The Shuttleworth Collection’s Flying Festival airshow had a last minute surprise with the announcement that several American based Dakotas of the D-Day Squadron would be appearing at the airfield on static display followed by a streamed departure during the show. The sight of the Daks at the intimate confines of Old Warden proved to be quite a spectacle and it is already being widely lauded by enthusiasts as one of the best airshow moments in recent years.
Only in May did Old Warden record its first-ever Dakota landing with the appearance of Aces High’s C-47 Mayfly at the Season Premiere airshow, the Dakota operating from the grass being a real highlight of the show for many. How fortunate enthusiasts were then that just over a month later we would get to witness no less than seven US-based Dakotas operating from Old Warden – a truly unimaginable prospect! The D-Day Squadron is the collective group of 15 American based Dakotas and C-47s that have travelled to Europe for the Dakotas over Normandy event, commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day. In recent weeks the Daks have flown across the northern Atlantic route via Canada, Greenland, Iceland and Scotland to reach Duxford in Cambridgeshire, where the aircraft are gathering alongside their European counterparts ahead of their large formation flight to Normandy on 5th June.
Since their arrival, the Dakotas and their crews have been carrying out maintenance checks after their epic journeys, as well as carrying out local sorties and air-to-air photoshoots. With The Shuttleworth Collection’s Flying Festival airshow coinciding with such a historic number of Dakotas gathering just 20 miles away, the team at Old Warden managed take advantage of this unique opportunity and worked with the D-Day Squadron to have a number of their aircraft appear at the event, announcing their participation just two days before the airshow.
The Dakotas arrived at Old Warden on Saturday 1st June, the day before the Flying Festival, and many enthusiasts turned out to see the unique sight unfold. Arriving overhead in echelons from Duxford they broke into the circuit in a stream – the sight and sound of Dakotas filling the air over Old Warden being almost unbelievable! The aircraft all vacated and held to the south-east of the runway until they were all down and then proceeded to ‘elephant walk’ in a line up to the area of grass adjacent to the visitor’s centre and cafe, where they shut down and were positioned ready for the airshow the following day.
The aircraft to arrive were:
C-47A-40-DL 42-24064 Placid Lassie (N74589)
C-47A-30-DL 42-23669/FD879 Flabob Express (N103NA)
C-47B-1-DL 43-16340 Pan American Airways (N877MG)
C-47B-5-DK 43-48608 Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber (N47SJ)
C-47-DL 41-18401 101st Airborne Tribute (N150D)
C-47A-15-DK 42-92847 That’s All — Brother (N47TB)
C-53DO 42-47371 The Spirit of Benovia (N8336C)
The credit really must go to all involved in organising the visit of the Dakotas at such short notice, both everyone at Old Warden/Shuttleworth as well as the D-Day Squadron themselves. The desire to show these aeroplanes to the public is clear to see, as, for no extra fee, a Shuttleworth Uncovered style paddock was arranged with the seven aircraft allowing close up viewing of the aircraft without barriers. Several of the aircraft were opened up to allow views inside, and some were also allowing the public to walk on board to view the interior and cockpit, including the Commemorative Air Force’s That’s All — Brother. The atmosphere was absolutely phenomenal as the public mingled with the American crews, who were more than eager to talk all things D-Day and aviation-related – shared interests from opposite sides of the pond coming together at one of aviation’s finest venues! The flight line walk was originally open from 10.00-12.00, although this time was extended to 13.15 as midday approached due to such high demand to see the Dakotas. Good on the Shuttleworth team for being flexible!
Ahead of their departure slot the Daks started up and taxied en-masse across to the area of grass on the south-east side of the active runway to perform their power checks, giving the crowd an excellent view of their gaggle – the Dakota effect was much in evidence as the crowd crammed in along the fence to watch proceedings! During a break in the flying display the C-47s and DC-3s lined up one by one and departed in stream, the thundering sound reverberating around the trees, giving the public just a small glimpse as to what it may have been like at airfields all over southern England on the evening of 5th June 1944 as the airborne armada began to depart and form up before heading to Normandy.
The D-Day Squadron simply stole the show, and when their appearance featured no flying display and the day’s programme featured the usual Shuttleworth fayre of rare aeroplanes and excellent display flying, as well as the Red Arrows, that is no mean feat!
The transatlantic journeys of the ‘mighty 15’ American C-47s and DC-3s of the D-Day Squadron alone already ranks as one of the greatest feats in historic aviation to date, let alone their upcoming return to Normandy alongside the European contingent. The visit of just some of their Dakotas to Old Warden will not only be remembered as one of the high points in the British airshow year 2019, but as one of the best in recent memory, and huge thanks go once again to everyone who came together to make the magic happen! It really does look like this season is shaping up to be one of Shuttleworth’s finest yet, as hot on the heels of the Dakotas will be a gathering of Hurricanes and much more at the Military Pageant in July!