Flying treasure returns to become Missoula museum centerpiece
Plane N24320, the C-47 used to deliver the ill-fated smokejumpers to Mann Gulch in 1949, flies toward the Missoula International Airport on Tuesday afternoon upon the aircraft's return to Missoula.

by Mick Holien

The C-47 aircraft took smokejumper crew to Mann Gulch in 1949.
The throaty purr of dual Pratt and Whitney radial engines signaled the return this week of a C-47, N24320, to the Missoula Valley where the reliable plane was used by Johnson Flying Service pilots for almost 30 years.
"There he is," said one of the two dozen or so spectators standing outside the Museum of Mountain Flying on Tuesday as the glistening silver shine of the aircraft became visible from the south.
"I love that sound," said another.
"Cool man, cool," said Stan Cohen, president of the museum's board of directors, as the airplane made a low-level flyby over the runway closest to the museum and not far from where it will be displayed in a soon-to-be-built 18,500-square-foot hangar.
The plane is getting the special treatment because of the role it played in Montana history. It was this aircraft that left Missoula on Aug. 5, 1949, to deliver a smokejumper crew to Mann Gulch. Twelve smokejumpers and a fire guard already on the ground died that day in what was then the second deadliest forest fire in U.S. history.
Flying in from Scottsbluff, Neb., the C-47, made a few passes over Mann Gulch before landing in Missoula.

Dick Komberec, a member of the museum board who accompanied the airplane to Missoula, is the Delta Airlines pilot who discovered the aircraft in Arkansas and convinced the board to buy it.
He also flew the plane on its last mission out of Missoula in the mid-'70s.
"To me it brought my youth back because I was a young man when I had the privilege of flying this for Bob Johnson," he said. "Twenty-five years ago I went by the tower and went over the mountain the other direction."

The museum obtained the plane from McNeely Air in West Memphis, Ark., for $125,000. Fund-raising to pay for the aircraft is ongoing, according to Cohen.

In addition to ferrying smokejumpers to forest fires, the durable C-47 was useful in other endeavors, in part because it could carry such a heavy load, said Komberec.
"The airplanes did all kinds of missions all over the world," he said. There were about 12,000 of the planes built; about 500 remain in flying condition.
"People go to the top of mountains, they go to bottom of the ocean, they go 2,000 feet through ice to recover old historic airplanes," Komberec said, "so this museum is extremely fortunate to get this airplane."
"If we brought any other C-47 or DC-3 here, it wouldn't be the same thing and it wouldn't mean the same thing to people," said Komberec.
"This one is special and we're going to preserve it forever so future people and young people can carry on the tradition." Reporter Mick Holien can be reached at 523-5262 or at

There will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony to welcome the C-47 , N24320, back to Missoula at the Museum of Mountain Flying at the east end of Missoula International Airport at 11 a.m. Friday Oct. 19th.

UPDATE May 2014;
"Just to let you know, the Museum of Mountain Flying has its own hangar, that was built in 2002, to house our collection, including C-47A N24320!
Our website is:
We are open daily from Memorial Day weekend thru Labor Day weekend, from 10 AM to 4 PM.
On all other days, call the Office at: 406-549-8488, or by email to: for a special request."
Greg Lee, Museum member



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