“Blue Skies and Tailwinds, Bluebonnet Belle” – WWII plane with local connection gone forever

The aviation world is mourning the loss of a World War II era aircraft that was part of the Hurricane Harvey relief effort, headquartered at the Conroe-North Houston Regional Airport by local resident pilots Michael Barksdale and Kayla Perez.

The 1943 model C-47 Bluebonnet Belle, part of the Highland Lakes Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force, crashed just after takeoff Saturday at Burnet Municipal Airport’s Kate Craddock Field in Burnet, Texas where the aircraft was based.  Amazingly, all 13 people onboard survived and were able to exit the burning aircraft before it exploded. The plane was headed for an airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin at the time of the crash.

During the Hurricane Harvey relief effort, Commemorative Airforce Pilot Chris Dowell flew the massive shiny aircraft in and out of Conroe Regional, disturbing supplies. Dowell, a commercial pilot during the week, often spent weekends flying the Bluebonnet Belle to air shows and events. However, when disaster struck last year, he was among those who answered the call to help when Barksdale and Perez formed Aviators Helping Southeast Texas.

Dowell said the Bluebonnet Belle was an Oklahoma City built Douglas C-47 aircraft that served the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Air Force during WWII. The Bluebonnet Bell was based in Down Ampney, just outside of London at the time. After the war, Dowell said the aircraft was moved to Canada where it operated as a commercial aircraft until it was purchased by the Commemorative Air Force in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s. Several photos from WWII were inside the aircraft when it transported supplies last September, during what would be part of the last of its 75 years in operation.

The Bluebonnet Belle and everything it transported during the Hurricane Harvey Relief Effort was donated, as was its fuel. The pilot and crew donated their time, along with many on the ground. While most who benefited from their efforts never knew about or saw the Bluebonnet Belle, a shiny and beautiful piece of history that flew in and out of Conroe, no one who had that privilege will ever forget.

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