History Wars World War II

C-130s are getting World War II-style makeovers for next year’s D-Day anniversary

The Air Force is getting a very early head start on next year's anniversary celebrations.
Nicholas Slayton Avatar
C-130J invasion stripes D-Day Normandy
U.S. Air Force Airman Quinten Cooper, 86th Maintenance Squadron Aircraft Structural Maintenance apprentice, paints a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 1, 2023. The 86th MXS ASM flight painted stripes on six of the 37th Airlift Squadrons C-130s as a way to pay homage to the C-47 Skytrain aircraft that flew over Normandy during the Invasion of Europe on June 6, 1944. (Sr. Airman Thomas Karol/U.S. Air Force).

The United States military commemorated the 79th anniversary of D-Day in June with airdrops, flyovers, and gatherings of veterans in Normandy. Now only two months after that, the Air Force is getting a head start on next year’s celebrations. 

Six C-130J Super Hercules planes based at Ramstein Air Base in Germany have been given a fresh coat of paint. They now sport large alternating black-and-white stripes, echoing the same patterns used on World War II planes for the invasion of Normandy. The C-130Js, used by the 37th Airlift Squadron, will fly over Normandy next June as part of the 80th anniversary. 

Nearly 80 years ago the paint job had a clear purpose during the war. The stripes were a sign to any Allied forces on the ground not to fire on them or mistake them for German warplanes. One Douglas C-47 Skytrain, known as “Whiskey Seven,” was sporting the “invasion” stripes when it became the first troop carrier plane to cross into German lines during D-Day. 

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“We get the sole honor in the Air Force of applying liberation stripes to our aircraft in celebration of 80 years of NATO air superiority in Europe,” Tech. Sgt. Garrett Magnie with the 86th Maintenance Squadron said in a release from the Air Force. “The 37th Troop Carrier Squadron, now known as the 37th Airlift Squadron flew Whiskey Seven over enemy airspace. Historically the 37th can lay claim to be a part of the Normandy liberation.”

It’s unclear why the Air Force is doing this design work so early — again the 80th anniversary of D-Day is not for another 10 months. The U.S. military is already planning events tied to next year’s commemoration, but overall plans have not been revealed. Fresh paint on the planes appears to be one of the first steps in preparation. 

The 86th Maintenance Squadron painted the “liberation” or “invasion” stripes on the six planes and put on “W-7” markings on the C-130Js as well. 

The Air Force has regularly put the invasion stripes on aircraft for D-Day commemorations, including this year’s celebrations with fighter jets and transport aircraft sporting the historic paint. 

It’s still unclear why the Air Force painted the six C-130Js so early for next year’s event. It’s also unclear if retouching or fresh paint will be needed as June 2024 approaches. But at least this way they won’t forget the invasion stripes at the last minute.

Note: A previous version of this story noted the stripes had a clear purpose “80 decades ago.” The story has been corrected to say 80 years ago.

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