Most retirees don’t jump into a 75-year-old, low altitude, unpressurized World War II airplane and fly over the Atlantic Ocean just for fun.
But three adventurous South Bay brothers who share a love of vintage airplanes with the Flabob Express Chapter of the Antique Airplane Association did just that.
Bill, Bob and John (aka Tym) Tymczyszyn recently donned exposure suits and portable oxygen masks and took turns turns with other crew members flying a World War II DC-3 from Riverside to Normandy, France for the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
The brothers piloted the Flabob Express, a passenger and cargo aircraft believed to have flown Winston Churchill during WWII. The vintage Flabob is regularly flown to air shows around the U.S.
But this was no ordinary trip.
The transcontinental journey began May 6. Volunteer pilots and mechanics readied the craft for its trip across the United States, over Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, England, Normandy and ultimately into Germany.
The longest leg of the trip—over the Atlantic—traced the Blue Spruce Route, to keep the plane near land and within fueling range at all times.
At one point, the low altitude, vintage plane flew just a couple hundred feet over New York City.
“One of the big highlights was flying down the Hudson River right over the Statue of Liberty in formation along with 13 other DC-3’s, C-47’s and AT-6’s,” said youngest brother Bob Tymczyszyn.
Torrance resident Bill Tymczyszyn, the middle brother, co-piloted the 75th Anniversary of D-day Honorary Flyover of Arlington National Cemetery as well as various legs of the trip from California to the East Coast.
Bill, a retired captain from United Airlines was the official photographer for the adventure.
“I was along for only some of the flying, but lots of the fun,” said Bill who, with his brothers, took nearly two years to map out the flight path.
Bob, formerly a Lomita resident and retired Flying Tiger Lines captain flew the whole 25 hours across the Atlantic.
Other crew members, Matt Walker, Joe Fisher, Hualdo Mendoza, Brian Maisler and his brothers also flew various legs of the trip across the United States, Europe and back. Pilot and mechanic Jon Goldenbaum also helped make the trip possible, said Bob.
The 45-day journey was not without drama.
“The trip across the Atlantic was challenging and rewarding, beautiful and awesome,” Bob said after returning home June 19. “We weathered down in Goose Bay, Newfoundland for three days, then made it to Narsarsuak, Greenland, flying up a fjord. We landed in a 45-knot wind with no alternate airport or backup plan. We had to fly out.”
From Greenland the crew flew over the ice cap to Reykjavik, Iceland and ultimately into Scotland where people who lined up for hours to visit the aircraft.
From Scotland the guys flew to Duxford, England where the initial D-Day bases were located during WWII, Bob said.
The Flabob crew members were devastated, they said, to have missed the formation and parachute drop on June 5 into Normandy with dozens of other vintage planes and parachute troopers in WWII-style Allied uniforms.
Bob said The Flabob Express taxied out on the Duxford runway three times to join the formation of 22 planes, but the DC-3’s carburetor failed and the crew had to return to the ramp. By the time the problem was fixed, inclement weather had set in, and the team wasn’t able to join the fly over.
On June 6, the official international ceremony celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Normandy took place on Juno Beach and was attended by President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May, among others.
Berlin Candy Bomber
A highlight of the trip for Bob and Tym was flying their DC-3 on the left wing of the original “Berlin Candy Bomber.”
Gail Halvorsen, a retired United States Air Force officer, is known for dropping candy tied to little handkerchief parachutes to German children during the 1948 to 1949 Berlin Airlift.
On June 10, Halvorsen, 97, flew lead captain in the military C-47 “Placid Lassie” in formation to make a commemorative candy drop at the Wiesbaden Air Base in Germany.
“Herm Rowland, one of the Flabob Express supporters, who owns the Jelly Belly candy company, supplied all the candy from his factory in Thailand,” Bob said. “As part of the D-Day celebrations, Rowland bought 10,000 handkerchiefs and tied the corners exactly like Halvorsen tied them during WWII.”
More than 50,000 people came to the Wiesbaden American airbase that day. Thousands of kids were cut loose when the handkerchief parachutes carrying Jelly Belly packets were released from the low flying planes.
Palos Verdes Peninsula resident and retired Flying Tiger captain Tym Tymczyszyn, who flew from Normandy to Wiesbaden, said it was an honor to meet Halvorsen. A family emergency pulled him away from some of his other flight duties, but Tym still co-piloted the climactic candy drop in Germany.
The three brothers have had interesting, action-packed careers flying for major airline carriers, but all agreed the trip to Normandy was monumental.
“To take 75-year old airplanes and fly them across the ocean with people who haven’t flown in formation for years, and experience no mechanical failures except for the carburetor we fixed, was epic,” Tym said.
“No matter what your position was—from our supportive wives to the guys who cleaned the planes—the idea of being associated with this whole project in any way was an honor. D-Day was such an important aspect of our history.”