On the morning of 6 June 1944, the arrival of more than 800 C-47 Skytrains (or Dakotas to us Brits) helped to transport 24,000 troops to Normandy. It was the vital precursor to Operation Overlord. Commemorating the aircraft that made what was then the largest airborne invasion ever seen possible, more than 30 C-47s from across Europe and North America have gathered in the UK in advance of this week’s D-Day 75th anniversary.
Despite inclement weather and some horrendous traffic, the sight greeting visitors to IWM Duxford on 4-5 June 2019 will no doubt live long in many people’s memories. Daks Over Duxford has seen more the largest post-war gathering of this wonderfully versatile workhorse, prior to their departure tomorrow to take part in the Daks over Normandy celebrations.
But have you ever wondered what the Dak is like to fly? The People’s Mosquito put that question to our Ops Director, Bill Ramsey who spent a short period flying ZA947 with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight in 1999. Here, he shares a few precious memories of what it was like to pilot the much-loved Gooney Bird.
“It’s now 20 years since I was lucky enough to fly the Dakota and Lancaster with the BBMF, so it seems appropriate to jot down my memories of the Dak ahead of this year’s massive gathering to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of D-Day and the associated Airborne landings.
Steep learning curve
I joined the BBMF in early 1999 and did my first two flights in ZA947 on the 30 March. The aircraft broke on both occasions so, as my log book shows, my first real conversion started in April. Not that it was a long one, just four trips including a first solo. By the end of the month I was awarded a Public Display Approval so quite a steep learning curve.
Luckily the Dak was a joy to fly. It was very easy and much like a big Chipmunk (unlike the Lanc which I found to be much more challenging to get right). Landing it could still be tricky as any multi-engine, tailwheel pilot will tell you and it was occasionally not without vices at other times. I clearly remember on the stalling conversion sortie, when the aircraft stalled the wing dropped viciously. Before we could do anything about it the aircraft completed a descending barrel roll. Or so my instructor Sqn Ldr David Thomas told me later – my eyes were tight shut by that point!
I suppose the other thing which sticks in the mind was my first two displays at Woodford and Cosford in June 1999. As it happens, these were also my last trips with the BBMF as I was unexpectedly promoted and posted to Saudi Arabia.
I remember Woodford because it was pouring with rain and I was very nervous – not about the display but because I was going to have to land the aircraft in front of the big crowd on an awful day. ZA947 also leaked very badly around the windscreens (which I didn’t know about). As I got into the display I noticed a very damp feeling around my nether regions. I wasn’t entirely sure of the cause at the time! Along came the landing and I tentatively flared the aircraft thinking I would need to reduce power and hope not to bounce when the wheels just kissed gently onto the tarmac without any help from me. A bit of wrestling to keep straight as the tailwheel came down and the job was done. Phew, good old Dakota!
The next day the sun shone as I arrived at Cosford to display after the BBMF Hurricane. The problem was he finished his performance pointing straight at me as I arrived and we hadn’t discussed how to avoid each other! That was exciting for a few moments but went into my knowledge bank for the display years that followed.
So the Dakota… in the end I only flew it 25 times and did 25 hours in it. I still have very fond memories of this delightful machine and I hope you get the chance to look up this week and see a magnificent formation of them.
Lest We Forget.”