By Geoff Jones.
Organized by the Round Canopy Parachuting Team (RCPT), the plan to bring a large number of Douglas Dakota transport aircraft to Normandy on June 6th, 2014 for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, has been a huge success. Ten DC-3/C-47 variants – known as the Dakota in the RAF and Skytrain with US Forces – gathered for the largest assembly of the type seen over Normandy since 1944. Most of the Dakotas initially gathered at Lee-on-Solent airfield, near Portsmouth, England. On Thursday June 5th they flew across the English Channel to France and landed at Cherbourg’s Maupertus airport.
RCPT first formed in 2009, and their mission is to commemorate the thousands of paratroopers who were a vital part of the Allied war efforts in World War Two, and a number of subsequent conflicts. The Dakota/Skytrain shouldered the lion’s share of flying these brave soldiers to war across the English Channel, with a one-way ticket to France. The RCPT has been making commemorative jumps every year in remembrance of these young men and the sacrifices they made. Daks Over Normandy produced ten aircraft, from a hoped for fifteen, which was an amazing achievement.
Two of these aircraft flew from as far away as the USA for the event. The show organizers were more than happy at the support they received. The other Dakotas, of various marques and designations, joined from countries across Europe. The Dutch Dakota Association Classic Airlines Douglas C-47A PH-PBA in classic KLM markings from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, was perhaps the most poignant arrival, as this aircraft had actually flown over the Cotentin (Cherbourg peninsular) early in the morning of D-Day. It had dropped paratroopers at nearby Sainte-Mère-Eglise to prepare the ground for US forces who, just a few hours later, were coming ashore at ‘Utah Beach’. PH-PBA first rolled off Douglas’s Long Beach, California assembly line as a C-47A, with US Army Air Force serial number 42-100971. It journeyed across the Atlantic from the US to the United Kingdom, probably via Africa. She flew on D-Day from RAF Cottesmore with Lt. Lee Ross in command and seventeen paratroopers from the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division on board. The C-47 flew alongside thirty five other Skytrains to drop zone ‘O’ at Sainte-Mère-Eglise. It returned safely to Cottesmore that morning with just superficial damage and flew many re-supply missions in the following days and weeks.
Harry Haas, a Transavia Boeing 737 captain, and Fabian Schouten, a British-based A-319 1st Officer, flew PH-PBA on several enthusiast pleasure flights from Cherbourg this June as part of the D-Day celebrations. Much less austere than in 1944, ‘BA now has ‘Business Class’ seats taken from a KLM Boeing 737, but still managed to thrill its passengers with orbits over the former Drop Zone ‘O’ at Sainte-Mère-Eglise.
C-47A 43-30652 flew to Cherbourg from its home base with the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo, New York State during mid-May on the traditional ‘northern ferry route’ via Goose Bay, Nararsuaq and Reykjavik, arriving at Prestwick, Scotland on May 20th. Known affectionately as “Whiskey 7”, she was the lead aircraft from the 37th Troop Carrier Squadron and transported paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division to drop zones near St. Mere Eglise on D-Day as well. “Whiskey 7” retraced the route over her original D-Day drop zones as part of the anniversary celebrations, dropping re-enactors from the Liberty Jump Team.
C-47A 42-24064 flew from the US on a similar route to “Whiskey 7”, leaving from her base in Waterbury/Oxford, Connecticut. This aircraft is unofficially known as “Union Jack Dak”. The UK-based Edwards brothers restored her at Covington, Georgia in record time for attendance at the 75th Dakota anniversary event at Oshkosh in July 2010. She now sports D-Day invasion colors, with the fuselage code “ID”. She will stay in the UK at least for a season or two, before returning to the US.
An extraordinarily rare, and uniquely airworthy Lisunov Li-2 also participated in the D-Day celebrations. The Li-2 is a license-built version of the C-47 constructed in Russian during the war. She is based with the Goldtimer Foundation in Hungary, registered as HA-LIX. She stayed with Sunflower Aerial Transport at Cherbourg in period Malev colors. [Editor: There is a fascinating account of this aircraft at the Goldtimer website HERE]
Also from the eastern fringes of Europe came the DC Association/Airveteran Ltd. C-53C Skytrooper in vintage Finnair colors as OH-LCH. The C-53 is essentially a civilian DC-3 modified to C-47 standards. Other Scandinavian Daks attended, including the well known Dakota Norway LN-WND sporting RAF roundels for the event and from Denmark, the Flyvende Museumsfly C-47A OY-BPB, which rolled off the Long Beach production line in April 1944 as 43-40609. The oldest Dakota attending was Swiss-based HB-IRJ, built prior to WWII for American Airlines as DC-3A NC25658. The Super Constellation Flyers Association restored her in Switzerland and fly her under sponsorship from watch manufacturer Breitling. The final two civilian-operated Dakota aircraft to attend were the French-based F-AZTE that flies in Air France markings as F-BBBE, and a C-47A 42-100882 sporting its wartime markings and nicknamed “Drag-Em-Oot”. Based at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre in East Kirkby, England, “Drag-Em-Oot” is also a D-Day veteran having towed gliders to Normandy in 1944 from its base at Greenham Common with the 438th Troop Carrier Group. The aircraft also flew in the Operations Market Garden and Varsity as well. [Editor: There is a nice write-up of this aircraft HERE]
The RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Dakota ZA947 also participated in the event, flying from its base in Le Havre, rather than Cherbourg.
The RCPT made several commemorative jumps over Normandy between the 5th and 8th June. Hundreds of veterans and younger passengers were also able to experience the thrill of a Dakota flight for the first time. Cherbourg and “Daks Over Normandy” will stay happily in many people’s memories for many years. It was a truly remarkable celebration of the events from 70 years before.
Click HERE for previous WarbirdsNews articles about “Daks Over Normandy.’
More pictures from Geoff Jones.
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