United captain retraces historic D-Day flight
They came through the clouds from across the English Channel, dozens of Douglas C-47s in tight formation, just as they had 75 years earlier, when the low hum of their propellers signaled the coming liberation of Europe.
As the squadron soared over the beaches of Normandy in France, a swarm of dark specks suddenly appeared beneath them, silhouetted against the bright sky. Hundreds of men and women wearing period-correct parachutes and World War II uniforms drifted down from the planes toward the original drop zones the Allies used on D-Day in 1944.
With the last parachutist clear, the aircraft proceeded eastward to Caen, France. San Francisco-based 787 Captain Steve Craig, who piloted one of the C-47s, looked down upon the rolling green meadows below, where the Battle of Normandy had raged following D-Day, and tried to imagine it as it was all those years ago.
This flight was a dream come true for Steve, an aviation history buff with a keen interest in old warbirds. He earned his chops flying Douglas DC-3s, the civilian version of the C-47, back in the 1980s, transporting crates of fish between Seattle and Anchorage, Alaska, and to hear him tell it, that plane was his first love. Even after joining United as a pilot in 1990, he sat for check rides on the DC-3, and today he is one of perhaps 100 pilots in the United States still qualified to fly the aircraft.
That put him in a unique position when, several months ago, private DC-3 and C-47 owners were finalizing plans for a Normandy flyover commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Hundreds of C-47s had transported thousands of paratroopers from England to Normandy during the invasion, making it the plane most synonymous with D-Day. Now, they needed pilots like Steve so they could fly once more.
The mission was known as Daks Over Normandy, "Dak" being short for "Dakota," which is what the British called the C-47 (in the U.S. it was known as the "Skytrain"). Starting late last month, roughly 30 Daks from around the world converged upon the Duxford Aerodrome, an airfield in Cambridgeshire, England, for a military aircraft show. On the night of June 5, they departed for France, following the same flight path and schedule Allied airmen used on D-Day, arriving over Normandy early on the morning of June 6.
The aircraft Steve flew, tail number N341A, was actually designated as a C-41 during World War II, which was a version of the C-47 modified for VIP travel. It was one of two identical aircraft that U.S. General Henry "Hap" Arnold used as aerial command posts in the theater.
Polished silver aluminum, with a red-and-white tail rudder, it was delivered to U.S. Army Air Command in 1939 and subsequently based at Bolling Army Airfield in Washington, D.C., before serving overseas. Knowing his reputation and experience with this kind of aircraft, the C-41's owner contacted Steve this past February and arranged for him to fly the plane in the Daks Over Normandy event.
Steve's journey started in Oakland, California, where N341A resides, on May 26. It took him seven days, with all the fuel stops, to make the trip to Duxford, where he arrived on June 1. Once there, he had a few days to take care of general maintenance while the aircraft was on display before departing for the historic flight over the channel, the largest single gathering of Dakotas since the war.
ABC News correspondent David Kerley covered the Daks Over Normandy flyover, highlighting the efforts that made it possible. Click here for the video. You can also relive Steve's trip through his blog here.
We know people are taking a second look at their travel plans right now. If you're scheduled to travel March 10 – May 31, 2020 and would like to change your plans, there is no fee to do so, regardless of when you purchased your ticket or where you're traveling. This is in addition to our previous waiver, which waives all change fees – domestic and international – for tickets purchased March 3 – April 30, 2020. This is available for any of United's published nonrefundable fares. If you decide to cancel your flight, you can retain the value of your ticket to be applied to a new ticket without a fee. These electronic travel certificates are now valid for 24 months from the date they were issued. This includes all currently valid electronic certificates and all new ones issued on or after April 1, 2020. You might not see this policy change reflected everywhere right away – we appreciate your patience as we work to make that happen.
Eligible travelers on domestic flights and international tickets can request a refund on united.com or may call our contact centers if their flights have been severely adjusted or service to their destination suspended either due to government mandates or United schedule reductions related to COVID-19.
Certain tickets cannot be changed on united.com or the mobile app, including tickets booked through another airline (if the ticket receipt does not begin with 016). Please contact the original ticketing airline for changes.
Follow the steps below to stay up to date, change or cancel your flight.
Change your current flight:
- On the united.com homepage, select "My Trips" and enter your flight information to retrieve your flight.
- Select "Change flight" and then "Edit" to make the following changes:
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Cancel your flight and rebook later:
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Click through the slideshow below for more detailed instructions:
Start on the United homepage:
User can select 'My Trips' on the homepage widget to find and retrieve their reservation.
When and where possible, we are working to repatriate travelers who are stranded abroad in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Our teams are working closely with government officials here in the U.S. as well as in other countries where flying has been restricted to gain the necessary approvals to operate service. In regions where government actions have barred international flying, we have coordinated with the the U.S. State Department and local government officials to re-instate some flights. Additionally, we have been operating several extra flights to countries in Central America and South America as we continue to play a role in connecting people and uniting the world.
We have operated more than 68 repatriation flights from Panama City, Guatemala City, Quito, Lima, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and Roatan, bringing nearly 9,200 people home. We will continue working with government officials to operate extra flights to Houston from Quito, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and from Lima to Washington Dulles and beginning April 5, we will begin operating multiple charter flights between Delhi and San Francisco. We continue to review more opportunities for flights between the United States and other countries to bring citizens home.
Video provided by the U.S. Embassy Ecuador of Americans returning home on United.
Additionally, our Customer Solutions and Recovery team is working with customers in the following markets to rebook them on flights back to the United States as capacity allows, either on our aircraft or on one of our airline partners' planes:
- Quito, Ecuador
- Managua, Nicaragua
- Roatan, Honduras
- San Pedro Sula, Honduras
- Seoul, South Korea
- Melbourne, Australia
We also recently reinstated several international flights back into our schedule to support customers and essential businesses which depend on these routes. As a result, we will be the only airline to offer service between Newark/New York and London, San Francisco and Sydney, as well as Houston and São Paulo, Brazil.
Calling all AvGeeks and travelers! Here's a fun way to take your next video call….from a United Polaris® seat, the cockpit or cruising altitude. We're introducing United-themed backgrounds for use on Zoom, a video conferencing tool that many people are using to stay connected.
So for your next meeting or catch up with friends and family, download the app to either your computer or mobile device to get started. If you've already downloaded Zoom you can skip ahead to updating your background image (see instructions below).
- Start here by downloading your favorite United image to your computer or mobile device. Just click "download" in the bottom left corner of the image.
- Next go to your Zoom app (you'll need to download the app to access backgrounds) and click on the arrow to the right of your video camera icon in the bottom of the screen.
- From here select, "choose virtual background" to upload your uniquely United photo.
Together, we are facing an unprecedented challenge. United Together, we rise to meet that challenge.