ZEPHYRHILLS, Fla. — A Bay area team is working to restore a World War II-era plane to its former glory so it can take part in the 75th anniversary of D-Day next year. 

  • C-47 flew in "Operation Varsity" in 1945
  • Group hopes work can be completed in time for D-Day 75th anniversary
  • Learn more about the restoration effort HERE

Over the course of the last several months, pilot Ed Franco and his team in Zephryhills have taken a plane, just a shell of what it once was, and brought it back to life. 

"It's an incredible experience," Franco said. 

The C-47 they are restoring flew as part of “Operation Varsity,” the first time the U.S. crossed the Rhine River during World War II.

Franco's team is working on a complete restoration of the aircraft, hoping to get the bird back up in the sky. Franco said it hasn't been an easy task. 

"A lot of corrosion issues, a lot of engine issues," he explained. "We had about 5 ½ months of engine work on it." 

They're hoping to be done in the next few months. 

Flight across the Atlantic

Next summer, Franco and three other Tampa Bay pilots plan to fly the C-47 across the Atlantic, along with dozens of other C-47s, to reenact D-Day 75 years later. It's all part of the "Daks Over Normandy" event. 

"It's truly an honor," said pilot Sarah Gilbreath. "It's so exciting, it doesn't even feel real!" 

The plan is to make the plane look just like it did in the 1940s, with the pilots and paratroopers taking part in the reenactment in period clothing as well. 

"It's an absolute tribute. Those guys sacrificed themselves — we owe them so much," Franco said. 

"There's a connection. It's not dead history. It's living history," artist Joel Iskowits added. Iskowits painted one of the images on the nose of the plane. 

Florida connection

And long before the plane was brought to Tampa Bay, it called Florida home. 

"It started its routes in Florida at Morrison Airfield, which is now West Palm Beach International," Franco explained. "And it made its trip over the pond actually from Morrison Airfield."

The group will be making several stops on their trip to Europe and you could be a part of it. They are accepting donations to actually ride in the plane for one of the legs of the trip.

For more information and to contact the team head to their website.