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The return of Miss Montana

After a year of restoration by dozens of volunteers at the Museum of Mountain Flying, “Miss Montana,” a Douglas C-47 built in 1944 s reached Duxford, England on May 28, 2019. Scheduled to participate in “Daks over Normandy” the restored plane will drop paratroopers over France on June 5, 2019. Although currently known as “Miss Montana,” the plane was originally known by its number N24320, and is also known as the Mann Gulch plane.

Nose art on “Miss Montana.” – Kurt Wilson

Piloted by Jeff Whitesell, “Miss Montana” left Missoula on May 19, 2019 with six aboard, bound for England along the Blue Spruce Route through Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, and Scotland.

Manufactured in 1944, just before the D-Day invasion, N24320 did not participate in World War II, although it did have a long and storied career. The Johnson Flying Service of Missoula, Montana bought the plane and used it to support US Forest Service personnel in Western Montana and Northern Idaho. Responding to a wildfire near Helena, Montana in August 1949, N24320 dropped 15 smokejumpers over Mann Gulch. The fire blew up and 12 of the smokejumpers, as well as a Forest Service smokechaser, were killed, the worst tragedy for smokejumpers up to that time. Five years later the plane crashed into Pennsylvania’s Monongahela River in December 1954, killing the pilot and nine others. The plane was recovered and put back in service the following year by Johnson Flying Service.

N24320 was eventually sold to McNeely Charter Service in Arkansas, but by 2001 McNeely was looking to sell the plane. Dick Komberec, a founder of the Museum of Mountain Flying in Missoula learned the plane was for sale in 2001, and $125,000 was raised to purchase the plane and return it to Missoula, where it became the centerpiece of the museum.

In early 2018 Eric Komberec (Dick’s son) and Bryan Douglass learned of the Daks over Dakota project to fly vintage C-47s over the D-day invasion area for the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion, and agreed that N24320 should participate.

A year of frantic activity took place. First on the agenda was giving the plane an identity. For more than 70 years the plane had been known as either N24320 or simply “the Mann Gulch plane.” A new, more identifiable name was needed to spark the interest of donors and volunteers. As luck would have it, Eric Komberec’s maternal grandfather had flown a B-25 in the Pacific Theater during World War II, and had dubbed it “Miss Montana,” named after his wife Marge Enman.

Mac Enman’s B-25 bomber. The nose art was inspired by Mac’s wife Marge.

Besides a new name, the plane needed a complete overhaul, which does not come cheap. The Museum raised $450,000, and assembled a team of volunteers and mechanics to help. The engines were removed and sent off for rebuilding while the rest of the plane underwent a thorough renovation.

Finally by May 2019 the plane was deemed airworthy as it prepared to fly the “Blue Spruce” route across the North Atlantic to England.

Miss Montana’s Journey to England

  • May 14 7 parachutists dropped near Plains
  • May 19 After a 20-minute test flight at 8:00 am, Miss Montana flew over Mann Gulch on the first leg of it’s multi-day trip to England. It refueled in Miles City, MT and Rapid City, SD.
  • May 20 Miss Montana refueled in Wichita KS
  • May 21 Miss Montana refueled in Oxford Connecticut
  • May 22 Refueling at Maine
  • May 23 Refueling at Goose Bay Newfoundland
  • May 24 refueling at Narsarsuaq, Greenland
  • May 25 refueling at Reykjavik, Iceland
  • May 27 refueling at Prestwick, Scotland
  • May 28, Miss Montana arrives at Duxford, England

“Miss Montana” is scheduled to drop paratroopers over Normandy on June 5. Stay tuned for more updates.

Learn more about Montana During World War II

Montana's Home Front World War II
Montana’s Home Front During World War II, 2nd ed.

December 1944 in Montana

December 5 – The Army Corps of Engineers took over jurisdiction of  surplus military airfields at Glasgow, Lewistown, and Cut Bank.

December 15 – The U.S. Sixth Army invaded Mindoro. A train wreck at Gold Creek killed one man and burned up a freight car full of  cigarettes.

December 16 – A German offensive began in the Ardennes Forest.

December 22 – The U.S. 101st Airborne held Bastogne against repeated German attacks.

December 23 – Fire destroyed the McBee Motor Company garage in Billings with $100,000 damage. A man died of a heart attack while helping move belongings from an apartment adjacent to the fire.

December 24 – The Charlo butter and cheese factory was destroyed by fire with $25,000 damage.

December 26 – The Fourth Armored Division relieved the 101st Airborne at Bastogne.

December 27 – Governor Sam Ford was sworn into his second term.

December 28 – The Bachelor Officer’s Quarters at Gore Field was gutted by fire.

December 31 – Longtime Missoula mailman Louis Brutto retired after 40 years on the job. Beginning in 1918, he had walked an estimated 100,000 miles delivering the mail.

Read more about December 1944 in Montana

November 1944 in Montana

January 1945 in Montana

Montana History Calendar 1942

Montana History Calendar 1941

Montana History Calendar 1930s


Montana History Calendar 1941


• April 6 – German troops invaded Greece and Yugoslavia.

• April 13 – Japan and Russia signed a non-aggression pact.

• April 17 – Yugoslavia surrendered to the Axis and Marshall Tito began to organize guerrilla forces.

• June 22 – Germany invaded the Soviet Union.

• July 13 – England and the Soviet Union signed a mutual aid agreement.

• August 25 – British and Soviet troops occupied Iran.

• October – German forces threatened the outskirts of Moscow and Leningrad.

• November 17 – Admiral Yamamoto and elements of the Combined Fleet steamed out of Saeki Bay, Japan.

• November 29 – Governor Ford told a convention of Native American leaders in Havre that their treatment by the Federal government had been “shameful.”

• December 3 – Sen. Burton K. Wheeler leaked the top-secret “Victory Program” to a newspaper reporter.

• December 4 – The Japanese fleet changed course towards Pearl Harbor.

• December 6 – The British declared war on Finland, Hungary, and Rumania.

• December 8 – Montana Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin cast the only dissenting vote on a declaration of war.

• December 11 – Germany & Italy declared war on the U.S.

• December 12 – The sound of a train collision in Great Falls was mistaken for an air raid.

• December 13 – A Soviet offensive at Moscow caused 85,000 German casualties. British forces in North Africa attacked Germans west of Tobruk.

• Dec. 15 – President Roosevelt addressed the nation on the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Bill of Rights.

• Dec. 18 – The first Japanese detainees arrived at Fort Missoula.

Montana History Calendar 1942

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