Winning essays land 10 people an hour-long turn aboard a vintage DC-3

Fred Charles looked around the interior of the DC-3 in wonder and with a smile of familiarity. He hadn’t been in a plane like this since December 1945.

That was the last time Charles, an Army Air Corps pilot in World War II, flew the military version of the plane, called a C-47.

His missions during 1944 and ‘45 — too many to count, he said — took him throughout the Pacific. The flights included destinations in Australia, Japan, the Philippines and one that regularly involved crossing over 10,000-foot mountain range in New Guinea.

What brought Charles, 89, of Seattle, to the Historic Flight Foundation at Paine Field on Tuesday was the chance to ride again in the type of plane that he had piloted throughout the war.

Charles’ son had entered his dad’s story in a contest that invited the public to write essays on why they wanted be able to take a flight in the iconic plane. It also included the chance to spend a few minutes in the cockpit sitting in the co-pilot’s seat.

Charles was one of 10 people whose winning essays allowed them to take one of two flights Tuesday on the vintage DC-3.

Passengers saw glimpses of the San Juan Islands, were treated to a buzz down the runway at Seattle’s Boeing Field and had an aerial view of the University of Washington’s remodeled Husky Stadium during the hour-long flights.

That’s to say nothing of the views from an altitude of about 2,000 feet of Lake Washington, boats and ferries plying Puget Sound, backdropped by the Cascade Range.

The plane used in Tuesday’s flights was manufactured in 1944. After the war, it was rehabilitated into a corporate aircraft for Johnson &Johnson, complete with two black telephones to allow back-of-the-plane passengers to call the cockpit to complain about turbulence.

Charles kept his pilot’s eyes on the operation of the aircraft. “I was surprised we didn’t use the flaps on takeoff,” he said.

The plane was one of the best ever built, he said. “They’re still going; it’s amazing.”

He said his turn in the co-pilot’s seat felt great. “It would be nice to fly again and make a few turns and dips,” he said.

He summed up his experience as, “kind of a big thrill, really.”

Also on board Tuesday afternoon’s flight was Gonzalo Canseco, of Everett. Born and raised in Bolivia, he has lived in the United States for 15 years, earning an engineering degree and now works at Boeing.

For Elaine Dow, 70, of Snohomish, the flight brought back memories of when she, as a young teacher in search of adventure, took DC-3 flights in Ethiopia.

Christopher Thiel, 11, of Marysville, wrote in his essay that he wanted to be on the flight because he hopes to be a pilot when he grows up. “It was so cool!” he said of his experience.

For Ursula Denison, 72, of Camano Island, the flight brought back a flood of memories. Denison and her family left a part of Germany which became East Germany after World War II.

In 1952, fearful of the Communist takeover, her mother, Denison and her four sisters escaped to West Berlin.

Denison’s father, traveling separately, was caught and put in jail, but later was reunited with his family in West Germany.

Ursula Denison, her mother and sisters spent time in a refugee camp before eventually flying to Frankfurt. From her decades-old memories, the plane on that flight looked very much like the type of aircraft she was seated on Tuesday. “I’m amazed to be in this plane 60 years later,” she said.

Denison grew up to marry an American serviceman. She arrived in the United States in August 1966 with a 3-month-old baby. She became a citizen, she said proudly, in 1973.

Both during Tuesday’s flight and while sitting in plane’s cockpit, she said she had to fight to hold in her emotions. She reached toward her necklace, decorated with two gold bands. They were the wedding rings of her parents, Englebert and Carola Schiveter. “They are with me today,” she said.

It was hard to put what Tuesday’s experience meant to her in words, she said. She settled on three. “Amazing. Incredible. Thrilling.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

Vintage aircraft

A Vintage Aircraft Weekend is scheduled Aug. 30 to Sept.1 at the Historic Flight Foundation at Paine Field. For more information, check out vintageaircraftweekend.org.

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