The Commemorative Air Force’s Highland Lakes Squadron in Burnet, Texas has just received the donation of a former Royal Air Force Douglas Dakota Mk.IV. Currently nicknamed Texas Zephyr and displayed in a magnificent, mirror-like, bare aluminum finish, the aircraft belonged to Karl Ritter of Brady, Texas until his recent decision to gift the historic transport to the Highland Lakes Squadron.
This particular aircraft rolled off the Douglas factory line in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma as a C-47B-35-DK Skytrain (USAAF serial 44-77109) during the spring of 1945. While the US Army Air Forces accepted her on June 7th, 1945, they transferred her, within days, to Britain’s Royal Air Force, where she officially became a Dakota Mk.IV, serial KP224. The Dakota arrived in the UK on June 18th, just a few weeks after the war in Europe ended. Her first operational unit was 77 Squadron, which she joined at RAF Broadwell, near Burford, Oxfordshire on August 29th, 1945. The squadron was working up for a posting to India at the time, but KP224 didn’t make that journey, transferring at the end of September to 436 Squadron, a Canadian unit which, ironically, had itself only just returned from the Indian subcontinent. In March 1946, the Dakota transferred to another Canadian unit, 435 Squadron, which relocated to Edmonton, Alberta on April 1st, 1946. KP224 officially becoming an RCAF aircraft a few days later on April 7th, 1946. The aircraft moved through two further RCAF units; 440 Squadron in Winnipeg, Manitoba, then 429 Squadron at the same base. While many aircraft retained their earlier RAF serial numbers within the RCAF, some did get updated to the Canadian format if they stayed in the nation’s service long enough. Such was the case with KP224, which gained her new Canadian military serial number, 12905, in 1970. She retired from the Canadian military during the seventies though, and joined the civil registry as C-GSCB on March 1st, 1977.
She then began a life with various Canadian civilian cargo outfits, such as Air BC in Richmond, British Columbia and Skycraft Air Transport in Oshawa, Ontario. In August, 1994, the Dakota moved south of the Canadian border and joined the U.S. civil registry as N346AB, moving to Falcon Aero in Fredericksburg, Texas. Karl Ritter official became her owner in April, 2007. She flew on the air show circuit as the Spirit of Hondo, when based out of Hondo, Texas, but later became Texas Zephyr. The CAF Highland Lakes Squadron is excited about their new acquisition, and made the following press release to discuss the transfer, and what plans they have for her future…
…The Highland Lakes Squadron had been seeking a replacement C-47 airplane after the tragic loss of the squadron’s Bluebonnet Belle (also a C-47) in 2018. In fact, research suggests that the Texas Zephyr and Bluebonnet Belle were both assigned to the same air wing [Ed. 435 Squadron] during their times in service with the Royal Canadian Air Force. In 2014, to celebrate Independence Day, the last surviving member of the Doolittle Raiders LTC Dick Cole flew in the Texas Zephyr, an experience facilitated by the Texas Historic Aviation Group. LTC Cole memorialized the experience by signing his name to the aircraft’s bulkhead.
Mr. Ritter (the donor of the airplane) expressed that he wished to see the Texas Zephyr restored to its original glory and believes that the Commemorative Air Force’s Highland Lakes Squadron would be best suited to do just that after spending 1000’s of hours restoring the Bluebonnet Belle. The Zephyr is currently positioned at the Brady Curtis Airfield in Brady, TX and will require some mechanical work prior to relocation to Burnet, TX. This will hopefully take place by the summer of next year, just in time for the Bluebonnet Air Show which is scheduled for September 26th, 2020.
David Vaughn, City Manager for the City of Burnet expressed: “It is exciting to see the return of such a historic plane to our community and we cannot wait to see it once again gracing the skies over Burnet!”. CAF Colonel David Bonorden, the Highland Lakes Squadron Leader shared the news of the acquisition at the squadron meeting just a few weeks ago and the squadron members had the opportunity to meet Mr. Ritter and family personally. Said Bonorden, “We’ve always considered ourselves a C-47 squadron… this just made sense. We’re very grateful for the generosity of Mr. Ritter and we’re committed to making this airplane the very best it can be.” Squadron member and Chairman of the Bluebonnet Air Show Colonel Kirk Noaker added, “This is not only great for the Commemorative Air Force’s Highland Lakes Squadron, this is a blessing to the entire Highland Lakes Community. Since the formation of our organization in 1992, our aircraft have been beloved by the community. I’m excited that we’re able to add the Texas Zephyr and it’s 74 years of aviation history to the Squadron and the City of Burnet’s Municipal Airport.”
*All images via CAF Highland Lakes Squadron unless otherwise noted.