The RAF Transport Command Memorial is dedicated to keeping the history of RAF Transport Command alive and relevant. As such, the team formed Dakotair Ltd. to acquire a Douglas Dakota and certify it for carrying paying passengers. This is not at all an easy thing to do anywhere in Europe due to post-9/11 regulations, so it will be quite a feat when Dakotair achieves their aims. They eventually intend to operate three Dakotas around the UK on passenger flights, and at air shows and flyover events.
David Petters, Dakotair’s boss now takes up the story: Dakotair Ltd. has taken delivery of their first Douglas Dakota, KG651/G-AMHJ from the Assault Glider Trust (AGT). They dismantled the Dakota moved it by road to their facility at the former RAF North Weald in late March. Built in 1942 and delivered to the RAF, KG651 has a very long and varied history. It last flew in 2000 with Air Atlantique, where it served as a spray aircraft. In 2002 the AGT took possession of ‘651 and returned it to its WW2 configuration.
With the incredible help of Weald Aviation, our hosts at North Weald, we have a full maintenance facility in which to restore and maintain the Dakotas. Returning an aircraft the size of a ‘Dak’ to flying condition is not inexpensive. In order to raise the necessary funds, Dakotair has set up a ‘Sponsor a Rivet’ program. There are three options in the rivet program: Basic, Classic and VIP. The Basic package is £10 and you receive a certificate of sponsorship and a gold DC-3 pin badge. The Classic package is £75 and includes the items from the Basic package, along with the option to have a name of your choice painted on the Dak’s fuselage for a year, the perfect gift for an aviation minded friend or to commemorate a family member. The VIP package, at £200, includes all of the above and adds a 30 minute flight experience in a DeHavilland Chipmunk.
Dakotair expects to take delivery of two airworthy Dakotas later this year, and will begin the run up to passenger operations in 2015. They anticipate a number of special, pre-season flights for members of their loyal supporters club, which will mark the first UK passenger flights in a Dakota since 2008.
The flying aircraft will assume the identity of KG374 of 271 Squadron, flown by David Lord VC on a fateful trip over Arnhem in September 1944. Lord was the only Transport Command recipient of the Victoria Cross, and his medal now resides in the Ashcroft Collection. Assigned to drop vital supplies to the stranded paratroopers in Arnhem during Operation Market Garden, KG374 received heavy flak damage on it’s first pass over the drop zone. With his right engine and wing alight, Lord elected to return to the drop zone to finish dropping his canisters. Time was running short for the stricken plane. It took eight minutes to make the full pass, rejoin the stream and drop the payload. Immediately after the drop, Lord ordered the crew to bail out. Sadly, the starboard wing collapsed before the crew could escape. The ensuing crash took the lives of all but Lord’s navigator.
With one aircraft representing KG374, the second Dakota will wear post-war RAF colors; ready for Berlin Airlift 70th Anniversary commemorations in 2018. Thereafter the plan is to respray that aircraft with a Mediterranean Theatre color scheme celebrating the hard work and sacrifice of Transport Command in this under-represented WWII combat zone.
KG651 will most likely take on a South East Asia Command color scheme at some point to finish the representation of Transport Command, although planning this point is still in the early stages at the moment. It is also possible that all three aircraft may take on markings from a single ETO squadron, which would make for an impressive lineup at any air show.
The prospect of having three passenger-carrying Dakotas flying in the UK is indeed tantalizing. The project is steaming ahead, but still requires your support. Please take a look at their website, www.dakotair.com for details on joining the “Sponsor a Rivet” program and the Supporters Club.
Special thanks must be offered to Mark Edwards, Dakotair’s head engineer; Stewart Smith from S.A. Smith Transport for their low loaders used in shipping KG651 to North Weald, and Emerson Crane Hire for the generous use of their crane.