In partnership with the Dakotas over Normandy project, the Imperial War Museums hosted ‘Daks over Duxford’ in the build up to the celebrations of the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings. The event brought together over 20 examples of the Douglas DC-3 and its various military derivatives for two days of commemoration at the Cambridgeshire airfield. Though Dakotas were the focus of the day, other aircraft involved in D-Day operations also featured as the armada of transport aircraft prepared to set off for Normandy.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography by the author.
‘Daks over Duxford’ was part of an expanded portfolio of aviation events hosted at IWM Duxford during 2019. Co-hosted with the Dakota over Normandy project, Duxford acted as the main rendezvous airfield for an incredible collection of Douglas DC-3 variants in the build-up to their own unique and special commemoration of the airborne forces that were vital to the D-day landings.
The aircraft arrived over several days; indeed the first aircraft arrived before the Duxford Air Festival held the week before. The most eagerly anticipated arrivals were a contingent from the United States which had organised themselves as the “D-Day Squadron.” They brought 15 aircraft with them and joined aircraft from the UK, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. The complete line-up of aircraft at Duxford comprised of:
- Douglas DC-3C ‘Liberty’ – N25641 – JB Air Services LLC (USA)
- Douglas DC-3 – N877MG – Historic Flight Foundation (USA)
- Douglas DC-3 ‘Miss Montana’ – N24320 – Museum of Mountain Flying, Missoula (USA)
- Douglas DC-3 ‘Daisy’ – SE-CFP – Flying Veterans Foundation (Sweden)
- Douglas DC-3A – OH-LCD – Airveteran Ltd (Finland)
- Douglas DC-3 ‘Clipper Tabitha May’ – N33611 – PMFG Flight Operations LLC (USA)
- Douglas DC-3 – N431HM – Hugo Mathys (Switzerland)
- Douglas DC-3 ‘Chalair’ – F-AZOX – Association “Un Dakota sur la Normandie” (France)
- Douglas DC-3A ‘The Great Silver Fleet’ – N18121 – Blue Skies Air LLC (USA)
- Douglas C-41A – N341A – Golden Age Air Tours (USA)
Douglas C-47 Skytrain
- Douglas C-47A Skytrain ‘That’s All Brother’– N88874 – Central Texas Wing, Commemorative Air Force (USA)
- Douglas C-47B Skytrain ‘Betsy’s Biscuit Bomber’ – N47SJ – Goony Bird Corporation (USA)
- Douglas C-47A Skytrain ‘Miss Virginia’ – N47E – Dynamic Aviation (USA)
- Douglas C-47-DL Skytrain ‘101st Airborne Tribute’ – N150D – Hugo Mathys (Switzerland)
- Douglas C-47A Skytrain ‘Flabob Express’ – N103NA – Flabob Aviation Associates (USA)
- Douglas C-47A Skytrain ‘Virginia Ann’ – N62CC – Mission Boston D-Day LLC (USA)
- Douglas C-47A Skytrain ‘Placid Lassie’ – N74589 – Tunison Foundation (USA)
- Douglas C-47A Skytrain ‘Mayfly’ – N147DC – Aces High (UK)
- Douglas C-47A Skytrain ‘Gamie Dame’ – OY-BPB – Foreningen for Flyvende Museumsfly (Denmark)
Douglas C-53 Skytrooper
- Douglas C-53D Skytrooper ‘D-Day Doll’ – N45366 – Inland Empire Wing, Commemorative Air Force (USA)
- Douglas C-53D Skytrooper ‘Spirit of Benovia’ – N8336C – Benovia Winery (USA)
- Douglas C-53D Skytrooper – LN-WND – Dakota Norway (Norway)
- Lisunov Li-2 ‘Karman Todor’ – HA-LIX – Goldtimer Foundation (Hungary)
It is very hard to pick stars out of the gathering – all of the aircraft taking part have their own extraordinary stories of survival and preservation. The commitment of their crews that not only brought them over to Europe in the case of the US based aircraft but also maintain them are just as inspiring. However, the line-up did include a very rare one-ff military variant of the DC-3 called the C-41A. This aircraft was ordered as a VIP transport aircraft for the US Army Air Corps in 1938. The world’s last airworthy Lisunov Li-2 also took part. This was a licence produced DC-3 manufactured in Russia and has some small differences over the standard DC-3 design with shorter span wings, a heavier gauge skin, a change of position for the passenger door and Russian produced engines.
During the build up to the main ‘Daks over Duxford’ event, the various aircraft made several flights around Southern England with some air to air sorties over the Sussex coast, a visit to the Shuttleworth Collection as well as other flypasts at venues important to D-Day operations.
The main ‘Daks over Duxford’ event held over the 4th and 5th June was not an airshow like the Air Festival a week earlier but rather a showcase event built around the collection of DC-3 variants. On the ground there were a few traders plus some stands from the Daks over Normandy project plus some of the DC-3 operators. In the AirSpace conservation area was a small Airborne Forces exhibition and that area also acted as a muster area from all of the parachutists due to jump from the aircraft over the course of the D-Day commemorations. Outside of AirSpace, the British Army’s 16 Air Assault Brigade displayed the modern tools of airborne assault showing how much has changed (and in some cases stayed the same) over the past 75 years.
The flying was kept deliberately flexible over the two days to fit around some of the other commitments of the Daks over Normandy gathering had. Tuesday 4th June opened with a mass take-off of North American T-6 Texans and Harvards carrying some photographers who had paid for the chance to capture some of the DC-3’s air to air. They were followed by a launch of seven of the DC-3s, C-47s and C-53s. Even just watching this launch set against the classic Duxford backdrop of the lines of other Dakotas was truly extraordinary and evocative. That special atmosphere was enhanced no end by Ben Dunnell’s mix of commentary and music.
Also the 4th June, there were various demonstrations from the Dakotas. Five of the gathered Dakotas tried in vain to drop paratroopers over Duxford as winds were too high. The weather also forced the cancellation of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s solo Douglas Dakota III display which had to prioritise its trip to La Harve to participate in ceremonies in Normandy. There was however a spirited solo display flown by Pete Kynsey in the Aces High Douglas C-47A Skytrain ‘Mayfly.’ Ahead of the D-Day anniversary, the aircraft has been repainted into its authentic 1944 scheme. Later in its routine it was joined by the American C-47’s ‘That’s all Brother’ and ‘Placid Lassie’ for some formation passes featuring genuine D-Day veterans.
Duxford also added its own ‘D-Day Aircraft Parade’ to proceedings with some displays by other types involved in Operation Overload. The vital role of artillery spotting and liaison was represented by a pair of Austers. Kevin Hale flew his familiar Taylorcraft Auster AOP6 alongside Trevor Bailey who gave a spirited account of the Auster T7.
No D-Day salute at Duxford would be complete without some powerful warbird displays Richard Grace and Steve Jones presented a beautiful close formation routine in Supermarine Spitfire IXT ML407 and Spitfire IX MH434. Both aircraft have invasion stripes applied for the anniversary but it was particularly special to have ML407 included as it is credited with the first kill during operations to support the D-Day landings.
Following the Spitfires came a four-ship of American fighters all with D-Day connections which included Fighter Aviation Engineering’s Republic P-47D Thunderbolt, the Norwegian Spitfire Foundation’s North American P-51D Mustang, Robert Tyrell’s P-51D Mustang and the Fighter Collection’s Grumman FM-2 Wildcat. Their routine was a classic Duxford display with Stu Goldspink giving a solo display in the Wildcat while Paul Bonhomme in the P-47D led Cliff Spink and John Dodd in the Mustangs in some formation passes.
While the number of displays on Tuesday was small, they were all hugely appreciated by the crowd and particularly well presented despite the best efforts of some very authentic D-Day weather with light rain and low cloud over Duxford for much of the afternoon.
Wednesday 5th June was the main departure day for the Dakotas. Due to airspace restrictions in Normandy because of the high number of VVIP movements ahead of the commemorations the crowds at Duxford faced a longer than planned wait for the massed take-off of 21 aircraft. However, Wednesday also saw an extraordinary fly though by a group of USAF MC-130J Commandos and CV-22B Ospreys on their way to Normandy in the morning.
Daks over Duxford was certainly a unique event that will live long in the memory for many. Considering the event was held during a normal working week and in normal School Term time, Duxford was every bit as busy as it was for the Air Festival. The Daks over Normandy project should be congratulated for bringing together such an impressive group of warbirds from across two continents as should IWM Duxford for hosting them and capturing the mood of the D-Day anniversary so well.