Historic WW II plane stops in Yukon on way to Siberia

Pilots are flying a vintage DC-3 from Montana to Siberia, retracing a key Allied supply route used during the Second World War.

Pilots retrace a key Allied supply route used during WWII

'It really is a thrill to have the privilege to fly this airplane,' says pilot Dwayne King. (Phillipe Morin/CBC)

A DC-3 aircraft that flew a key supply route between the United States and Russia during the Second World War is soaring once again.

An American crew is retracing the ALSIB route, which was used to ferry planes between the U.S. and Soviet allies. During the war when crossing the Pacific was too dangerous, planes built in the U.S. were sent over the Arctic. They took of from Montana and continued through Canada, Alaska and over the Bering sea.

"The allies needed to do something to stop the Germans' march across Russia, said co-pilot Dwayne King during a stop in Whitehorse. "So president Roosevelt came up with the idea of the lend-lease program." 

"This program allowed the U.S. to lend or to lease aircraft to Russia to help them stem the tide of German tanks."

The DC-3's arrival in Whitehorse stoked the memories of people who worked in Yukon during the war. 

Doug Bell is a former radio operator and Commissioner of Yukon. He said if one plane was going to survive all this time, he's not surprised it's a DC-3. He calls the plane the workhorse of its era.

"They were built strong and tough, and the stories of that machine during the war are remarkable," Bell said. "One of them even flew with its tail off. I don't know how he did it, but he did it." 

A thrill to fly

The trip to Siberia isn't King's first. The Alaskan missionary once lived for seven years in Russia and previously flew bibles to the region after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The trip is allied with an Alaskan Christian group called Kingdom Air Corps and also Missionary Flights International, a non-profit organization based in Florida which uses vintage cargo planes to reach the Caribbean. 

'"It really is a thrill to have the privilege to fly this aircraft, and the rumble of [each engine with] 1,200 horsepower," King says.

"To have your hands on the throttle, and moving them forward, it's just great."  

Captain Ian Hengst says the plane has been upgraded with a modern global positioning system and other navigation tools. 

The crew left from Florida last week and Hengst says that after 15 hours of flying the plane hasn't encounter many problems. But the DC-3's piston engines do guzzle more than 400 litres of fuel per hour. 

The crew was headed to Alaska after stopping in Whitehorse this week. They plan to continue to Siberia and the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic. 


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