Miss Montana circled by her German admirers

Miss Montana circled by her German admirers

More than 45,000 people showed up Monday at the U.S. Army Garrison in Wiesbaden, Germany, for a 70th anniversary commemoration of the end of the Berlin Airlift.

At times it seemed like they all wanted to climb aboard Miss Montana.

“We opened up the airplane to people and we had a line probably 200 feet long all day,” said Bryan Douglass, one of the leaders of the Miss Montana to Normandy project on the old Johnson Flying Service DC-3.

Wednesday will mark an anniversary for the airplane itself. It’s been just one month since she circled the Missoula Valley and her home at the Museum of Mountain Flying, airborne for the first time since 2001.

Last Thursday, the 75th anniversary of D-Day, she and some 35 other warbirds of her ilk dropped reenactors in parachutes over a field in Normandy.

Then it was on to Germany with the D-Day Squadron, where a months-long commemoration of the Berlin Airlift in 1948 and 1949 is wrapping up at several locations.

The American base in Wiesbaden was opened to the public Monday for the first time in 11 years, and the people poured through the gates.

Not all the World War II-era planes parked at the Clay Kaserne airfield opened their doors to the visitors, but Miss Montana did.

Douglass said it was “just like moths to a flame” for the locals, who climbed aboard, visited and admired the recently reconstructed cockpit, and snapped photos of each other standing under the distinctive Miss Montana logo.

Miss Montana’s flight from France to Wiesbaden on Sunday had an international flavor. Germany-born Nico Von Pronay of Anchorage, Alaska, and native Italian Giuseppe Caltabiano of Whitefish shared the controls with Mark Bretz of Missoula. All earned their American certification to fly the plane in Missoula in recent months. Von Pronay helped fly the airplane from Missoula to Connecticut on May 19-20.

Douglass said there were “logistical challenges” in England and France, but it was a different story in Wiesbaden.

“When we showed up here (Sunday) night, we pulled in about dark and a huge fuel truck pulled up to fill us up, there were buses ready to go, the Girl Scouts had made dinners for us,” he said. “It was a model of German and American efficiency. It felt like home.”