EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
BURNET — After losing the Bluebonnet Belle, a 1944 C-47 Douglas Skytrain in a crash July 21 during takeoff for an air show, the Highland Lakes Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force is staying grounded. In fact, squadron members are putting their heads down and focusing on the next big project: the 2018 Bluebonnet AirSho.
“For the short term, we are planning on completing our air show and will be extremely busy — which is good at this point — ensuring that we are totally prepared in all areas (to) put on a safe and enjoyable show for our audience,” said Norris “Sonny” Croom, adjutant of the Highland Lake squadron. “Post-air show, we will be addressing the issues facing us due to the loss of our Belle.”
The Belle and a crew of 13 were taking off at about 9 a.m. July 21 on the way to the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, when the plane crashed. All 13 crew members got out of the plane, but eight were injured and taken to the hospital, including one who was flown to San Antonio Military Medical Center for burn treatment.
Leah Block, vice president of marketing for the Commemorative Air Force, said one person remained in the hospital as of July 25.
The Bluebonnet Belle was a big part of the local squadron. The plane had flown in countless air shows and events, was used in paratrooper re-enactments, provided rides for the public, and helped support Hurricane Harvey relief in 2017 following the storm.
The Belle was built in 1944 toward the end of World War II and transferred to Great Britain for use in its Royal Air Force. The plane (it wasn’t called the Bluebonnet Belle until it came to Texas) joined the No. 48 Squadron, 46 Group, RAF Transport Command. The No. 48 Squadron had lost several C-47s and other aircraft during the Normandy invasion in June 1944 and Operation Market Garden. The C-47s, also called “Gooney Birds,” served as paratrooper drop planes as well as shuttled equipment, personnel, and the injured during World War II.
As part of the RAF, the plane few 75 missions, carried 402 passengers, helped re-patriate 61 former prisoners of war, and flew 459 injured service members before the European theater of the war came to an end.
It then made its way to the Canadian military and, eventually, civilian use before the Highland Lakes Squadron purchased it and brought it to Burnet in the early 2000s.
The Bluebonnet Belle had been invited to participate in the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in 2019 in England and France.
Despite the loss of the craft, CAF officials said the Highland Lakes squadron will continue.
“I know the unit will remain intact though,” Block said. “In fact, the Commemorative Air Force, which has more than 13,000 members from around the world, have rallied behind the (Highland Lakes) unit, creating #WeAreHighlandLakes.”
The CAF is also encouraging squadron members from across Texas and beyond to attend the 2018 Bluebonnet AirSho in support of the Highland Lakes squadron.
Local officials are also asking Highland Lakes residents to come out to the Burnet airport Sept. 8 to support the annual show. Tickets go on sale Aug. 1 on the Highland Lakes Squadron website.
Croom said that while squadron members are working hard on the upcoming air show, they are also looking toward a future without the Bluebonnet Belle.
“We will be, to some degree, formulating plans starting immediately for our trip forward, but the intensity will increase significantly when the air show is over,” he said. “We have a very good group of dedicated volunteers, and they are poised to tackle whatever challenges we might face in the coming months.”
Go to the above website or the Highland Lakes squadron’s Facebook page for more information, to volunteer, or to contribute to the squadron and its efforts.