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First Look: ‘Miss Montana’ debuts

She’s ready for the big show

As I started to write this story, I realized I’d seen her before.
Pilot Briefing June
Photography by Jeremy Lurgio

But, boy, she didn’t look like this—gleaming silver aluminum, fresh paint, and all parts in working order. No, I had met her in the Missoula, Montana, Museum of Flying tucked safely back in a corner, dull and quiet, the remarkable thing being her story about the Mann Gulch fire in 1949. This was the DC–3 that flew over the Gates of the Mountains to drop 15 smokejumpers into a raging fire near the Missouri River. The deaths of 13 firefighters in the blaze would change how the U.S. Forest Service approached fighting wildfires and develop safety measures still in use today.

Miss Montana has had a storied past, that’s for sure. N24320 was built for the war effort and designated a C–47 for military service, but was not completed before World War II ended. The airplane was purchased by the Johnson Flying Service of Missoula, Montana, and carried smokejumpers into the wilderness until retirement and sale to a charter company. Discovered in Arkansas by Montana resident and former Delta Air Lines pilot Dick Komberec, the C–47 was recovered and brought back to the Museum of Flying. Komberec had recognized the airplane because he flew it for Johnson Flying Service in the 1960s. N24320 has been a centerpiece at the museum and maintained by museum members.

Komberec’s son, Eric, was instrumental in convincing the museum’s volunteers to embark on a restoration, with the goal of flying N24320 as part of the D-Day Squadron reenactment this June.

“We chose to restore the aircraft for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join in the commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the D-Day invasion, a mission this airplane was built for but never got to attend,” the younger Komberec said. “We could not have attempted a project like this without the amazing group of people we put together a year ago. We have added hundreds of new museum members, and countless volunteers have busted their butts over the past 10 months because they believe in this mission, the vision of the museum, and the Montana spirit—when we start something, we get the job done.”

Komberec’s late father-in-law Malcolm W. Enman flew the original Miss Montana, a B–25, during the war. The decision to crown the C–47 with the same nose art Emailmoniker honors both the B–25 and the many Montanans who served during World War II. Enman, a Drummond, Montana, resident, earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. The Komberecs will be among the Montana pilots who fly to Normandy this year as a part of the D-Day Squadron, the American contingent of the Daks Over Normandy flyover. A fleet of American C–47s will join aircraft from Europe Emailand Australia to fly across the English Channel and drop paratroopers in Normandy to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of D-Day. Miss Montana will be Emailamong them.


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Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker

AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.

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