Venerable Douglas Warbirds Did Their Bit, 60 Years On
The Commemorative Air Force, the
nationwide warbird operator, did its bit for hurricane relief. Some
of its planes flew from Austin, Texas, safely outside the disaster
zone, into hard-hit Slidell, Louisiana (just across Lake
Ponchartrain from New Orleans; it's where the oft-photographed
destroyed I-10 bridge led to) as well as to Baton Rouge, Hammond,
Lafayette and Bogalusa.
The three disaster-relief warbirds include a Douglas B-26
Invader (originally A-26, this type fought with distinction in
World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, and was employed on both sides
during the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba), an R4D (Navy version of
the C-47), and a DC-3/C-47.
The C-47 was Bluebonnet Belle, the Highland Lakes Squadron's
beautiful (polished!) ongoing restoration. The R4D was "Ready 4
Duty," an R4D-6S from the DFW wing. The A-26 is called Spirit of
Waco, and based in that city. It's been flown by Joe Nemmer, owner
of Nemmer Electric in Waco, and a longtime CAF member.
The cargoes carried varied widely. On one mission, R4D pilots
Jim Breitenstine and Russ Coonley and flight engineer Chuck Horner
delivered 906 badly-needed 5-gallon gasoline cans.
There was a convoluted path to the recruiting of the CAF for
this task -- a path that included the Marines, the Coast Guard, a
bunch of churches from brimstone Baptists to strait-laced New
England Congregationals, telephone numbers scrawled on scraps of
paper, and one thing in common: eagerness to help.
A Marine NCO was in charge of shipping food from the City of
Austin food bank, which had plenty, to the feeding centers that
were hastily established for refugees by the Southern Baptist
Church where the refugees were temporarily relocated.
They started sending food in big trucks, but due to hurricane
damage to the one bridge left standing, the authorities would not
let any big 18-wheelers cross -- so the food had to be transloaded
to pickups or HMMWVs.
This wasn't getting enough food in to the people. You just
couldn't move enough food across the trashed bridges. Somebody had
a brainstorm: could the CAF help? The call came through a Coast
Guard contact; the Marine in charge of shipping the food followed
up with the details.
Help? The CAF? Turns out it could. The organization donated use
of its planes, and committed to deliver 200,000 pounds of food and
medicine. $10,000 worth of fuel for the thirsty old radials was
donated in turn by World Relief, a Christian charity that works
through churches to deliver humanitarian aid. (World Relief also
was picking up the tab for other helpers' avgas and jet fuel
While the use of the C-47 and R4D, cargo planes, makes sense,
where does the fast attack A-26 come in? It wasn't designed as a
trashhauler, but it turns out that the A-26, with its large bomb
bay, can carry 20,000 lbs of cargo, according to pilot Joe