts is a challenge, others cannot be purchased or bought.
“When you can’t find them or buy them, you have to build them,” Enzminger said.
For Tim Black, Wing Commander of CAF CenTex, the opportunity to house the aircraft is “amazing.” The CAF plans to continue restoration efforts when they fly the plane to Tulsa later this year. They hope to complete the process when they head to Waco to paint the exterior of the plane similar to when it flew over Normandy 74 years ago.
“It’s a shame we don’t keep our historic aircraft restored, so today’s generation and future generations can see what our forefathers did in World War II,” Black said. “Planes with this kind of history are classic.”