'Gooney Bird,' staple of WWII, Berlin Airlift, flown by Missouri Air National Guard
By Senior Airman Nathan Dampf, 131st Bomb Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 26, 2014
ST. LOUIS, Missouri -- When the U.S. Army Air Corps began its pursuit of airlift superiority in 1944, the Air Corp started with one of the most versatile planes manufactured during the World War II era - the C-47 Skytrain. And, for more than 22 years, the Missouri Air National Guard flew its own Skytrain, dubbed the "Gooney Bird."
Believed to have been flown during the Normandy invasion, the Berlin Airlift and in the Korean War, Missouri's Gooney Bird proved to be one of the most "faithful" planes operated by the Missouri Guard's 131st Tactical Fighter Group, predecessor to today's 131st Bomb Wing, said retired Chief Master Sgt. Wilbur Tackaberry, a former munitions superintendent with the wing.
"The Gooney Bird was a smooth-sailing ship," said Tackaberry. "We used it almost every weekend. We'd always take minimal tools and technical equipment because it was such a faithful aircraft. It was a workhorse and served us well."
During World War II, the plane was influential in supply and airdrop missions. In May 1944, the Gooney Bird was deployed with the 9th Air Force to Europe. Leading the way, 500 C-47s and C-53s dropped paratroopers at night in the southern invasion of France on June 5, 1944.
The C-47's versatility came in handy. The plane could be used to carry three crewmen and 6,000 pounds of supplies; 28 airborne troops; or 14 stretcher patients and three medical attendants. Having such capabilities, General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower included the C-47 as one of four "Tools of Victory" that propelled the Allies to win World War II.
But, even after the war, the C-47 continued its service in 1948 and 1949 by flying support aid as part of the Berlin Airlift and in a variety of missions during the Korean War. In the war, it carried supplies to troops, dropped leaflets opposing the Communist combatants and flew loudspeaker flyovers.
With an exhaustive military career, the C-47 Gooney Bird's durability also proved useful for transporting civilian passengers. In 1950, it was converted to a VIP transport plane, complete with carpet and a couch. It was primarily used to ferry Missouri's governors, but one other VIP that flew on the Gooney Bird was President Harry Truman, whom Tackaberry met alongside Missouri Air National Guard mascot Banjo A. Burro during Governor John Dalton's inauguration in 1961.
Tackaberry, who served with the 131st for more than 30 years, worked with many other Missouri Air Guardsmen on the plane domestically for bombing and gunnery support missions, flying to locations such as Wisconsin, Indiana, Arizona and Mississippi.
"During one mission in Fort Wayne, Indiana, we had to fly to Detroit," Tackaberry said. "There was a snowstorm, and the pilot got the tail and rear wheel stuck in a snow bank. We had to get off the plane to shimmy it free in the middle of the snowstorm. We had a lot of good times on that plane."
On another occasion, Tackaberry and his crew had to corral Banjo Burro off of the runway to allow the Gooney Bird to fly another mission.
When the plane flew its last flight, it did so in a much different fashion than prior flights. Wingless, the plane was airlifted by a Kansas Army National Guard Sikorsky CH-54 Sky Crane on July 12, 1974. The aircraft now sits on the grounds of the Museum of Transportation here.
After being restored to its D-Day invasion-look with a recent paint job, the plane is visited by Veterans and families from across the country who have memories of flying in the plane or jumping out of it, said St. Louis Museum of Transportation curator Coby Ellison.
"It's a fantastic plane," said Eric Harris, a transportation enthusiast from Sullivan, Illinois, during a recent visit to the museum with his family. "With such a history, it is great that the Air Force has it on loan here."