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Freedom Fliers to Join D-Day Ceremonies : Anniversary: Aviators will pilot World War II planes during two-week trip to Europe.

April 28, 1994|SCOTT SANDELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The crew of the cargo ship Lane Victory isn't the only group trying to make a sentimental journey from the South Bay to Normandy.

At least four World War II aircraft are scheduled to leave Hawthorne Municipal Airport on May 17 to participate in ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of D-day.

The Freedom Flight will take a handful of aviators on a two-week trip to Europe with stops in the United States, Canada, Iceland and the United Kingdom.

But just as the crew of the Lane Victory has struggled to organize its voyage, flight planners said they have faced adversity at every turn.

Organizers had assembled 16 cargo carriers, bombers and fighters to be flown by American civilians over the beaches of Normandy on June 6.

But late last week, French officials announced plans to ban all civilian flights on the Normandy coast June 5 to 7, organizers said. As a result, most of the planes have bowed out of the trip.

Some members of Congress are protesting France's decision, but organizers hold little hope for a reversal.

"Even if they gave us permission at this point, we wouldn't have enough time to put things back together," said Robert Lumbard, a chief organizer of the flight.

The French decision is not the only problem to dog the venture. Organizers said they had difficulty scraping together enough money for the trip, which they estimated would cost $2 million. They had collected $1.1 million in donations, most of which will be returned.

"It's very disappointing," said Lumbard, 58, a retired teacher who lives in Pomona. "The flight was to honor the American veterans and soldiers who died for us in World War II."

Lumbard was just a boy when the Allied troops stormed the beaches of France in 1944. Today, he owns a restored B-25 bomber that was to join the flight. But his hopes to participate were dashed last Thursday when the bomber blew an engine.

Two of the remaining planes will fly on their own power to England. Two smaller aircraft will be shipped by cargo plane to reduce stress on the them and save time, Lumbard said. A fifth plane may also make the trip.

The group plans to set up camp at a British air base 50 miles north of London. From there, it will fly to D-day ceremonies in the first week of June.

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