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Salute from the Shore: Vintage aircraft fly in place of military jets

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The best view for Barry Avent wasn’t the one from the cockpit of his 70-year-old C-47 transport plane. It was the view over his shoulder of the seats where veterans rode last year in the Salute from the Shore flyover.

One flew C-47s during World War II. “He was grinning from ear to ear,” Avent said.

His plane was one of a handful of vintage aircraft that followed a formation of F-16s as they flew over South Carolina last year on the Fourth of July. This year, the Salute from the Shore will be entirely vintage planes. The federal budget sequester will keep the military jets on the ground.

The flyovers bring thousands of people to the shore to wave flags at the passing planes. Those scenes are recorded and DVDs are sent to troops serving overseas.

The town of Pawleys Island has been the official sponsor for the salute since it began in 2010. The military flights required Pentagon approval.

This year, it just required Avent to assemble two flights of aircraft from vintage plane enthusiasts. He expects to have 10 in all and was hopeful that the weather would clear off in time for the 1 p.m. flight. There is no rain date.

Along with the C-47 will be a pair of Beechcraft C-45s, twin-engine planes used to transport officers as well as train bombardiers during World War II. Other pilots will fly versions of the AT-6/SNJ trainers that were built after the war.

This year’s flight will be lower and slower than the military jets, Avent said.

Avent is a former commercial pilot who lives in Bennettsville. His C-47 is painted in the colors of aircraft that took part in the D-Day invasion of Europe. “This is my era of history,” he said. “I love the equipment. I love the people.”

His plane was built in 1942 and delivered to the Royal Air Force in 1943. On D-Day it was actually being used by the RAF in training for towed gliders and paratroopers.

It saw action during the airborne invasion of Holland and Avent said it has the bullet holes to prove it.

His C-47 was also used in films, including “The Dirty Dozen,” before returning to the U.S. for commercial service.

Avent has restored the plane to its original condition, rebuilding the engines with original parts.

The only upgrade is to the passenger seating, which complies with FAA rules.

“It’s neat to put history back together,” Avent said. Even better is sharing that history.

In 2010, he flew with 26 C-47s to the air show in Oshkosh, Wisc., the biggest formation of the transports since the war.

“I haven’t been to a show yet where somebody doesn’t come up – they won’t talk to you – they just put their hands on the airplane,” Avent said. “They might never tell you their story. They walk off with tears in their eyes.”

He will have eight veterans on board when he takes off from Myrtle Beach on Thursday.

“Putting these guys in the air on the Fourth is a salute to the serving military and to the veterans,” he said.

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