Last Living C-47 Pathfinder Pilot from D-Day Invasion at EAA AirVenture to Celebrate 101st Birthday

D-Day Squadron and the Commemorative Air Force Host Lt. Col. David Hamilton (USAF, Ret.) at EAA AirVenture, Last Living C-47 Pathfinder Pilot from the D-Day Invasion

Lt.Col. Hamilton in the right seat of John Session's DC-3 as they approach the Normandy coast. Hamilton was revisiting a similar scene, albeit in daylight, as he had seen during the first minutes of June 6th, 1944 as he flew his C-47 full of Pathfinders over to France ahead of the main invasion force. (photo by Moreno Aguiari)


As two distinct organizations strongly supporting WWII aircraft and honoring veterans, both the D-Day Squadron (DDS) and Commemorative Air Force (CAF) join forces to host Lt. Col. David Hamilton at EAA AirVenture 2023 starting Thursday, July 27, into Friday, July 28. The two-day affair involves special gatherings and engagements, while also extending the celebration of Hamilton turning 101 years young on July 20. Hamilton will advance his engagements to the flight line, visiting with crews from the DDS and CAF, he’s spent time with over the years.

As a 21-year-old, 1st Lt. Hamilton piloted aircraft number 14 of the 20 C-47s which took off late in the evening of June 5th, 1944, carrying ‘Pathfinders’ from the 82nd Airborne to drop behind enemy lines in Normandy, France. Hamilton’s Pathfinders made their jump at around 1:00 a.m. on June 6th. The Pathfinders’ primary mission involved setting up electronic homing equipment to help guide the aerial armada of 800+ additional C-47s that was already on its journey across the English Channel, about an hour behind Hamilton’s flight. From those aircraft, 13,000 paratroopers would drop into a living hell that night, to begin the Allied invasion of Europe and help bring about the end of WWII.

Hamilton will grace EAA AirVenture with several key engagements beginning with a stroll through the WWII encampment Thursday, July 27 at 9:00 a.m. speaking with reenactors, airshow attendees, and even WWII aircraft crews on the flight line following. Hamilton will be seen in his Class B uniform and Class A uniform throughout the two-day engagement, a site not to be missed. This national treasurer will propel into Friday with an engagement at the CAF Tent in Warbirds at 9:00 a.m. At 1:15 p.m., he’s leading with Medal of Honor recipients, an American Airlines sponsored ‘Salute to Veterans’ parade. It starts in Warbirds and ends at Boeing Plaza with a ceremony.

“We cannot express how honored we are to host Dave with our friends at the CAF, at the largest gathering of WWII aircraft, aircraft owners, aviation enthusiasts and patriots in the world,” shares Eric Zipkin, director of operations for the D-Day Squadron and pilot for C-47 Placid Lassie. “Dave joined us in 2019 as we flew 15 C-47/DC-3 type aircraft to Europe from North America to commemorate DDay75 and Berlin70. Many of these aircraft flew during WWII and are D-Day veteran aircraft. He got a chance to fly several of our C-47s, and even pilot a C-47 on the cross-channel formation from Duxford, UK to Normandy, France on June 5, 2019.” That was Hamilton’s second time flying a C-47 across the English Channel into Normandy. The first was just after midnight for Operation Overlord, June 6, 1944, dropping paratroopers behind enemy lines.

Lt.Col. Hamilton boarding the Pan American DC-3 with a flag presented to him earlier. (photo by Moreno Aguiari)

The D-Day Squadron, in collaboration with the Commemorative Air Force, will return to Europe come mid-May next year for the 2024 Legacy Tour. DC-3 variants representing WWII and Cold War vintage aircraft will ‘cross the pond’ from the United States to the United Kingdom, cross the English Channel to Normandy, France, then fly on to Berlin, Germany, Venice, Italy and beyond.

This is no easy task, and while nothing can compare to the amount of organization the Allied forces faced in planning for the D-Day invasion, there is still a tremendous amount of preparation, time, and cost involved in recreating this historic anniversary tour. The DDS is currently setting the schedule, organizing appearances across Europe, and serving as Mission Control for the 2024 Legacy Tour – a central unit for all operators, crew, and operations.

D-Day is often known historically as the beginning of the end of WWII. Our duty is to remember the significance of this event and to ensure that future generations never forget. Today, the D-Day Squadron’s mission continues, to perpetuate the sights and sounds of “Flying Freedom,” and to promote the legacy of the Greatest Generation and the Douglas DC-3s in which they flew. As a key part of the 75th-anniversary celebrations in 2019, paratroopers wore period-correct uniforms and jumped ’round parachutes’ just like the soldiers did on June 6, 1944.

Lyndse Costabile, D-Day Squadron Executive Director, says, “We look forward to replicating this in 2024, as once again, more than 150 parachutists will fill the skies, symbolizing freedom, the sacrifices made during the Normandy invasion, and the overall war effort!” It was also a profound privilege for the D-Day Squadron to lead a 15-ship flyover of the American Cemetery and Omaha Beach on June 6, 2019, for the entire world to see, including the U.S. and French Heads of State who were in attendance. “Many of the aircraft in the formation were beautifully restored C-47s that had seen battle over the beaches of Normandy in 1944,” Costabile continues. “We hope that we will have this honor again next year.”

The magnificent formation flight down the Normandy beaches on June 6th, 2019. (Screen Capture of Into Flight Once More – via D-Day Squadron)

These restored aircraft are flown by retired service members and seasoned civilian pilots. “Our crewmembers are all volunteers who consider it an honor and a privilege to fly these legendary airplanes,” adds Jennifer Thomas, membership manager of the DC-3 Society, the membership arm of the D-Day Squadron. “As Dave is a national treasure to many of us, so is the legendary Douglas DC-3 that changed the way see and experience air travel today,” Thomas continues. The C-47 was the most ubiquitous airplane of the War and performed multiple services in all theatres of operation, including North Africa, Burma, New Guinea, Normandy, Sicily, and Holland. The C-54 and DC-3 were among the aircraft heroically transporting supplies into West Berlin during the Berlin Airlift.

Following the successful mission in 2019, the D-Day Squadron has continued to be a presence at multiple flyovers, aviation events, and warbird-themed airshows. The DC-3 Society was launched to actively aid operators and enthusiasts with maintenance, operations, airworthiness, and displays. “The Allies won the War, in part, because of their logistical abilities. It’s only appropriate that we, as the stewards of these noble aircraft, continue to fly and maintain the very airframes that were the backbone to achieving victory,” adds Zipkin.

The D-Day Squadron has seven DC-3 type aircraft present at this year’s show with several planned to fly in the warbird show Friday and Saturday. The aircraft are displayed in warbirds and in vintage with an exhibit set up in vintage at C-47 “Miss Virginia,” a fully restored DC-3 type by Dynamic Aviation out of Bridgewater, VA. Miss Virginia has aided the D-Day Squadron over the last three years to support the transport of the DDS team, supplies and equipment on site for the show.

More about the 2024 Legacy Tour can be found on the D-Day Squadron website here:

The proposed timeline for the 2024 mission:

  • May 15-25: Train and cross North Atlantic
  • May 25-31: Europe training and buffer for weather / mechanical
  • May 31-June 2: Events in U.K. (will publicize soon)
  • June 2-7: Normandy and Jump Operations
  • June 7-12: Berlin Airlift
  • June 12-23: Lido Italy/Portugal
  • June 23-30: Return to North America

About the D-Day Squadron

Born from the 2019 mission to Normandy, the D-Day Squadron (DDS) is a large program of the Tunsion Foundation, an established 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Its focus is on DC-3 operators, WWII commemorations, education, and outreach programming. Programs that function under the DDS are education and outreach, a Young Historians Program and the membership arm of the DDS, the DC-3 Society. The overall purpose of the DDS is to promote DC-3 type aircraft airworthiness, serve members of the DC-3 Society and promote static and flying displays for future generations. The DC-3 Society was born to organize the collective efforts of enthusiasts, pilots, mechanics, and operators to involve the next generation in “FLYING FREEDOM.”

In June 2019, the D-Day Squadron led an American fleet of 15 historic, restored C-47 World War II military aircraft to take part in a flyover of more than 30 international aircraft to drop over 200 paratroopers over the original 1944 drop zones in Normandy commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The event honored the citizen soldiers of the War, whose bravery led the Allies to the liberation of France, and then to an end of the devastating War in Europe. The Squadron’s education program takes the compelling story of the citizen soldier to audiences at airshows and events off the flight line to honor these brave Americans and ensure their memory and significance are appreciated for generations to come. The group’s efforts are funded through the generous tax-deductible contribution of their supporters.  In 2024, the DDS will return to Europe for DDay80, Berlin75 and other notable commemorations, a Legacy Tour.

To support the D-Day Squadron and its mission, visit

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