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World War II Planes Can Still Fly, but Who Will Keep Them Flying?

As the 75th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy approached this month, Garrett Fleishman, a 20-year-old college sophomore, flew a restored Douglas C-47 Dakota troop carrier named Placid Lassie out of an airport in Oxford, Conn.

The plane and a half dozen others of that era were being flown over New England as part of the D-Day Squadron, which was going to re-enact the trans-Atlantic crossing of American airplanes to Europe that helped bring about the end of World War II.

That same week, Peter Goutiere, 105, placed his hands fondly on the throttles of another Dakota in the squadron. Mr. Goutiere had flown that very airplane into the Pacific theater of the war in September 1944 and he was an honored passenger on that day’s publicity flight.

These two men bookend a growing concern among World War II historians around the globe: As generations of pilots and mechanics age, will there be enough young people to keep the planes flying?

One of the goals of the D-Day Squadron is to demonstrate the longevity of the 80-year-old technology, Lyndse Costabile, a spokeswoman for the squadron, said.

“It could inspire them to become an engineer, an aviator or an aircraft technician,” Ms. Costabile said. “We do need more pilots and mechanics who can fix, maintain and fly these aircraft.”

That motivation echoes the hopes of many World War II and aircraft historians. “We’ve been encouraging a number of younger people, but it needs more activity,” said Bob De La Hunty, president of the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society of Australia, commonly known as HARS. “There are those who no longer understand the old technology. They’re used to seeing computers driving everything.”

In May, HARS flew its vintage Dakotas off the coast of New South Wales in a ceremony to honor mariners whose ships were sunk in the Tasman Sea by Japanese forces in World War II. It was also a chance to show off the sight and sound of planes that had neither jets nor pressurization.

At one of the Imperial War Museums in Duxford, England, military airplanes are displayed alongside vignettes about the service members who flew and maintained them, said Jeff Boyling, a patron of the museum who part-owns a World War II-era amphibious aircraft, the PBY Catalina.

The Catalina conducted reconnaissance for the Royal Canadian Air Force during the war; and now Mr. Boyling and others take it around the world so people can sit in it, see it fly and learn about its exciting past. “It carries a heavy responsibility, making sure people are educated,” Mr. Boyling said.

The impact of seeing these airplanes fly should not be underestimated, said Dean Alexander, tour coordinator for the British Aviation Enthusiasts Society and former superintendent of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park.

The D-Day Squadron’s trans-Atlantic crossing is a great example of that. That flight was “very likely one of the first times many of these people have seen a World War II airplane except in the movies,” Mr. Alexander said. “It could have a similar effect to Wilbur Wright flying up and down the Hudson. That was the first time most people would have seen an airplane.”

Mr. Fleishman, the young pilot and an aspiring mechanic, is a notable ambassador for keeping the legacy of these planes alive. Several days before the squadron left the United States, Mr. Fleishman, dressed in his flight suit, guided a group of 50 students from Connecticut’s Nonnewaug High School around the airport, telling them about each airplane.

Read entire article at New York Times