‘Whiskey 7’ Salutes Frontline Workers Battling COVID-19

D-Day veteran ‘Whiskey 7’ will lead flyovers of the Western New York Region for “Operation Thanks From Above” (Mike Jordan/BPE)

GENESEO, NY — In recent weeks, millions of Americas have thrilled to the sight and sound of military jets streaming across the sky in honor of first responders, healthcare and essential workers. The flyovers by the Blue Angel and Thunderbird teams (amongst others) offer a pleasant break to those on the front lines, as well as a hopeful reminder to the rest of us that we are all in this fight together.

Itching for like action — and armed with nothing but a cargo full of good will — another warbird will be taking to the skies over Western New York this coming weekend. The only difference? This plane — a Douglas C-47 designated ‘Whiskey 7‘ — first brought a glimmer of hope to an entire continent quarantined by the Nazi regime during World War II.

‘Whiskey 7’ is owned and operated by the National Warplane Museum (NWM) in Geneseo, New York.

The lead aircraft in the second wave of the D-Day invasion on June 6th, 1944 over Ste. Mere Eglise, Normandy, ‘Whiskey 7′ dodged heavy flack while delivering paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division as part of Operation Neptune. She also flew during Operation Market Garden – the invasion of Holland – and Operation Varsity, which was the invasion of the German homeland in 1945.

Organizers say the values associated with this aircraft are bravery, sacrifice, honor and hope — so it is only fitting that it will lead the way in reminding local heroes how appreciated they are.

C-47 Whiskey 7 at the 2019 National Warplane Museum Airshow in Geneseo, New York. (Credit Anthony C. Hayes)
‘Whiskey 7’ gleams in the twilight at the National Warplane Museum.
(Anthony C. Hayes)

“Since the start of the coronavirus, each worker, family, and organization has had to make drastic, unusual, and spontaneous changes to the way that life and business are conducted. On the front line, we are fortunate to have individuals who are there to ensure that safety, care, and supplies are available to everyone, every day. These heroes accept risk and they expect fatigue,” said Austin Wadsworth – President of the NMW.

Aptly named “Operation Thanks From Above,” ‘Whiskey 7′ will lead the upcoming New York flyovers, accompanied by other vintage aircraft. The missions included are being designed to overfly key hospitals, Veterans Affairs locations, city centers, parks and other notable venues in the Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse areas.

Residents in the flightpath will be able to see the flyover from the safety of their homes. For those who plan to travel to a designated spot for viewing, it is asked that they adhere to all social distancing guidelines and also wear a face covering.

“This mission is one of many that are taking place across the country, and we are honored to be a part of showing our gratitude and support for those on the front lines,” said Todd Cameron — a key member of the team organizing the mission and the Director of Flight Operations at the NWM.

“Right now, it is unofficially shaping up to be the longest mission of its kind. We are planning two flights around western New York on Saturday with 78 checkpoints and a combined distance of 590 nautical miles. The maps with the routes will be publicly released later today, and then, on Thursday, we will be updating those maps with a 10-minute window of time for each checkpoint. We’re working closely with each facility we’ll be flying over to make sure people there know this is all about them.

“The first sortie will launch at 9:30 on Saturday morning and cover everything from Rochester west. We’ll return to Geneseo at around noon, then take off for the second sortie to cover everything east of Rochester to Syracuse.  Some of the larger towns with get to see us do a few turns before we move on. Plus, we plan to fly at about 140 nauts, so people on the ground will not only get a long, slow look but also appreciate the sound of those beautiful Pratt & Whitney engines. And if that isn’t enough, it’s confirmed that we’ll be joined in the air by the P-51 ‘Mad Max’. There isn’t anybody who doesn’t love the sound of a Merlin engine.”

Cameron stressed that the overflights are in no way meant to promote either the airplane or the museum. “Our intention here is to give back to the community — not to ask for money,” he said. But with the mission coming on the heels of the 75th Anniversary of V-E Day, the flights should remind viewers of the wartime sacrifices made by The Greatest Generation. And of the importance of maintaining both iconic airplanes and the museums which house them.

Like other museums nationwide, NWM is currently closed. A volunteer staff was brought in specifically to get ‘Whiskey 7’ ready to fly and to do the logistical work necessary to make this mission a reality. But the annual airshow, plane rides and similar sources of revenue — which pay for upkeep, replacement parts, and insurance — are on hold for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

A huge commemoration flyover of Washington D.C. — which would have included ‘Whiskey 7’ and was set for May 8 (V-E Day) — has been postponed until late September.

“This is Museum Week,” noted Cameron,  “and every museum around the country is in the same boat. For air museums, not only have we not been able to offer rides — which helps generate cash — but the airshow industry has absolutely been decimated for the year.  We’ve got these beautiful assets and pilots who are anxious to fly, but in some cases can’t, because mechanics have not been able to get to them to do their winter inspection and sign their FAA certificates.”

A bi-plane on the flight line at last summer’s Geneseo Air Show.
(Anthony C. Hayes)

Cameron said the cost for Saturday’s tribute — including fuel and maintenance for ‘Whiskey 7’ — plus transportation, housing and meals for the two-dozen volunteers, will run about $25,000.

“We were approached early on by some people in the medical community who wanted to kick in, but we told them absolutely not — we are doing this for you.

“It has been a challenge, but as the guy making the calls to coordinate the financial end of things, I have been humbled by the support that has been offered both by individuals and the business community.  This is an incredibly difficult time, but they have dug deep to help make this happen. The political world has also been very supportive. It’s an absolute honor to be a part of this tribute, and we love doing it.

“People here in Western New York already associate ‘Whiskey 7’ with its leading role on D-Day. So it’s that much more meaningful that we are using that platform as a way to allow people to look skyward and smile.”

The D-Day operation gave Allied forces a crucial foothold in Western Europe — one which directly led to the surrender of Germany on May 8, 1945. In summing up the war, Gen. Eisenhower cited the C-47 as one of the four most important implements employed in the long march to victory.

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More details, including a map with locations and times, will be made available this week. Please visit NWM’s Facebook event page for more details as they develop: https://www.facebook.com/events/2305651773070755/ Or visit their website at: https://nationalwarplanemuseum.com/operation-thanks-from-above/

The National Warplane Museum 1941 Historical Aircraft Group DBA National Warplane Museum is a Non-Profit 501(c) (3) chartered by the New York State Board of Regents.