Miss Montana to Normandy

It's crunch time until this week's Montana Treasure takes flight on a monumental journey.

The historic warbird Miss Montana will fly to Normandy, France to commemorate the 75th anniversary of World War II's D-Day.

Angela Marshall takes us to the hanger to learn how her upcoming mission will represent all Montanans.

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With Miss Montana set to embark in May 13, volunteers are hard at work.

Maintenance Director Randy Schonemann is replacing wiring in this now 75-year-old "miss."

"We've retrofitted from a lot of old avionics to new avionics, so it's a lot of wiring changes in that way," Schonemann says. "A lot of simplification in that way, which can be helpful."

The 'To-Do' list doesn't end there.

"Along with the engines comes all of the accessories and everything that's attached to them," says Chairman of the Miss Montana to Normandy project, Eric Komberec. "We're talking propellers, carburetors, fuel pumps."

A lot has changed for Miss Montana.

She was born in 1944 as a military transport plane: a C-47.

Before she got to fly internationally, World War II came to end.

Two years later, she was bought at auction by Missoula's pioneer aviator, Bob Johnson.

Her new purpose as a DC-3: aerial firefighting and propelling smokejumpers.

"Every little ding and dent on this tail has a story to tell," Komberec adds. "It's a jumper, who's risked his life dropping out of this thing into a wildfire."

She's the same plane that dropped smokejumpers over the Mann Gulch Fire near Helena in 1949.

Twelve smokejumpers and one smoke chaser landed safely, but later died fighting that fire.

She has sat static at the Museum of Mountain Flying in Missoula for the past 18 years, until Museum President Eric Komberec got wind of America's D-Day Squadron and the Daks over Normandy flyover.

They will honor, in part, the 57,000 Montanans who served in the war effort.

That includes Komberec's grandfather.

Captain Malcolm Enman of Drummond, Montana flew the original Miss Montana.

The nose art was redesigned on the new bird.

"And come flight, a new generation of Montanans will be sitting in this seat," says ABC FOX Montana's Angela Marshall. "But I'm told that they will all be carrying the same adventurous spirit as their Montana predecessors."

"This is going to be a great honor for Montana to be able to be represented there for all of the volunteer work that they put in to get there," adds Schonemann.

Schonemann and his wife, Crystal, will be two of a group of 20, who fly Miss Montana overseas to meet up with 30 aircraft and 300 paratroopers.

For them, working on this 10-month project has been more than a labor of love.

"To have all of those jumpers drop out of the plane, out of all of those planes, I think that's really going to be a sight,” Crystal Schonemann says.

It's the countless hours of volunteer work and $450,000 dollars in parts, fuel and monetary donations that Komberec says are helping to get Miss Montana off the ground.

"It isn't just about one person or an individual, or a pilot, or a mechanic," Komberec emphasizes. "It truly is the entire community that has come together to see this airplane fly."

Miss Montana, wishing you fair skies and tailwinds, is this week's Montana Treasure.

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Right now, flight crews are training using a DC-3 brought over this weekend from Oregon.

Before Miss Montana departs next Monday, May 13, a send-off gala will take place this Saturday, May 11, at the Museum of Mountain Flying in Missoula.

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